Hangin' with The Greatest: Ali and Will Smith, who played The Champ in an acclaimed film, share a tender photo-op moment in Miami Beach in 2003.
The last time I saw Ali, I was sitting next to him at ringside in the Miami Beach Convention Center, maybe in the same seat I was in 40 years earlier for the first Clay-Liston fight. Next to Ali was Will Smith, who had played Ali in a movie I hated because the character called Lipsyte was, although much better looking than the original, even dumber than same. The movie Ali was less fun than the original and more principled earlier.
A re-examination of Ali had begun by that time, led by Mark Kram, who, before he died, attacked viciously but not always without justification, and Tom Hauser, his thoughtful biographer who had been squeezed out of the inner circle when he began to question the soft-pedaling of Ali's early religious and social stands as well as the commercialization of his name.
Ali finally was cashing in. The Miami Beach Convention Center party was for a book called "G.O.A.T." (Greatest of All Time, his corporate name), a gorgeous gallery of photos that weighed 75 pounds and sold for $3,000 (the "champ" edition, with a Jeff Koons plastic sculpture attached, was $10,000). I had contributed an essay and was thus a guest of the publisher, Taschen, which had decided to launch the book during Art Basel, an international show of the hot, the hip, the hustling, about which I was clueless.
Ali was new again and so was I, thinking on that warm December night: It's cold where I came from and the popcorn man is making money and I have something to write about but don't have to file tonight. Can it get any better than this?