Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Most agree, 'I am the greatest'

Wick's World


Cassius Clay began to box at age 12 after his brand new red Schwinn bicycle was stolen from a downtown street in Louisville, Kentucky. I began to cry at age 12 when my brand new red Schwinn bicycle was stolen from Greig Athletic Field near downtown Chamberlain, South Dakota. Ali went to a gymnasium; he never did find his red Schwinn. I went to the Chamberlain swimming pool and found my red Schwinn in the bike rack. Thus began and ended the similarities between the legend known as “The Greatest” boxer the world has ever known and the not so legendary crybaby from Chamberlain, South Dakota.

On my behalf, let’s be clear that I didn’t cry because I lost my precious bicycle. Even at an early age, material possessions meant little to me. It was only upon telling my mother about the theft that I burst into tears. I was never very good at being the bearer of disappointing news, but who is? I later shed my crybaby status by joining the airborne infantry. Not too many crybabies in that elite outfit.

Following the theft of the bicycle, young Cassius Clay did not vow to become a boxer. He only bragged about what he would do to the thief when he caught him. Joe Martin, a Louisville police officer who ran a boxing gym, was the man who led the young boy to the ring. As a young Cassius Clay, he turned professional when he signed a six-year contract with 11 white millionaires called The Louisville Sponsoring Group. He is quoted as saying, “They got the complexions and connections to give me good directions.”

Young Cassius Clay joined the boxing world and later became the biggest loudmouth the fighting world has ever known. He once said, “I don’t have to be who you want me to be; I’m free to be who I want.” In Miami Beach, Florida, on February 25, 1964, my 17th birthday, the young boxer Cassius Clay knocked out heavily favored Sonny Liston to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Why did an under-sized white boy from South Dakota like me pick a brash, loud-mouthed black man from Louisville for his hero? The answer lies somewhere between the changing of his name to Mohammed Ali and his calling out the white conservative establishment who were still oppressing “the coloreds” as if it were 1864, not 1964. Ali affected many people of his generation — black and white. Ex-Vikings running back Chuck Foreman once spoke of what Ali meant to him as a young black man, “They used to call us Negroes before he came, and then they used the word black.” Ali’s trait of going against the grain was what an under-sized kid from the prairie of South Dakota admired most in the brash young boxer from Louisville. To this day, I consider myself an anti-establishment individual; in my case, it’s more of "the Bernie" and less of "the Donald."

The Army at first rejected Ali because of his IQ of 78. After the Army lowered its standards to get more recruits, Ali was drafted and he was denied conscientious objector status. His most famous quotes may come from his draft-dodging days when he stated, “I ain’t got nothing against them Viet Cong,” and the acerbic “Ain’t no Viet Cong ever called me n-----.”

Incredibly, the draft-dodging, black Muslim king of the violent sport of boxing was able to transform his image to that of a world-renowned diplomat who preached peace and tolerance. Perhaps Ali’s greatest gift outside the ring was his ability to relate to all people.

Over the years, most of us came to understand and appreciate this very complex man. Many people called him the greatest athlete of the 20th Century. Despite his alleged mental shortcomings, Ali was most assuredly the wittiest sports figure of the 20th Century. His mouth became as large as his fists as he referred to himself, “I am the Greatest!” Most people now agree.


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