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Muhammad Ali

A Stolen Bicycle

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. Unlike most future champions, his parents, Cassius and Odessa (Grady) Clay, were middle-class and he lived in the respectable part of town. His father was a sign and mural painter, and his mother was a domestic. Sundays, the family, including younger brother Rudolph (now Rahaman Ali), would troop to the Mount Zion Baptist Church, and weekdays he attended DuValle Junior High School, and then Central High School. Ali was never a good student, and he confessed in later years that he has always been a slow reader.

At the age of 12, a curious incident set young Cassius Clay on a new path. On an October afternoon he rode his new bike to the Columbia Auditorium. Later, when he went back to get it, it had been stolen. Someone told him there was a police officer in the basement, so Clay went down there. The basement turned out to be a boxing gym—the officer, Joe Martin, was a boxing enthusiast with his own gym. After listening to his volley of threats against whoever stole the bike, Martin invited him to come around to his gym and learn something about boxing.

Six weeks after he started training with Joe Martin, Clay fought and won his first bout. Over the next few years of his training, Martin became more and more impressed, not only with Clay's speed and strength, but even more by his mental quickness and his ability to take a punch without the twin dangers of getting mad or going into a panic. In high school, Clay became a very successful amateur boxer, winning six Kentucky Golden Gloves Championships and two nationals. By the time he graduated, he had 100 wins and only 8 losses. Throughout the 1950s, he also appeared on a local television program Tomorrow's Champions. He was paid four dollars for each televised match. Then, shortly after graduation, he won a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics in light-heavy-weight boxing. He decided to turn pro.

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