Art and personal items of “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali will go under the hammer

Abhijit Sen Gupta
Abhijit Sen Gupta

Muhammad Ali was not only the greatest boxer of his days but also a multifaceted and multitalented person whose skills extended far beyond the confines of a boxing ring. Outside the ring, he could enthrall a party gathering with his magic tricks, or send people into paroxysms of laughter with his hilariously unusual jokes or even evoke admiration of his paintings.

Now it has been announced that a 24-piece collection of his original cartoon style artworks, reflecting his interest in religion and social justice apart from his main interest, boxing, will be soon up for auction in New York on 5th of October.

Many of his fans ranging from boxing aficionados to politicians and Hollywood celebrities are expected to take part in the auction of his artwork which for them will be a treasure trove of invaluable Ali memorabilia. Only his close friends, trainers and boxing partners knew that he often took to painting as a means to relax his mind after a hard bout or training session.

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On their social media handle recently, the auction house Bonhams Popular Culture announced the event which will be titled: ‘It’s A Knockout!’

It is not just Ali’s art that will be auctioned. There will also be his personal sports items such as his boxing gloves which will be a much sought after item by all those who loved his ringcraft. The highlight of the auction will be a collection of Muhammad Ali memorabilia from the Rodney Hilton Brown Collection, as well as a selection of pieces of other athletes ranging from baseball legends Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig.

Ali learning card tricks from La Sorda the young man who was an engineer by profession and also a magician

Avid sports lovers would love to get their hands on any of these prized items. Not many are aware that there exists a collection of Ali’s art work. Several people are aware of his ability to perform magic tricks because he did these often at parties. Ali was seriously interested in magic tricks and he hired a young man by the name of Terry La Sorda to teach him.

The part time magician was only 23 years old, just out of college, when he first met Ali and the champion asked to be taught the finer points of magic. For several hours every day, Sorda taught Ali different card tricks till the boxer became an expert at it. “To be a magician, particularly a sleight-of-hand magician, you need to have three abilities namely speed of hand, hand-eye coordination, and an ease with words,” Sorda told him.

And these were exactly the talents that Ali was born with. These were the same qualities that made him the greatest world champion–hand speed and coordination. He also knew how to speak and draw attention. So that was how Ali became a successful magician as well as a great boxer.

Ali and his art teacher Neiman.
The painting in the background is done by Ali with help from the teacher

When he performed magic tricks at parties, Hollywood celebrities such as John Travolta, Kris Kristoferson and Sylvester Stallone watched in awe. Stallone, who wrote and starred in the “Rocky” films, was a huge admirer of Ali.

Where art was concerned, Ali’s interest was probably initiated by his father Cassius Clay (senior) who was a professional painter. The gentleman was a sign painter by profession but was also adept at painting various subjects. Maybe the little Cassius had seen his father at work and become interested in art and painting.

During his teenage years, Ali continued to paint and draw whenever he had the time on any of the themes that interested him. These included first of all boxing, then other sports, civil rights, social values and at a later stage of his life, religion, in which he became deeply involved and committed. He later enlisted in art lessons from artist LeRoy Neiman.

So now every Ali fan will have the chance to acquire one or two items from Ali’s art collection or even other personal sports items like gloves, boots and photographs. What is more, just attending the auction may be a novel experience since it is likely that some sports stars and celebrities could turn up to get involved in the bidding.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.

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