Bingham has never gotten over the slight. He still hauls out the tape and shows it in slow motion: the introduction, the Judas gesture, the abduction...the deceit. Even now, he is not as angry as he is disbelieving that somebody would do such a thing to him, to anybody. "Myself," he says, "I can't stand it if I even make someone uncomfortable."
Oh, by the way, what ever happened to Arsenio Hall?
By now, everybody knows that the path to the Champ is through Bingham. He handled all the details when Ali lit the torch at the '96 Olympics. Bingham discussed it with Lonnie, of course, but he didn't let Ali know until a few days before the big event. "He can't keep a secret," Howard explains.
Besides, Ali didn't appreciate the magnitude of the honor. "He doesn't get excited about anything anymore," Bingham says. In Tokyo a few years ago, the two of them were together on a high floor of a hotel when an earthquake hit. Bingham cowered, but Ali simply strolled to the window to look down upon the irritated earth. "That's God talking, Bingham" was all he had to offer on the subject. Thomas Hauser, Ali's biographer, says that the only thing that really bothers Ali anymore is his fear that he'll go to a fiery hell for all his sins—carnal division.
Since there is no real time in much of Ali's existence, Bingham is often the travel clock. They have communicated in the same way since the '60s: To alert the Champ, Bingham makes a loud clucking noise twice. Time for Ali to move on. Cluck cluck. Sometimes Ali goes cluck cluck in return. Loud and clear. You can hear it even from behind a closed door when Bingham is searching for Ali. Cluck cluck.
It still confounds Ali that Bingham hasn't done the three things that most of Ali's acquaintances have: beg, borrow and steal from him. "Thirty-five years, never asked for a thing," Ali says, shaking his head in wonder. Actually, Bingham, honest to the end, volunteers that recently he has hit the Champ up for some dough. "Why you take some now?" Ali asked.
"Because if I didn't, you'd just give it to someone else."
This is probably true. How many millions did Ali give away—or let slip away—without hardly noticing? The only thing Bingham regrets, though, is that when the carnival ended, he couldn't persuade his friend not to fight anymore. Ali wouldn't listen to Bingham's pleas, and he kept returning to the ring.