Katz was right. In fact, Hauser dedicated the book to Bingham, and he informed Ali beforehand. Delighted, Ali said, "I'm glad you understand how good Howard is." Then Hauser sat down to read the manuscript to the Alis and Bingham. He asked Ali to stand up and read the dedication. So the Champ rose and, speaking quite clearly, declared, "For Howard Bingham, there's no one like him."
Bingham looked up, stunned. "That's a joke, right?" he said.
Ali shook his head, showing him the page. Bingham began to cry.
In the Camry, Howard is on his way east from L.A. to Claremont, where he has volunteered to show his pictures and speak to a high school assembly. He is looking forward to the challenge. What a wonderful thing it is to stand up and just...talk.
The kids take to him too. Time for questions. Hands shoot up. Howard points to a pretty girl. She asks, "Mr. Bingham, are you married?"
"Good. Could I introduce you to my mother?"
Everybody hoots. Howard beams. More and more, he is coming into his own. He was chosen to be a keynote speaker at the National Stuttering Project in Atlanta last month. Piece of cake. Hey, in Japan in April he stood beside Ali in front of 70,000 people in the Tokyo Dome and read Ali's greeting to the crowd. Not a halt, not a missed beat. "You know," Bingham says with a sly smile, "if I could've just spoken before like I wanted to, there'd've been no stopping me."
He's thinking about starting a restaurant between Beverly Hills and Hollywood. Maybe right over there, on La Cienega. The walls would be filled with his pictures, and he'd greet everybody. The place would be called just Bingham's. "It's finally coming out how important Howard is," Hauser says. "And I think Howard likes the attention. But no one begrudges him that."
"Hey," says Bingham, "tell Ali you don't think I need him anymore, and see what he says."