With Martin Luther King Day firmly in the rearview mirror and Black History Month rapidly approaching, who better than me to highlight the anniversary of a wonderful story involving arguably THE most prominent black athlete in history?
A Muhammad Ali story I am guessing most have never heard, but might be the most interesting Ali story of them all, both inside the ring and out.
Forty years ago today, on Jan. 19, 1981, LA Times photographer Boris Yaro heard reports of a suicidal jumper on the radio. He rushed over to the scene (as photographers tended to do back then), and found a young black man in flared jeans and a hoodie, perched on an office-building fire escape nine floors above.
“Joe,” as he was named in reports, had been up there for hours. He was going in and out of hallucinations where he thought he was in Vietnam with the Viet Cong coming at him.
And in moments of clarity… When the Viet Cong were apparently on break… Joe would yell to the crowd below, “I’m no good…I’m going to jump!”
Another photographer, Howard Bingham, was also at the scene. Howard was good friends with none other than Muhammad Ali, who just so happened to live nearby (Bingham went on to create the definitive book of photographs of Ali, Muhammad Ali: A Thirty-Year Journey). So Bingham called Ali, and about four minutes later, Ali came driving up the wrong side of the street in his Rolls-Royce with his lights blinking.
This was January of 1981, so very near the end of Ali’s career… Five years removed from “The Thrilla in Manila,” the fight against Joe Frazier that Ali won, but many believe irrevocably destroyed something inside him. And it was 3 months after Ali fought his friend and former sparring partner Larry Holmes, who gave him a beat down so vicious that Ali didn’t come out for the 11th round. Afterward, Holmes was reduced to tears after bludgeoning his hero but also gladly cashed the check he was paid to do so.
Later on that year, in December of 1981, Ali would lose to Trevor Berbick in his last professional fight.
And in three years from the time we are speaking about, Parkinson’s would be diagnosed.
--- I am sooooooooo tempted to go on a tangent with Trevor Berbick right here, but I am trying to accentuate the positive in this blog… But quickly- Among other things, Berbick was convicted of rape and was eventually beaten to death with a lead pipe in Jamaica by his own nephew.
Berbick was the only man to fight Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, AND Mike Tyson…
… And, as you can see from the clip above, Berbick also has the dubious distinction of being the only man to be knocked down 3 times by one punch from Iron Mike ---
But back to the Ali story- Again, it was January 1981 and Ali ran into the building and up to the ninth floor and began leaning out a window, where he shouted to Joe, “You’re my brother! I love you, and I couldn’t lie to you.”
Then, Ali made his way to the fire escape, put an arm around Joe, and guided him inside. The two walked out of the building together, got in Ali’s car, and drove first to a police station and then to a nearby V.A. hospital.
As I said, this is a real positive story, and Jerry Thornton and I tried to tell ONLY POSITIVE stories involving sports figures on this week's Twisted History.
Jerry is a font of knowledge, and I think I cut and pasted enough info from smart people to make it one of the more interesting episodes I have ever done.
Give it a listen…
… and take a report.
Real quick- I said this was the most interesting Muhammad Ali story of all time, but I lied… In a much more publicized story from 1990, Ali embarked on a goodwill tour to the Middle East. At the time, US/Iraqi relations were what diplomats called "icy" after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and captured 15 US citizens, using them as human shields.
Ali met with Saddam Hussein and then returned to the United States days later with all 15 hostages in tow in exchange for promising Hussein that he would bring America "an honest account" of Iraq.
This was weeks before the Gulf War began… So those hostages would've been FUCKED if that draft-dodging-Ali hadn't gotten them out.