Ali left out in high-priced auction
ESPN SportsZone news services

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The robe, trunks and shoes that Muhammad Ali wore in 1974 when he beat George Foreman for the heavyweight title in their "Rumble in the Jungle" drew some of the highest bids at an auction of Ali memorabilia back on Oct. 19, 1997.

Ali regained the heavyweight championship with an eighth-round knockout of Foreman in Zaire. The white cloth, calf-length robe decorated with African patterns and elaborate beadwork sold for $140,000 to a telephone bidder who requested anonymity. Christie's said the amount was an auction record for boxing memorabilia.

The trunks sold for $50,000 to venture capitalist Robert Chaney, and the shoes went for $52,000 to an anonymous man bidding in the outdoor tent at Christie's.

"It's great. A lot of Muhammad Ali's fans have spoken for their love for Ali and the memorabilia that's available," said Ronnie Paloger, a Los Angeles businessman who put his private collection on the block. "The sale did very, very well."

The sale of 348 lots totaled more than $1.3 million, which included Christie's 15 percent commission.

Ali's attorney said the former champion, who has Parkinson's syndrome, was disappointed about the auction. Ali did not participate and did not profit from it.

Ali had earlier said some of the items were stolen from him, but Christie's officials said Paloger owned everything free and clear. Paloger said he kept nothing for himself.

"I haven't done anything other than put together a great collection," said Paloger, who amassed about 3,000 items over a seven-year period. "You feel like you're a temporary caretaker. Now I'm passing it on to many other people."

Asked if he was bothered by the criticism, Paloger smiled and said, "Muhammad Ali's my hero. He's still the greatest."

Chaney outlasted a phone bidder for the white satin trunks, which came with a Nov. 11, 1974, copy of Sports lllustrated showing Ali wearing them.

"It's a passion, for Ali was the greatest fighter ever and a passion for this particular fight being the toughest," said Chaney, recalling that Foreman was heavily favored in Zaire.

Another robe worn by Cassius Clay, Ali's name before he converted to the Muslim religion, sold for $20,000. The robe, from a Feb. 25, 1964, fight with Sonny Liston, features the words "The Lip" stitched on the back in red letters.

Its pre-auction estimate of $40,000-$60,000 was revised down to $25,000-$35,000 after Ali's official photographer, Howard Bingham, pointed out to Christie's officials that the robe didn't match the one shown in fight film.

A six-page letter sent by Ali to the Selective Service on Aug. 23, 1966, asking for a draft exemption as a minister of religion sold for $55,000 over the phone to Mike Cavendar of Tyler, Texas. Bidding began at $40,000.

The board declined Ali's request for reclassification and he was eventually found guilty of draft evasion, stripped of his title and forced into exile for 3½ years.

Cavendar also purchased Ali's 1960 Golden Gloves trophy for $25,000, less than the pre-auction estimate of $30,000-$40,000.

Of the 387 lots offered, 39 were pulled for lack of sufficient minimum bids.

The biggest of those were the judges' scorecards from the Feb. 25, 1964, heavyweight title fight between Clay and Liston in Miami Beach, Fla. Clay won his first championship when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round.

The scorecards were estimated between $60,000 and $80,000, but the bidding never went higher than $40,000. The boxing applications filed by Clay and Liston went for $18,000.

Daniel Kobylinski, a security consultant on vacation from New York City, was among the more modest bidders. He and a friend spent $1,900 for a Winston cigarette signed by Clay, who pulled the unlit cigarette from the mouth of boxing historian Hank Kaplan in 1961.

"I was sweating a little bit," Kobylinski said with a grin after holding off persistent competition. "He's always been a sports icon of mine growing up."