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LEFT HOOKS AND TENTERHOOKS
In Manhattan last week Cassius Clay was cutting a record, and in Chester, Pa. Jack Nilon was biting his fingernails. Each in his way, both men were waiting for Emperor Sonny Liston to decide whether there would be a September Clay-Liston title fight in Philadelphia.
As for Clay, he was willing, at a moment's notice, to wrap up the LP (it will be a recital of his poems and snappy sayings labeled I Am the Greatest), check out of his plush suite at the Americana Hotel and go into serious training for the first time in his life. Previously Clay has trained, so to speak, in Miami. This time he would hole up in a monastic work camp in New Jersey, "chopping wood and letting the reporters in for just a few minutes a day."
Jack Nilon, Liston's adviser, and his brothers, Bob and Jim Nilon, who will promote the fight, are just as eager as Cassius. Although only eight weeks remain before Sept. 30, tentative date for the light, everything and everybody stands ready, says Bob Nilon. "The tickets and program are at the printers, waiting for the word. Philadelphia Stadium has been mapped out. The vendors are marking time. There's not a detail we have overlooked. After all, we've been planning this fight for more than a year."
What the Nilon boys had not planned for was Pennsylvania Attorney General Walter Alessandroni. Last week he ruled against the fight application made by Intercontinental Promotions, a corporation composed principally of Bob and Jim Nilon and Liston himself. By promoting his own fight, Liston stood to be taxed on a relatively moderate corporate basis, rather than on straight income (in his case, up to 90%). But such an arrangement, said the attorney general, violated the state's athletic code.
Stung by the decision ("We had consulted experts first," Bob Nilon pouted afterward), the Nilons had one alternative: drop Liston from the corporation but increase his share of the purse. And although Liston, hedgehopping around the country, was making negative noises and talking about next year, when his tax situation would be much improved, Jack Nilon was confident he would come around. "Ten percent of $2 million," said Jack with ironclad logic, "still beats 48% of no purse at all."
Jacks, as all children know, is a game in which, using only one hand, you bounce a ball and-while it is in the air—quickly pick up jackstones, first one, then two and on up to 10. Now comes word from New Jersey that adults have taken it up. Herb Hosking, a proper insurance type with a good jack hand, started the ball bouncing at Lake Valhalla's tennis-and-swim club recently. He simply proclaimed himself the men's singles jacks champion. His fellow club members were not willing to let a title like that go unchallenged. Now any weekday afternoon around 4 you can find Herb on the clubhouse porch surrounded by as many as 20 men and women, all down on their knees. Rules are simple and strictly enforced. No help from children, no furtive practicing at home, no pillows for sore knees. And you have to bring your own gin. Some players are good enough to sweep up all 10 jacks and go on to intricate variations called "chicken in the basket" and "sheep over the fence." Others aren't as nimble. "We've had a few hospital cases," said Hosking. "One of our junior players, he's 29, made a wild throw, lunged off balance and broke his elbow. And he was only on twosies."
Adult jacks has everything, even a mysterious blonde who wanders in to watch. "There's one in every jacks contest the world over," said Hosking, who by now is a former champion. "They are usually called Edie, but we haven't figured this one out yet."