Monday, August 26, 2013

Frank Deford's Indelible Portrait of the Beautiful Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Howard Bingham

"Only love matters to friends. If you have a friend you truly love, whether you're Howard or Muhammad, well, then you can be a friend to the world."--Frank Deford, writing about Muhammad Ali and Howard Bingham

Frank Deford and Gary Smith are two of the greatest craftsmen in sportswriting history. They are more than "just" sportswriters; they are artists who specialize in painting the big canvas, telling in-depth stories that transcend who won and who lost a game or a match. I cannot recall reading a poorly written story by either of them but some stories stand out--and one of them is The Best Of Friends, Deford's July 13, 1998 Sports Illustrated tribute to the loving friendship shared by Muhammad Ali and Howard Bingham. Aristotle called such a friendship "philia," characterized by mutual altruistic love--not a romantic love but a love shared by kindred spirits, a deep friendship in which each person can tell the other not what he wants to hear but what he needs to hear.

Ali may be the most famous man on Earth. Bingham made a name for himself as a first-rate, award-winning photographer. The two friends affectionately call each other "Bill." Deford explains by quoting Bernie Yuman, a mutual friend of Ali's and Bingham's: "You see, that's the sign of the most unqualified faith and love and trust. Bill. Simply calling each other Bill. It means, maybe you're a big-deal Muhammad Ali to the world, but that doesn't mean anything to me. To me, you're just Bill. And Howard became Bill too, because that was Muhammad saying, O.K., we're on even ground, so you're Bill too. And names don't mean anything, do they?"

Scroll back up, click on the link and read Deford's story. You won't regret it--and if you have a friend like that in your life, be very grateful.

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