SI: One of Antony's lines seems to describe you: "My very hairs do mutiny."
King: How about the Bard's immortal Merchant of Venice, in which Sherlock—or whoever he was—was going to marry What's Her Name. After grabbing her hairpiece and bewigging herself, she defended him in his case of being whatever he was in the most eloquent and articulate fashion.
King: In the kingdoms and fiefdoms during the Inquisition, a serf's crudest punishment was to have his or her hair lopped off. Bette Davis loved to render her subjects bald.
SI: I didn't know she was around then.
King: I'm talking about the movie. As Queen Elizabeth, she deprived the British underclass of their beauty, their pride, their dignity. It was not unlike the Old South. Slavery in America stripped the black man of his cultural existence, his religious existence, his mythological existence, and cloned him to be a servant of the master. Even in the 1940s and '50s he had to repeat the Big Lie, that he was worthless, shiftless and brainless. He stole, he cheated, he could hardly function. He wished he was white. Black athletes couldn't be white unless their hair was straight and silky. So they went out and conked it with all sorts of lethal and abusive chemicals.
SI: The Afro blossomed in the Sixties as an emblem of unity and ethnic pride.
King: It instilled a much-needed self-determination. The Afro was wild and woolly. It let black athletes rebel against convention while they campaigned for freedom, justice and equality. It proclaimed: "I'm unified, I'm within myself and I'm proud." It made it so the black athlete of today can afford to get his hair cut.
SI: What part, if any, did you play in this scheme?
King: I have to admit that I had a lot to do with the reckless abandon in the hair-growth of people in general and athletes in the specific. My phenomenal success is unique, rare and wonderful. In the jargon of the ghetto—a self-made vernacular we call ghettoese—bad is good. When you say how bad I am, you're really saying how much better I am. The Justice Department has charged me with every known crime and misdemeanor—kickbacks, racketeering, ticket scalping, skimming, fixing fights, preordaining them, vitiating officials and laundering money. The only thing they missed was kidnapping the Lindbergh baby. But the missing link is the burden of factual proof. And while I would be feeling aggrieved and somewhat disgruntled about what they write about me in Newsweek, The New York Times and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, my people love it. The tirades and salvos of negativism in the media only fill me with positivism, for I defy convention and tradition. Convention is vanity, and vanity is self-destruction. The vain athlete doesn't make rational, reasonable, pragmatic decisions. He survives solely on ego. He doesn't listen to his hair!