Edited by his son, Kram Jr. (Like Any Normal Day, 2012), this is the first collection of work from one of the more literary sportswriters of the 1960s and ’70s, whose mixed legacy leaves a hole at the center of this volume.
As one of the stars of Sports Illustrated during its golden era, Kram became most closely associated with boxing in general and with the fierce rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in particular. His Ghosts of Manila (2001), expanding on his coverage for SI a quarter-century earlier, putting the fight in context, was criticized by some who revered Ali because it showed his darker, meaner, bullying side against an adversary who deserved better in the public eye. The early sections of this anthology seem to write all around that fight without ever zeroing in on it. Kram shows what a complex figure Ali was and is outside the ring, both as a man and as a larger-than-life symbol. As he writes from the champion’s hospital bed, in the epigram that gives the book its title, “Great men, it’s been noted, die twice—once as great, and once as men.” It also applies to Kram, who saw the greatness of his legend tarnished by the effects of alcohol, domestic and money troubles, and charges of ethical misconduct. After SI let him go, he wrote pieces for magazines such as Esquire and GQ on topics other than sports—including an essay on Marlon Brando that ranks among the book’s most provocative. Yet boxing and “blood sports” in general brought out the poet in him. He’s particularly evocative in a piece on cornermen and in a challenging assignment to profile Ali’s Muslim manager Herbert Muhammad, about whom he is warned, “You can sum up Herbert in three words…dull, dull, and dull.” He isn’t, of course, the way Kram writes about him.
A solid introduction to an important sportswriter.