How Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and then an enemy of his mentor and friend Malcolm X.
These two titanic lives intersected for less than two years, with huge consequences for each man. Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam’s most visible minister and spokesman, confirmed the young Clay’s deep suspicions about the white man and wooed him for the Nation. Malcolm’s incendiary rhetoric astonished Clay, who believed God protected him. How else could Malcolm be so bold and remain alive? In the run-up to Clay’s historic upset of champion Sonny Liston, Malcolm filled the young boxer with confidence, privately advised him, supplied him with a business adviser, and shared many meals and moments of intimate family time. Malcolm loved Clay and quickly understood his potential cultural impact and the glittering youth’s value as a propaganda tool for the sclerotic Nation. When Clay denounced his “slave name” and was anointed as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm understood he’d lost an intense power struggle with the Nation’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, and that it was only a matter of time before he’d be killed. Roberts (History/Purdue Univ.; A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game that Rallied a Nation at War, 2011, etc.) and Smith (American History/Georgia Tech; The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty that Changed College Basketball, 2013, etc.) minutely examine the construction and tortured dissolution of this friendship, highlighting the influence of their fathers on their sensitive sons and the varying masks they adopted to navigate their worlds of prizefighting and politics. Backdropping the authors’ main tale are incisive looks at Ali’s showmanship, his almost single-handed resurrection of boxing, and the befuddlement of sportswriters confronted with his conversion. They sharply detail Malcolm’s growing disillusionment with Elijah, his heartbreak at the loss of Ali’s allegiance, and the ugly dynamic within the Nation that left the defiant minister murdered.
A page-turning tale from the 1960s about politics and sports and two proud, extraordinary men whose legacies endure.