When the group paused, I moved up to the fringe and picked up the conversation with Ali's query to a man and woman holding motorcycle helmets: "What are y'all doin' all the way down from there?"
"We came down to see you!" the man exclaimed.
Ali's face remained passive; he seemed preoccupied. "The wind don't bother y'all?" he asked.
"Naw, you get used to it."
I had a Golden Gloves photograph of myself in the gym bag, which was still sitting on the Joe Walcott rock. I wanted Ali to autograph the picture, but determined to stick to my strategy of hanging in the background, I held off. Ali motioned toward a nearby cabin, and we all moved in that direction.
The cabin had heavy wooden furnishings. A projector was being set up. Ali placed a chair in the center of the floor and slouched into it. I was startled when a squat, white-haired black man in denim overalls came in. It was Dick Sadler. He had been across the ring in Foreman's corner in Za�re. He sat down heavily on the floor next to me. "Aren't you Dick Sadler?" I asked. His head snapped around in surprise. "Yeah, yeah, that's right." He reached up to shake.
We watched an entertainment program that Ali had recently emceed, introducing and joking with a procession of celebrities: singer Barry White was thanked for not taking up boxing; Billy Conn was told he was lucky he came along as early as he did; former Cleveland Brown fullback Jim Brown traded some lighthearted machismo; Aretha Franklin got her hands kissed and was blessed as the true Queen of Soul. After about 20 minutes, one of the several young men I had noticed hustling around camp leaned in from outside and gestured. Ali, Sadler and several others left the cabin.
The program ended, and the rest of us left, too. Outside, I waited, leaning on the Jack Johnson rock. Soon Ali came by, and the cluster formed again. Holding my gym bag, I stepped up and asked if he would sign the picture of me fighting in the Golden Gloves. He flipped it over and inscribed in large letters: TO MATT BOWEN FROM MUHAMMAD ALI 1975.
I had read that Ali welcomed anyone who wanted to work out to come to his camp and use the facilities. When he handed back the signed picture, I blurted out, "Could I shadow box and hit the bags?" I felt absurd. "Yeah, go on in, I'll have someone cut the lights on for ya'," he said without blinking.
Within a minute one of the gofers appeared and the overhead fluorescent lights flicked on. I slipped into one of the adjacent small rooms to change. Over a couch, various items of boxing paraphernalia hung from wooden pegs, including a pair of dirty handwraps with a name written faintly on them. I looked closer—it was HOLMES. Larry Holmes, then a sparring partner and promising heavyweight from nearby Easton, Pa.