June 22, 2016

"I'll whup him"

Spalding University president Tori Murden McClure suspended
a red Schwinn—not Clay's, which was never recovered—from the
university's main building as a tribute to Ali after his June 3 death.
Some people, when their bikes get stolen, start blogs. Others parlay their theft-induced animus into legendary boxing careers.

But perhaps I've misleadingly used the plural there. That second course of events has only unfolded once, that I know of: in the case of Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., better known today as Muhammed Ali.

In 1954, 12-year-old Cassius rode his brand new red-and-white Schwinn to a business expo in downtown Louisville's Columbia Auditorium, now the Spalding University Center. By the time he came out to pedal home, his bike was gone—and he was livid.

Someone told Cassius that there was a policeman in the Columbia Gym in the auditorium's basement, and that he could report the theft to him.

"I ran downstairs, crying," Ali wrote in his autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, "but the sights and sounds and the smell of the boxing gym excited me so much that I almost forgot about the bike."

Maybe that's how Ali remembered it, but in most tellings of the story the first words out of young Cassius's mouth when he met Sergeant Joe Martin expressed his intent to "whup" whoever had made off with his Schwinn.

"You better learn to fight before you start fightin'," Martin replied.

And Cassius did. He began training in the rec center Martin ran in the Columbia Gym and by 1960 had learned the ropes well enough to win the light heavyweight gold at the Summer Olympics in Rome.

And the rest is history: Clay's bike was never recovered, but man was there some whupping.

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