Ali & George Foreman: “The silent hulking brute becomes America’s sweetheart”

This is Part 2 of a fascinating discussion between sports commentator Dave Zirin and sportswriter Robert Lipstye on the proud socio-cultural legacy of Muhammad Ali. Check out Part 1 here.

The below originally aired on Zirin’s Edge of Sports show.

Zirin: You ever think about this? You talked about it being Shakespearean and whatnot. Ever notice how George Foreman, Frazier, Larry Holmes, these were not big talkers, but they became big talkers in retirement. While Ali loses his speech, almost like his powers were sent to the people he vanquished, or that they vanquished him. I always found that to be almost too cinematic for words as well.

I don’t know — I just thought I’d throw that out there to you.

Robert Lipsyte: It’s a beautiful thought.

Dave Zirin: You’ve met Larry Holmes a million times, he’s the funniest guy in any rooms he’s in, and he certainly wasn’t that when he was a boxer.

Robert Lipsyte: Yeah, and think of George Foreman.

Dave Zirin: Oh my God, that’s the ultimate one. The silent hulking brute becomes America’s sweetheart.

You know it's true.
                   You know it’s true.

Robert Lipsyte: Yeah. One thing is George, it was the end of an interview. He had been very warm and open. I said, “How did he feel that he was an accomplice in the physical destruction of Muhammad Ali?” Of what he was now.

He said, “I think about the great war heroes and how we honor them and see them take out their glass eye or remove their prosthetic arm, and we can only be grateful that they sacrificed so much for us. That’s the way I feel about Muhammad Ali.” I go, “Whoa, where did that come from?” I mean, maybe your idea of Ali transferring his energy and poetics to those he had beaten is part of that.

Dave Zirin: I gotta say, my favorite George Foreman moment is I interviewed him and I said, “What did you think the first time you learned who Muhammad Ali was?” He said, “We were terrified in my poor neighborhood in Houston because the heavyweight champ was a black Muslim.” I said, “Oh, you didn’t like Muslims?” He said, “No, we didn’t know what Muslims were. We were terrified he was calling himself black. We were Negroes!”

Robert Lipsyte: (laughs) That’s wonderful.

Dave Zirin: What was the experience like the first time you ever saw Muhammad Ali? Or I should say Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. — what was your impression?

Robert Lipsyte: I did not see him alone, as you know. The reason I had been sent to cover that first Liston fight was that at the time most everybody thought that he would be knocked out in the first round and they didn’t want to waste the time of a real reporter, so send a kid — that was me. I had yet to meet him.

I went up to the 5th street gym at the same time that The Beatles showed up for a photo op. Ali, Cassius Clay, had not yet arrived so the five of us were shoved in a deserted dressing room and the door was locked. I was the fifth beetle for that 15 minutes. They were very angry. They were really not quite The Beatles yet. They were very angry at being trapped like this. They banged on the walls and cursed.

I interviewed them and I asked them what they thought of the fight. They said, “Oh, that wanker’s going to be knocked out in the first round.” They banged and cursed and kicked at the door. Then suddenly the door burst open and the five of us in unison gasped, because there before us was the most beautiful creature we had ever seen, and probably would ever see.

He was big, he was broad, he was glowing, he was laughing. He was just gorgeous. We fell silent and he stuck his head in the room and he said, “Come on, Beatles, let’s go make some money.” Then he led them out to the ring.

…Tell your listeners to go to YouTube, type in Cassius Clay and The Beatles and you’ll see these pictures. He led them into the ring, they lined up, he tapped the first one, they all went down like dominoes. They leaped up, they formed a pyramid so that they could reach up and pretend to hit his jaw. If I hadn’t known that they had never met before I would’ve thought it was all choreographed. For five or 10 minutes it was this thrilling little play of the 5 most famous people on the planet. Then it was over.

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Golden State’s Greatest Team of All-Time Hopes are on Life Support

Golden State has much on the line when it faces Cleveland on the road in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals. Still ahead in the series, a loss won’t cost Golden State its season. But it will extinguish any lingering hope the team’s fans have of laying claim to Greatest of All-Time status over the ‘96 Bulls. The Cavs are 2-point favorites on Thursday night, according to online NBA sportsbook odds, but they can likely keep M.J.’s Bulls safe by simply not losing by more than 25 points.

Read on to see how.

 

Prologue 

At its core, matching great NBA teams across eras against each other is a quixotic task. Important rules change, leading the way to an evolution of the game itself. For instance, the game which the Chicago Bulls dominated in the mid-90s was a more physical one where defenders could hand, forearm and body-check their opponents. In that time, a zone defense was an illegal one. You had to either guard your man straight up or double the man with the ball.

All this changed in the early to mid 2000s with new rules that forbade all the rough defensive tactics as well as eliminating the “illegal defense” rule itself, allowing only a defensive three-second violation to remain. Essentially, this meant that zone defense was now allowed everywhere except in the paint. These rules led to such profound shifts in the fabric of the NBA game that it’s best to divide the “modern era” of basketball into separate epochs: pre-zone and zone.

Stu Jackson, former executive vice president of basketball operations for the NBA, and other leaders wanted to create more free-flowing offenses. Looking back in 2009, he told NBA.com “With the rule and interpretation changes, it has become more difficult for defenders to defend penetration, cover the entire floor on defensive rotations and recover to shooters.”

“This has provided more time for shooters to ready themselves for quality shots. With more dribble penetration, ball handlers are getting more opportunities at the rim. Additionally, teams now realize the 3-point shot is a great competitive equalizer, so they are taking more.”

By far, the best team of the zone epoch has been this season’s Golden State Warriors, a team which has exemplified the three-point evolution to which Jackson referred better than any other.  This year the Warriors shattered multiple offensive efficiency records, won 73 games in the regular season — most all-time — and are ahead 3-2 against Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals.

But are they better than the best pre-zone team — the ‘96 Bulls?

Continue reading Golden State’s Greatest Team of All-Time Hopes are on Life Support

Muhammad Ali: “not a countercultural hero sprung from the loins of Jesus”

And other insights from renowned journalist Robert Lipsyte, who knew Ali for 55 years.

 

Of all the obituaries which have run this week about the singular life of Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest belongs to a New York Times writer who knew Ali for decades.

Below is an interview between that writer, Robert Lipsyte, and preeminent sports commentator Dave Zirin on Edge of Sports. The below, Part 1 of 2, is lightly edited and condensed.

…You’ve been associated with Muhammad Ali, I was thinking about this, for 55 years almost. What have the days since his passing been like for you?

Robert Lipsyte: You know what’s interesting, Dave, I’ve gotten hundreds of emails since the obit ran and I would say the overwhelming number of them are offering consolation for my grieving process, and mentioning that they had spotted him once in an elevator, he had given them a hug from across the room. It’s so hard to separate the symbolic political figure that’s powerful shaper, in a sense, of our times, from this glowing human being who made these incredible little connections with almost everybody that he ever came in contact with.

Dave Zirin: Wow. What was your reaction when you heard he passed?

Robert Lipsyte: It’s been a bizarre period because it’s been so many years since we’ve really heard him and since he’s been Ali, that at first his death felt like a formality. But the grief has been so overpowering and the remembrances, it really was like the world stopped. You’re right, but it was a combination. On the one hand as far as I’m concerned, he’s not dead. The memories, the photographs, the legacy. He’s all still there.

On the other hand, whatever grieving process there was, that was over a few years ago. He hasn’t been Muhammad Ali for some time. Coming to grips with the incredible Greek tragedy, Shakespearean, I don’t know what would you call it, irony, of this most noble and loquacious man on the planet suddenly struck dumb and twisted into an immobile hulk. It’s terrible to even think about it.

That, of course, began to be quite evident 20 years ago at the ’96 Olympics where with that shaking hand he lit the torch. The hot wax flowed back, burnt him. He never winced or showed that.

We’ve seen for some time his retreat from the camera and from the public view, until he just became invisible to so many. I hadn’t seen him for several years. Even then, it was remarkable. I would try to ask him a question, he would put his mouth to my ear and mumble something that was absolutely incomprehensible, and his wife from across the room would speak for 5 minutes and tell me what he had just said.

She really became the curator of that legend. Not to make fun of that, because I thought that’s a very well structured paragraph that he could not have written at his zenith attacking Donald Trump for Trump’s suggestion that the government keep all the Muslims out was wonderful.

Dave Zirin: Can I ask you, we talk about this idea of Greek tragedy for me. I know I’m projecting my own politics onto the tragedy here, but this idea of someone who spoke so eloquently against war, finds himself unable to speak, his face an expressionless mask, being led to George W Bush who puts a medal around his neck.

This idea of does Muhammad Ali, A — Does he know what’s happening right now? B — Does he agree with what’s happening right now? And C — is there an issue of consent here in terms of him being in the White House and getting this medal from George Bush?

Robert Lipsyte: That’s a wonderful question. Also maybe goes to the heart of something you and I have talked about so many times about Muhammad Ali as this magnetic slate on which we can put our wishes, hopes, bumper stickers, on.

Who really knows? Who really knows what went on inside. Even from the very beginning, his closest biographer Tom Hauser, spend an awful lot of time with him. Probably more concentrated time than anybody in the ’90s when he was writing that big oral biography.

I always felt that Ali was stunted emotionally, that he probably had reached the level of a 12 year old. So much of what he did and said was the quick study of a somewhat innocent mind, a child-like mind. He was capable of things that we would interpret, but exactly what did they mean?

Continue reading Muhammad Ali: “not a countercultural hero sprung from the loins of Jesus”