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April 22, 2016

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,/ PAGE 16 BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, APRIL 22, 2016 F HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss Blood Brothers The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Aft and Malcolm X By Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith -- Basic Books Muhammad All has had more books written about him than any other boxer, perhaps more than any other athlete. The vast majority of these books play into the Ali myth that has been or- chestrated for years by many in the press as well as the former champ's own publicity machine. Every so often, ~ author digs in and takes biased look at this very complicated man, and the truth is m0re~terest- ir/g than the myth: Two of these books, Jack Kram's The Ghosts of Manila and Jack Cashill's Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed All and Killed King's Dre'am, are among the best when it comes to uncovering the ptlzzle of understanding the real Muham- mad Ali. Joining these works is the meticulously researched Blood Brothers by Randy Rob- erts and Johnny Smith. Delving into previously un- viewed FBI files, the personal papers of Malcolm X, the notes of Alex Haley, and interviews from the past and present, the authors have written an important history of not only a tragic relationship, but also of the Nation of Islam (The Black Muslims) as well as a very in- teresting account of Cassius Clay's early boxing career up to his bouts with Sonny Liston. Malcolm and Cassius first met in 1962. Clay, after win- ning Olympic Gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics, was mak- ing a name for himself by not only winning fights, but also by his unique self-promotion influenced by the wrestler Gor- geous George. Malcolm had no interest in sports, believing they were just another way that the white establishment exploited the black man in America. However, he was immediately taken by the young contender. In many ways, they were similar in that both were outspoken, charismatic, and couldn't re- sist the limelight. Malcolm also recognized what an asset Clay could be to the Nation. Having a popular and well-spoken ath- lete coming out in support of, and even joining, the Muslims would surely attract many new and young members. Elijah Mu- hammad, the leader of the Na- tion, didn't share this view. He not only was not interested in athletes, he also believed Clay was going to be destroyed when he stepped into the ring against Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston. That would certainly not look good for the Muslims. Roberts and Smith explain how Malcolm had from the be- ginning unwavering confidence that Clay would not only win the title, but would go on to become the Nation's greatest asset. While he would prove to be right, it would also be his undoing. Most people believe the Black Muslims are part of the Islamic religion practiced throughout the world. In reality, under Elijah Muhammad, it was a Black nationalist and separat- ist movement that was very much at odds with the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. Muham- mad considered King an Uncle Tom who was being subservient to the white establishment by demanding African-Americans be fully integi'ated into society. The Muslims were envisioning an armed revolution with the goal of retribution and creating their own state. There is much in this book that will make those who have looked up to Muhammad Ali as a great civil fights leader uncomfortable. For a large part of his career Clay/All preached separation of the races, though it can be argued his belief in this was r~ot very deep, but more of a young man taken in by a cult. It may have also been driven by fear. When asked why he was not joining in on the marches and demonstrations with Dr. King, he responded that he did not want to go to a place where he would have dogs set upon him, be clubbed by the police, or worse. Also, once he was involved with the Nation, he quickly learned about the punishment, quite often brutal, they would hand out to those who did not stay in line. It can also be questioned just how deep the friendship between Malcolm and Cassius was. The two were certainly very drawn to each other. But as much as Malcolm felt affection for Clay, he also knew he would be a useful tool in advancing the cause and enhancing Malcolm's own stature within the Nation. For Clay, he had found a father figure. One who could teach the barely literate boxer how to speak out on issues, even if he didn'tunderstand what he was talking about some of the time. Malcolm's biggest miscal- culation was in believing his friendship and mentoring of Clay would protect him from retribution when he stepped beyond his bounds with the Na- tion. After Clay defeated Liston, Elijah Muhammad also came to the realization of how useful Clay, upon whom he now be- stowed the name of Mu_hammad Ali, would be to the Nation, not only for propaganda purposes but as a financial asset. Boxing has always been a shady sport, with underworld figures in the background con- trolling and robbing fighters. Ali, who may have thought he was escaping being exploited by gangsters, had come under the control of another mob filled with hitmen and leg-breakers. When Elijah Muhammad turned on Malcolm, Malcolm saw Ali as his protection, only to have the champion turn his back on him- Ali joined in the chorus of those who wanted Malcolm punished and worse. Their friendship meant nothing to him any longer. He had a new father figure to please in Elijah. The very detailed account of Malcolm's last days, constantly under threat of assassination, is harrowing. Incidents such as when his home is firebombed while he, his wife, and two daughters are sleeping, make you feel what it is like to be a hunted man with very few friends. This is an important book that will leave you rethinking your opinion of Muhammad Ali. It is in no way an attack on one of the greatest fighters of all time. It is an unbiased look at a flawed human being and a tragic friendship that will leave you asking, ~What if?." Registration Now Open for Boston Neighborhood Basketball League The Boston Parks and Rec- reation Department has an- nounced that registration is now open for the 47th annual season of Boston's favorite summer basketball league, the Boston Neighborhood Basket- ball League (BNBL), kicking off on Tuesday, July 5a. BNBL has three divisions each for boys and girls: 13 and under: 15 and under, and 18 and under. Encompassing recreation, sports and community engage- ment, BNBL real value is help- ing make Boston a happier and safer in the summer months by providing a physical outlet for youngsters throughout the city. Over 1,800 players on 174 teams will participate in this year's league at 23 sites throughout the city. BNBL is played at Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF) com- munity centers and selected city parks. The 2016 BNBL season ends with the championship games played in mid-August. BNBL also offers a free Pee Wee Developmental program for boys and girls ages 6 to 11. For more information, email Michael Mitchell at mike.mitch- or call 617-961- 3083. To register online go to https : / / leagues, bluesombrero. com/bprd. SAYONARA IN SPRINGFIELD -- It was a sad day in the city 90 miles to the west of Boston on April 17, when the Springfield Falcons played what very likely was their final game in history, potentially ending an 80-year span of having an American Hockey League franchise in the community. The Falcons have been sold to the Phoenix Coyotes, who are expected to move the franchise to Tucson for the opening of the 2016-2017 season. Like the Bruins, who have their AHL franchise just down the road in Providence, the Coyotes would prefer to have their top affiliate close at hand. The move has the potential t sever an eight-decade presence of AHL hockey in Springfield. Although highly unlikely, the Falcons possibly could be back for a lame duck season in the fall if the Tucson arena is not ready. If the move takes place this summer as expected, one re- mote option is to have another American Hockey League team relocate to Springfield, where the AHL will continue to main- tain its league headquarters. Even if that were to happen, it's extremely doubtful that all that could be accomplished by October. Right now, other AHL franchises are contemplating a move. Another possibility is for the East Coast Hockey League, a step down from the AHL, to place a team in Springfield. That occurred in Manchester, N.H., last spring when the AHL Manchester Monarchs were re- located to California and were replaced by an ECHL team of the same name. Springfield could probably get a team. But the question remains whether it could get one for the start of the 2016-2017 season. The Springfield Republican newspaper put it bluntly in an editorial when it stated: "The most likely scenario is an empty arena when the 2016-2017 American Hockey League sea- son opens in October." Plus, any team thinking about a move into the western Mas- sachusetts city has to confront one indisputable fact: the Fal- cons have not been, supported by the community. That's evident because one big factor in the departure of the Falcons has been low at- tendance over the past five years. According to the Repub- lican, average attendance at AHL games across the league was 5,982 per game during the 'just-concluded regular season, a record for the circuit. However, the Falcons only averaged just over 3,100 tickets sold with actual attendance on game nights hovering around 2,600. The Falcons drew an announced crowd of 2,679 in their final game, a loss to the Portland Pirates. Team owner Charlie Pompea said he needed an average of 4,000 to make things work out financially. In his five years of ownership, that never happened. Your faithful correspondent feels especially sad about the potential end of AHL hockey in Springfield. As a native of the area, I can remember the glory years of the franchise in the early 1960s when the Spring- field Indians finished first in the regular season three years in a row and followed up in the postseasons by capturing three consecutive Calder Cup Championships (1960, 1961 and 1962). Here's something even more impressive: during those three years, the Indians lost only five playoff games total. Remem- ber the times: the NHL was a six-team league, so not every talented player could make an NHL roster. Much like the New York Yan- kees farm team in Newark, N.J., in the mid 1930s (who some felt would have finished no lower than fourth in the eight-team American League), the Indians of the early 1960s probably could have held their own in the NHL of their day. The Springfield franchise would win two more Calder Cups: in 1971 as the Spring- field Kings and in 1975 as the Indians once again. The following year (1976), former Bruins defenseman Ed- die Shore sold the team, ending his ownership that had been in place since 1939. Not until the 1990s would Springfield win it all on the ice again, capturing consecutive Calder Cups in 1990 and 1991. When the originalfranchise left in 1994, team GM Bruce Landon got permission from the AHL office to start an expansion franchise -- and the Springfield Falcons were born. They stayed 22 years before they flew the coop. It was in the 1920s when the Springfield Indians first took to the ice as one of the franchises participating in the Canadian- American League, a predecessor of the American Hockey League. Shore purchased the team after the B's won the 1939 Stanley Cup. He ran the Indians fran- chise until the 1970s. The present day Falcons re- ally haven't had much on-ice success in Springfield. In their 22-year history, they never advanced to the Calder Cup Finals. They've only made the Calder Cup playoffs three out of the last 16 years. Another factor could be that the Falcons haven't had the Springfield region to them- selves. Right down the road in Hartford, only a little more than 20 miles away, there is another AHL team, the Wolf Pack. That means that the two teams ac- tually have been competing for fans in the area between the two communities. If there isn't pro hockey in Springfield come this fall, look for the Hartford team to market itself in the Springfield region. So Springfield-area AHL fans will still have a team, one just down the road, but one without the history and the memories of years gone by.