The Claim to Fame speech carried the day. Clay fulfilled his term paper requirement when Lauderdale permitted him to give an oral presentation to her class, a travelogue on his adventures touring various American cities as an amateur boxer. He passed. At the graduation ceremonies on June 11, 1960, Clay received a standing ovation as he strode to get his diploma. It was, in a sense, a classic final performance for the clown who would be king.
"I remember when he graduated," says Davis. "All the guys had white shirts and ties under their caps and gowns. And dress shoes. He had on a T-shirt, and he walked down the aisle in his brogan work boots. With the steel toes."
It is more than three decades later, the autumn of 1991, and Muhammad Ali is sitting with his head back and his eyes closed in the high-backed leather chair in the office behind his house on a farm in Berrien Springs, Mich. His 50th birthday is two months away. Out back, a horse in a pasture is galloping along a fence. Dusk, in orange silks, approaches from the west. Ali rises slowly from his chair and begins moving sideways across the room, dancing, sliding in and out, shooting out the jab, shadowboxing, daydreaming.
"I'll win the heavyweight championship back when I'm 50 years old!" he says. "Isn't that somethin'? Is that powerful? They can pay $20 million or $50 million to whoever I fight. Holyfield or Tyson. This is gonna shake 'em up. It's like a miracle, a dream. Muhammad Ali is back! Can you picture this?"
Ali sweeps left and right across the rug, stops in front of the hall door and sets his feet. He throws a flurry, snaps a jab, crosses with an overhand right—Phew! Phew! Phew!—comes back to his toes, slips back into the chair. He is breathing heavily as he leans back and closes his eyes again. His left hand, resting on his chest, is trembling. The grin is childlike, mischievous.
"Can you believe it?" he says. "Dancin' at 50!...Ooooohhh.... Dancin' at 50. Maaannnn. It'll be bigger than the moon shot! I'm dedicatin' the fight to the baby boomers, the people who were six years old when I beat Sonny Liston. Now they're thirty-four. I'll do the Ali shuffle!"
Back on his feet, he rolls to the left, stops, stutter-steps a shuffle, dances left and pulls back his head, dodging punches here and sliding there. Ali is inventing himself again, dreaming again, picking and messing with all of the old ghosts in new fantasies.
"I get a hundred million," he says. "Did you hear me say that? A hundred million dollars! In the first 25 seats there'll be 25 presidents. President of Egypt. President of Syria. Gaddafi. Mobutu. Kings. Can you imagine the security? Maaaannnn. A hundred million dollars for architects and builders to build a big school. If you had a chance to build a school, wouldn't you? Imagine: the Muhammad Ali School of Technology or whatever. Seventy-five classrooms. Big kitchen. Auditorium. My dream is to make lectures in the school, to 300 kids! Take them off dope. In the school that I built. Can you imagine that?"
Yes, of course. Three hundred kids, a big, happy family at last. And they can all go swimming in the pool.