I spent a lot of time this past week covering the public outpouring of love and respect in Philly for Smokin' Joe Frazier, the first guy to—as one preacher put it at yesterday's "Homegoing Ceremony"—"put [Muhammad] Ali on his ass." This, while Ali sat near the front of a behemoth church that holds up to 6,500 people. He seemingly took it well.
What's going to happen next is a push—that Rev. Jesse Jackson rallied for on the pulpit and Sylvester Stallone's son Michael demanded in the church parking lot—to have a memorial statue/display built for Smokin' Joe. This has long been a sore spot in a city where tourists flock to a statue of a fictional boxer who got put on his ass by Carl Weathers, Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren. This is going to change.
What I will do, however, is share a vignette from when I was leaving Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. The parking lot was a chaotic mess of ushers getting Ali back to his car safely, Don King preening with more stars-and-stripes scarves than the USO has ever had and fans handing noteworthy attendees their memorial programs so they could take them home with an autograph.
Michael Spinks was there, too.
The image most have of Spinks is Mike Tyson putting him on his ass at 1:31 of the first round of a June 1988 fight in A.C. It was a fucking sight to behold, that knockout. If you saw it, you can probably close your eyes and see it again right now. It was the last fight of a career which ended with a 31-1 record. His lowest moment was his only loss. Compelling, really.
So yesterday, donning a big-ass cowboy hat in homage to Frazier, he gladhanded his way through a pack of fans after the services. Signed a lot of autographs. Posed for a bunch of pictures. Got to the point where his four- or five-man entourage had to haul him outta there lest they never get back to wherever home is. We'd parked in the same non-VIP vicinity, so Spinks graciously accepted my request for a walk-and-talk interview.
"Joe's a great dude, man. A good father. A God fearing man. A good spirit," he said, walking briskly. He recalled spending seven weeks with Frazier in Vegas training another boxer, saying that he saw Joe the man, not Joe the heavyweight champion of the world during that time.
Good color for a scene piece, for sure, but it ended at that. This is because Spinks saw a nickel on the sidewalk in front of him, stopped everything, picked it up and celebrated his score. It was at that point that two members of his four- or five-man entourage issued vocal claim to that, in fact, being their five cents.
Oohs, aahs and financial chatter followed. One went so far as to claim that he dropped it when they were walking into the church more than two hours earlier. So, Spinks should hand it over. Asked for verification of said claim, Spinks was told the coin was tails up.
"It was heads, man," Spinks said, grinning ear-to-ear and sliding it into his suit jacket, telling me that it was a pleasure to meet me too and laughing his way back to the parking lot.
Anyway, when I saw Spinks stopping to pick something up, the coin was shiny enough to catch my eye. For what it's worth, it was heads, man.
(Photo H/T Kim Paynter)