Sting Like A Bee: Muhammad Ali Vs. The United States Of America, 1966-1971 by Leigh MontvilleSting Like A Bee: Muhammad Ali Vs. The United States Of America, 1966-1971 by Leigh Montville

Sting Like A Bee: Muhammad Ali Vs. The United States Of America, 1966-1971

byLeigh Montville

Hardcover | May 16, 2017

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An insightful portrait of Muhammad Ali from the New York Times bestselling author of At the Altar of Speed and The Big Bam. It centers on the cultural and political implications of Ali's refusal of service in the military—and the key moments in a life that was as high profile and transformative as any in the twentieth century.

With the death of Muhammad Ali in June, 2016, the media and America in general have remembered a hero, a heavyweight champion, an Olympic gold medalist, an icon, and a man who represents the sheer greatness of America. New York Times bestselling author Leigh Montville goes deeper, with a fascinating chronicle of a story that has been largely untold. Muhammad Ali, in the late 1960s, was young, successful, brash, and hugely admired—but with some reservations. He was bombastic and cocky in a way that captured the imagination of America, but also drew its detractors. He was a bold young African American in an era when few people were as outspoken. He renounced his name—Cassius Clay—as being his 'slave name,' and joined the Nation of Islam, renaming himself Muhammad Ali. And finally in 1966, after being drafted, he refused to join the military for religious and conscientious reasons, triggering a fight that was larger than any of his bouts in the ring. What followed was a period of legal battles, of cultural obsession, and in some ways of being the very embodiment of the civil rights movement located in the heart of one man. Muhammad Ali was the tip of the arrow, and Leigh Montville brilliantly assembles all the boxing, the charisma, the cultural and political shifting tides, and ultimately the enormous waft of entertainment that always surrounded Ali. Muhammed Ali vs. the United States of America is an important and incredibly engaging book.
Three-time New York Times bestselling author LEIGH MONTVILLE is a former columnist at The Boston Globe and former senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He is the author of Evel, The Mysterious Montague, The Big Bam, Ted Williams, At the Altar of Speed, Manute, and Why Not Us? He lives in Boston.
Title:Sting Like A Bee: Muhammad Ali Vs. The United States Of America, 1966-1971Format:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 9.6 × 6.4 × 1.3 inPublished:May 16, 2017Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385536054

ISBN - 13:9780385536059


Read from the Book

Chapter 1Local Draft Board No. 47The day moved slowly. Bob Halloran tried to keep the conversation going in the living room of the small concrete house at 4610 NW 15th Court in the worn-­down section of Miami, Florida, that the residents called Brownsville, but after one hour passed, two hours, three, there wasn’t much else he could say. The list of topics had been covered and covered again. He mostly sat and waited, a talkative man curiously out of words as Muhammad Ali puttered and fretted, went outside and came back, and sometimes watched cartoons on the black-­and-­white television set.A worry squirmed in Halloran’s chest that Ali would become tired of him and would send him home. Or would want to be with different people. Or something. What then? The twenty-­nine-­year-­old local television sports reporter from WTVJ tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.His cameraman had set up on the front lawn in the morning. The guy was still somewhere out there watching the equipment. Neighborhood kids also were out there, kids who came around Ali every day, kids who treated him as if he were one of them, another kid, ready for fun. Most days he was. This day he wasn’t. A worry also squirmed in the chest of the heavyweight champion of the world.Local Draft Board No. 47 was preparing to make its move in Louisville, Kentucky. The machinery already was in motion. Although a New York lawyer had been dispatched to plead Ali’s case, there was little doubt what the result would be. The weight of the U.S. government would fall directly on top of the primary resident of this house.Nobody knew for sure when it was going to happen, but rumors had been floating for a week that he was going to be made eligible for the military draft at any moment. The demand for soldiers had grown, more than doubled, with the escalation of the Vietnam War. The generals at the Pentagon now wanted more than 400,000 troops for the war effort.Ali had failed the intelligence test twice, which resulted in a 1-­Y classification, unfit for service, but under new standards, changed only three days ago, his score of 16 now passed. He not only would become 1-­A, eligible, but at twenty-­four years of age, newly single again, he would be at the top of the induction list for the next month’s call. All indications—­which included comments he had made in the past on the subject—­were that he would challenge the order to report.Halloran had received a tip that today, Thursday, February 17, 1966, was the day all this would begin. Thursday was the day that Draft Board 47 made its weekly announcements. The tip was that the news would come from Louisville later in the afternoon, but Halloran had wanted to make sure he was there for the moment. That was why he had arrived before anyone else. That was why he had been here so long.Waiting.Waiting.Waiting.Communication was a problem. The bulletin from Louisville would come across the wire machine in the newsroom, but there was no way the people at the station could reach Halloran here. There was no such thing as a cellphone. He had to call them. The only phone he could use was Ali’s home phone.As time stretched, the reporter became uneasy about breaking the mood periodically by standing and going to that phone. Any news? Okay, thanks. The movement, the words, seemed intrusive. He would shuffle back to his place to watch more cartoons.The wait continued.Ali was more than just another interview subject. Halloran had known the boxer since he was a nineteen-­year-­old kid, since he was Cassius Clay, back from the Olympics, training at the 5th Street Gym at the start of his professional career. Boxing was important in Miami. There were no other professional sports, unless you counted horse racing, which also was important. The University of Miami was important. The Miami Dolphins, the new football team, no doubt would be important when they finally opened for business in the fall. That was it.Halloran needed material for two shows a night. He spent much of his week at 5th Street, upstairs in the heat and the sweat and the multicultural noise, talking with fighters and trainers and whoever might come through the door. Ali was at the top of the list, now the most known professional athlete in the world. Need words? Ali, Cassius, whichever name was used, would deliver them with style and emotion. Often they would be in rhyme.In the early days, the beginning, Halloran sometimes would see him in the mornings, running from Brown’s, the little hotel in the Central Naval District, to the gym in Miami Beach. The trip took him over the Causeway. Who ran over the Causeway? Halloran would pick him up, save him from being clipped by the traffic. They would go somewhere for breakfast.On the crazy night when the kid took the title from Sonny Liston at the Convention Center, when Liston didn’t leave his stool for the seventh round, Halloran was with him for the whole experience. Sat with him and Angelo Dundee and Sugar Ray Robinson and maybe Bundini Brown in the stands early in the night to watch Ali’s younger brother, then called Rudy Clay, now Rahman Ali, win a ten-­round decision over Levi Forte, who later became a crack bell captain at the Fontainebleau. Was in the locker room just before the fight, was there when Sugar Ray, known as the greatest fighter of all time, pound for pound, had to sit on top of Ali’s chest to keep him from hyperventilating. Was in the ring seconds after the fight ended, first reporter to get to the new champ.“I’m the king of the world!” the kid shouted, pretty much hyperventilating now in public. “I shocked the world. Shocked the world. I am the greatest. I’m a baaaaaaaaaaaad man.”Halloran kept good field position as the chaos developed, as people came from everywhere to be in that ring. The words went into his WTVJ microphone in a rush. The kid moved and moved, side to side, climbed on top of the ropes in a neutral corner, shouted and shouted some more, celebrated and pranced. Halloran kept with him as much as possible until there was a tug from behind.“Hey,” a nasal New York voice said, “you’ve had your time. This is network television.”That was how he met Howard Cosell, the most prominent sports announcer in the country.The two-­year anniversary of that fight, that night, would arrive in eight days. The two years had passed in an unremitting rush of activity. The day after the fight, the new champ declared himself a member of the Nation of Islam, a disciple of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. The news was greeted with public discomfort as he began his dialogue about the separation of the races, about white devils and slavery guilt. Four days later he was in New York at the United Nations with Malcolm X. Malcolm X! Radical! Revolutionary! Everything had unrolled from there as most of America winced.“A rooster crows only when it sees the light,” the new champ said. “Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.”The kid who ran across the Causeway free and easy moved at a much faster speed after his announcement. He changed his religion, changed his name to Cassius X, changed it again to Muhammad Ali, traveled across Africa on a triumphant tour, was married, beat Liston again in Lewiston, Maine, of all places, went to Europe to fight a few exhibitions, came back to the United States to humiliate Floyd Patterson in Las Vegas, then was divorced little more than a month ago. Every day seemed touched with notoriety, with adventure.He cut a record in New York, ten backup singers and a six-­piece band, the lyrics written for him by Sam Cooke. He visited the pyramids, where he rode a horse, then visited with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom he called “one of the sweetest, most loving, humble men on the planet earth,” which was not an opinion shared by the U.S. government. He had an operation for an inguinal hernia in Boston, which delayed the second Liston fight. He then used his personal bus that he named Big Red to bring sparring partners, cooks, friends, even media on the road to Chicopee, Massachusetts, to train for that fight when it eventually happened in Lewiston. (When the bus broke down in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he said, “Give me them buses. When they catches fire, it’s not 30,000 feet to the ground.”) He was the subject of a mammoth question-­and-­answer interview with Alex Haley in Playboy. He was on the cover of Time magazine, seemingly on the cover of half the magazines in the world. He was a twenty-­four-­hour news machine.Never shy or intimidated, he seemed at ease no matter where he landed. He spoke with the bulletproof certitude of a fourteen-­year-­old, a teenager convinced he knew everything about all subjects. He talked politics with politicians, religion with theologians, anything with anybody. Doubt was never involved.In a visit to the British Isles, in the birthplace of iconic Scottish poet Robert Burns, Alloway, a Scottish town outside Glasgow, he was his usual self. Seated in a famous wooden chair that had been built from the wooden presses that printed Burns’s first edition of poems in 1786, prodded by reporters, Ali “composed” one of his own poems.“I heard of a man named Burns,” he said, “who’s supposed to be a great poet. But if he was: How come I don’t know it?”The words, so basic, so formulaic, were straight out of an adolescent joke book. What level of bravado allowed him to say them here? He never thought twice. Reporters scribbled while he spoke. The “poem” went across the world, probably read by more people than ever read a single Robert Burns sonnet. Tom McMynn, curator of the Burns cottage, was not amused.“I don’t think Robbie would have thought much of his poetry,” the curator said.Moments like this happened with regularity. The young heavyweight champion of the world was a caricature, the American innocent dropped into one sophisticated situation after another. He survived because his curiosity was obvious and contagious. He was showman as much as he was boxer. Everywhere he went was part of the performance. His charm, when he used it, which was much of the time, could grab strangers of all ages, sexes, races, national origins. This could have been a continual, triumphant parade.Except . . . ​Except he was a member of the Nation of Islam.Except he made a lot of people uncomfortable.In a country that had begun to push and pull itself apart with the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, voices and sects and constituencies all claiming a piece of the future, louder each day, Ali had become a figure of controversy, sitting on a position at the far, far end of the racial debate. He was no marcher from Selma, Alabama. He was no link to Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, the three slain civil rights martyrs in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The Nation of Islam under the Honorable Elijah Muhammad preached separation, not inclusion, closer to the teachings of the KKK than the work of the Reverend Martin Luther King. The NOI talked self-­defense, not nonviolence, an eye for an eye, Jack, shut your mouth.“When Cassius Clay joined the Black Muslims and started calling himself Cassius X, he became a champion of racial segregation and that is what we are fighting against,” Reverend King said. “I think perhaps Cassius should spend more time proving his boxing skill and do less talking.”With the assassination of Malcolm X a year earlier—­a murder perpetrated by members of the NOI at the Avalon Ballroom on February 21, 1965—­Ali had become the most prominent Black Muslim in the country. Malcolm was threatened with death, then murdered because he had repudiated the “straitjacket world” of the NOI’s black racism and called the Honorable Elijah Muhammad a “religious faker.” Ali had stayed true to the religion and the man in charge.He appeared on the stage of the Chicago Coliseum at the NOI national convention five days after the assassination, the same day Malcolm was buried in New York, and stood next to Elijah Muhammad, who said that Malcolm received what he deserved. (“Malcolm was preaching bloodbath . . . ​he got what he deserved.”) The champ, by his very presence, agreed. Agreed? He fought a five-­round exhibition against his brother that was the main entertainment of the afternoon.Most major cities had an NOI temple in the ghetto, black men dressed in suits and ties and stern demeanors posted at the doors. The body language and the language from the pulpit both said that this was not a group to be dismissed lightly. White America certainly noticed.“Cassius belongs to a meandering cadre of the community that calls itself ‘The Fruit of Islam,’ ” columnist Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote. “History has shown this fruit is bitter and poisonous. It is the Gestapo in blackface. Its stock-­in-­trade is terror, its payoff is death. Cassius has enrolled in this despotism the first heavyweight champion since Max Schmeling to be in bondage to a cancerous tyranny.”This view pretty much was a majority view. Clay or Ali or whoever he was had gone to a dark side. He had been brainwashed, bamboozled, led astray. Why was he complaining? He was the heavyweight champion of the world. This was an exalted position in American culture. He could have anything he wanted. What was the matter with this guy? Why couldn’t he be happy? Be normal?Aren’t money and fame enough?“The fact is that my being a Muslim moved me from the sports pages to the front pages,” Ali boasted to Alex Haley in that interview in Playboy in October 1964. “I’m a whole lot bigger man than I would be if I was just a champion prizefighter. Twenty-­four hours a day I get offers—­to tour somewhere overseas, to visit colleges, to make speeches. Places like Harvard and Tuskegee, television shows, interviews, recordings. I get letters from all over. They are addressed to me in ways like ‘The Greatest Boxer in the World, U.S.A.’ And they come straight wherever they’re mailed from. People want to write books about me. And I ought to have stock in Western Union and cable companies, I get so many of them. I’m trying to show you how I have been elevated from the normal stature of fighters to being a world figure.”The problem was, the part of the world where he lived was not impressed.

Editorial Reviews

"An absorbing portrait of Ali during his years of vilification and exile from the ring . . . Somehow Mr. Montville has managed, in a sympathetic but not hagiographic fashion, to find a fresh angle on the Greatest—by showing him embattled, as one might expect, and yet outside the ring."--Wall Street Journal"Meticulously researched . . . The inventory of Ali books is indeed long. But put this one on the short list."--Newsday"A fresh, ambitious book about one of the most written-about men in the history of sports or anything else . . . He’s a writer who never disappoints."--The Boston Globe"Sting Like a Bee is a valuable, indeed essential, addition to the growing library on Ali, offering a broader understanding of the enigma known as 'the Greatest.'"--The Washington Post"A fast-paced account of Muhammad Ali's struggle as a conscientious draft objector, a flashpoint for a tumultuous era. . . A dramatic, pleasing tale of a sports iconoclast fighting for his rights."--Kirkus"Montville has given fans and boxing historians a thoroughly enjoyable and informative read."--Library Journal (starred review)"Fascinating backstory . . . the result is a book that belongs in the top tier of Ali literature."--Booklist"Revealing . . . With dry humor, Montville portrays the central figures of Ali’s life—mostly hustlers and religious idealists—as well as the controversies surrounding an African-American who both condemned racial injustice and praised George Wallace . . . Montville shows how Ali earned the title he came up with for himself: 'The Greatest.'"--Publishers Weekly"In Sting Like a Bee, Montville has put together an exhaustively researched and deftly written account of that stretch. The portrait of Ali is rendered with rich, meticulous detail . . . there’s no denying that Sting Like a Bee will give the reader a new appreciation for the difficulties of Ali’s journey."--The Maine Edge"Montville has conducted serious research into the legal maneuvering and legal issues surrounding Muhammad Ali and the draft, and brought the source material together in a way that makes it more easily accessed and more fully understood. That’s a valuable service."--Ring Magazine