Just about the only people to react to the news of [Cassius] Clay's conversion with a shrug were the men in his corner. "What's in a name?" [trainer Angelo] Dundee said by way of Shakespeare. "To me he's still the same individual, same guy. Actually, I didn't know what Muslim was, really, because I thought it was a piece of cloth."

Probably no other trainer would have been so foolish as to alienate his new champion-there was too much money to be had. But Dundee really didn't care what religion his fighter belonged to as long as he showed up at the gym. "I learned that much when I was a kid," Dundee said years later. "One thing you don't mess with in a fighter is his religion. And his love life. You don't mess with that either. How to throw a left-you're better off sticking with that stuff."

But outside that small circle of handlers, Clay's conversion was a shock, not least to his family. His father, though never exactly a devout Christian, made clear his wrath in person and in the press. Clay senior told reporters that his son had been "conned" by the avaricious Muslims. "I'm not changing no name," he said. "If he wants to do it, fine. But not me. In fact, I'm gonna make good use of the name Cassius Clay. I'm gonna make money out of my own name. I'll capitalize on it."

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The relationship between father and son deteriorated to such a degree that the next time Clay went home to Louisville, he stayed in a hotel downtown. "He came out to visit us," his mother, Odessa, said, "but he stayed only 25 minutes and kept a cab waiting outside in the driveway. He's been told to stay away from his father because of the religious thing, and I imagine they've told him to stay away from me, too. Muslims don't like me because I'm too fair-complected."

The leading columnists reacted with almost as much outrage as Cassius Clay, Sr.

"The fight racket, since its rotten beginnings, has been the redlight district of sports. But this is the first time it has been turned into an instrument of hate," Jimmy Cannon wrote. "It has maimed the bodies of numerous men and ruined their minds but now, as one of Elijah Muhammad's missionaries, Clay is using it as a weapon of wickedness in an attack on the spirit. I pity Clay and abhor what he represents. In the years of hunger during the Depression, the Communists used famous people the way the Black Muslims are exploiting Clay. This is a sect that deforms the beautiful purpose of religion."

Cannon's point of racial orientation would always be Joe Louis. Clay's association with the Nation of Islam, Cannon declared, was a "more pernicious hate symbol than Schmeling and Nazism."

[Robert] Lipsyte's coverage in The New York Times was of a different order, partly because the paper's news columns did not allow for much opinion, but also because he was of a different generation and possessed of a far different set of experiences, not least his close friendship with Dick Gregory. "It's true that I wasn't freaked out about the conversion the way Cannon or [Red] Smith were," he said. "But you have to remember how scary Malcolm X was to some people, and not just white people. The New York Times, for one, never really knew how many people he could put on the street for a revolution.

Malcolm X appreciated the depth and restraint of Lipsyte's coverage and told him so. Back at the newsroom on West 43rd Street, Lipsyte recounted the compliment to one of his editors.

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"Well, that's great," the editor said. "Maybe we should put huge ads on the side of all our trucks saying, `Malcolm X Likes Bob Lipsyte!'"