An examination of the life of boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and his influence—both direct and indirect—on athletes who came after.
This digression-laden biography is less an in-depth character study than a prism through which to view the evolution of the modern celebrity athlete. Shropshire (The Business of Sports Agents, 2002, etc.) contends that Robinson’s combination of talent, charisma and style enabled him to attain an iconic status unrealized by previous sports superstars. Born Walker Smith Jr., Robinson grew up in poverty, with boxing one of the few avenues that provided a chance for escape. Despite a slender build, his skill was apparent early on, and he quickly rose through the ranks to become one of the greatest (attaining both the welterweight and middleweight championship titles) and prolific (fighting nearly 200 times, a figure that dwarfs the number of bouts fought by Muhammad Ali and other legends) fighters ever. It was Robinson’s influence outside of the ring, however, that the author claims had the greatest cultural impact. With his innate sense of “cool,” flamingo-pink Cadillac and million-watt smile, Robinson influenced celebrities outside of the boxing world (Miles Davis), younger fighters (Ali) and countless future athletes. These qualities, combined with his commitment to building businesses in the black community, made him a beloved icon despite his arrogance, womanizing and later financial difficulties. Paradoxically, his popularity surged as his skills eroded late in his career. Shropshire’s insights aren’t always profound, as he often tracks trends that are readily apparent to even semi-serious sports fans. When he delves deeper, however, and discusses the dearth of star athletes with the charisma, intelligence and awareness to take advantage of their positions to agitate for social change (he cites John Carlos and Tommie Smith as models), his skillful analysis serves to highlight the convergence of sports and culture.
Evinces some of Robinson’s sweetness and flair, but doesn’t pack as much power.