"Why write about Herbert?" a Muslim asked last May during a taxi ride to the stadium in Munich where Ali was to fight Richard Dunn in the early-morning hours.
"Because Herbert is the man who makes the deals," the Muslim was told, "the biggest deals in the history of sport for one athlete."
"Forget about him," the Muslim said. "It's not worth it. All you get is trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
"The worst kind," he said, almost whispering.
"Hey, nobody's here in the taxi except the two of us. You can talk."
"No, I can't," he said. "Herbert is everywhere."
When he is not "everywhere," Herbert, 48, lives with his wife in a big house in Chicago's Woodlawn section near the University of Chicago. Ali has recently bought a house down the street from him. Designed by an Arabian architect, there is a heavy Middle Eastern ambience to Herbert's home; it is filled with exotic rugs and pictures and things like flowers on the backs of camel statuary and strange candelabra. Across the street from Herbert's is the house of his late father, Elijah, where his older brother and leader of the Muslims, Wallace D. Muhammad, now lives (Herbert's other two brothers occupy the houses next to him). "All of his spare time," a friend says of Herbert, "is spent supervising alterations on his house. He never stops making it over. He seems to get a kick out of it."
Herbert, who is known universally by his first name, lives quietly, seldom entertaining at home. He does not have many visitors, except for his five sons, all of whom are married. He spends a lot of time reading from his extensive library—mostly works on philosophy, economics and religion—which includes some extremely rare volumes. Often, when he has lectured Ali, the champion would say, "Hey, that's great stuff. Where you learn that?" Herbert would tell him that it came from one of his books, and Ali would ask to borrow it. "Can't do it; it's too rare, Judge," Herbert would say.
Herbert is out of the house by 7 a.m., usually in a dark suit, off to work—most of which is done over two phones in his Cadillac. Nobody seems to know much about his private life, other than that "he chooses his friends very carefully," and seems to be forever on a diet. "He loves to eat," says a friend named Hassan, "but when he has to give up somethin' he loves, I've never seen anybody with more willpower." Herbert is just as stubborn about his privacy.