By Harold Bell
HE WAS HIS BROTHER’S KEEPER!
Two weeks ago tens of thousands of people visited the city of Louisville, Kentucky. On Friday June 10, was the home-going services and celebration of the life of Muhammad Ali. All eyes were on the speakers and celebrities in attendance.
The celebrities included former President Bill Clinton, television broadcaster Bryant Gumble, comedian Billy Crystal, former Heavyweight Champions Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and actor Will Smith among others.
But the most important man in the champion’s life will be paid little or no attention–his only brother and sibling Rahman aka Rudy. He had Ali’s back and was his brother’s confidant during the height of his boxing career. Muhammad Ali never could have made it without him and neither could I.
I am one of the benefactors of Rahman’s kindness and good deeds. I met Ali first on the campus of Howard University in 1967. He was holding court with hundreds of students on the steps of one of the administrations buildings. The topic would be his refusal to be drafted into the United States Army.
Shortly after the rally he said to no one in particular “I want to see DC” and I volunteered to be his tour guild. During the walk down the Georgia Avenue corridor we talked about my work with youth in the inner-city.
I reminded him that he had taken a courageous stand against The Powers-To-Be and he reminded me of the stands taken by Jack Johnson, Paul Roberson and Jackie Robinson. They had faced similar racist acts in America. Boxing never came into the conversation until we arrived at 7th & T Streets around the corner from the legendary Howard Theater.
Harvey Cooper known as DC’s oldest teenager because of his bubbling personality suddenly came of Sam K’s Record store with hands up challenging the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Ali didn’t miss a beat and joined in the act.
It was a great day for me, Harvey and the hundreds of students Ali met that day on the campus of Howard University. I cannot imagine how many students on the campus (some only in their minds)are now telling their children and grandchildren, the day they met Muhammad Ali. Three years later in 1970 I would meet Rahman in Cleveland, Ohio.
DC Attorney Harry Barnett and the late Washington Star newspaper columnist J. D. Beathea would invite me to ride with them to Cleveland for a boxing exhibition for charity. A Children’s Hospital in the city was in financial straits and Muhammad Ali had agreed to help the city raise money to save the hospital.
The trip would enhance my career in sports talk radio and television beyond my wildest dreams.
I could hardly get my bearings when we walked into the hotel lobby and there stood Muhammad Ali holding court with the media. He looked over and saw me and yelled, “Harold Bell what are you doing this far away from home?”
The rest is community and sports media history.
It was here I met a man who would go on to become the most popular man in boxing, second only to Muhammad Ali—Don King. Stay tune that is another story.
When news reached me of the passing of my friend, I was relieved because I knew he was in a better place. Three decades he fought the dreaded Parkinson disease but in the end the disease did what George Foreman, and Joe Frazier could not do, it counted him out!
I know his brother Rahman is really in a bad place right now, but he knows his brother loved him, despite the tough times and obstacles placed in his path to keep them apart in the twilight of their lives. Sometimes family can be a bitch and then you die—I have been there and done that!
The last time I saw The Greatest in person was at the Verizon Center in 2005. His daughter Laila was fighting on the undercard of Mike Tyson when he refused to come out of his corner for the 7th round against journeyman Kevin McBride.
I had no clue that the champion was even in the building until I accidentally bumped into Rahman heading toward the limo Ali was riding in. He grabbed me and pointed toward the limo and said, “Go stand over there, he wants to see you.”
The next thing I knew the “The Greatest” was coming toward me with what looked like the entire Verizon Center crowd following him (Georgia Avenue corridor 1967).
In the meantime, I took some photos of out my brief case that I had planned to show to Laila his daughter. The photos were of Veronica, me and him at a DC Chamber of Commerce Dinner in 1974 at the Sheraton-Park Hotel.
Rahman brought him straight to me. It was rather awkward when I tried showing the photos to Veronica and the champ tried to sign them, but his hands were trembling so bad I backed off.
Rahman insisted that I let him sign the photos, because he was making every effort to autograph them for me. I left the hectic scene thinking how thoughtful and kind he was to me despite his health problems. Evidently, he and Rahman had not forgotten who I was and what I was to them.
As I look back I pray that The Greatest did not forget his only brother and sibling when his will is read. Rahman deserves better then what he has received because there were times when he had to carry the champion. I hope The Greatest remembered he was not heavy—he was Rahman’s brother!