KING OF THE WORLD

BY DAVID REMNICK

Inside Sport - - INSIDER - – JC

A new bi­og­ra­phy of Muham­mad Ali is mak­ing the rounds, and it hasn’t shied from less-savoury parts of the champ’s life, no­tably his treat­ment of women. There’s a canon of work sur­round­ing Ali, who in­spired more great writ­ing than any other sport­ing fig­ure, rang­ing from Thomas Hauser’s ex­haus­tive oral his­tory, Nor­man Mailer’s The Fight, Davis Miller’s trio of books to Mark Kram’s con­trar­ian take.

King Of The World was a later ar­rival in the Ali lit­er­a­ture, but stands as the best ex­am­i­na­tion of how a tal­ented young boxer named Cas­sius Clay cre­ated the char­ac­ter who had such far-reach­ing im­pact. Au­thor Remnick, the edi­tor of the New Yorker, made an in­sight­ful choice in fram­ing Ali’s evo­lu­tion through a pair of con­tem­po­raries, Floyd Pat­ter­son and Sonny Lis­ton. Pat­ter­son was the good black man, the one the white pub­lic could em­brace; Lis­ton was the an­tithe­sis, the black man of white fears. On top of this came Ali, who took that kind of fear to a whole other place. Then, as we saw over his re­mark­able life, he came back to be vin­di­cated and uni­ver­sally em­braced. In a time when ath­letes are again cop­ping ep­i­thets for dar­ing to ex­press them­selves be­yond their field, Ali’s ex­am­ple is a re­minder of what a chal­lenge to the ex­ist­ing order looks like.

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