I WENT TO a boxing match in Las Vegas once, because it was a Showtime match and I had a friend on a Showtime show at the time. It was Mike Tyson’s first match after prison, and he was fighting this enormous mofo from South Africa, the White Buffalo. (Tyson knocked him out in the first 11 seconds.) I was in the green room with my actor friend, and there were a gazillion celebrities there (including Donald Trump, with two six-foot models), Pamela Anderson with an entourage of about 30, and every Black celebrity in the world. I started following the Showtime film crew, who had a plastic-faced announcer interviewing people one by one. The Wayans brothers were really stoned and just giggled, Magic Johnson said a few polite things, some did light promotion of their latest projects along with big ups for Big Mike. The guy I was most impressed by, though, was Charles Barkley, who saw the media nonsense as a platform to do something worthwhile, and he said, I think this is a really important thing, especially for the youth, because you can see, here is a man who has done time in prison, and yet he has come back, and he is working, and he is being successful, and I think it sends a powerful message that you can get in trouble, you can even go to prison, but then you can turn it around, and make something of yourself anyway, so I am very pleased that Mike Tyson is setting an example for young African American men in particular, about making use of second chances,’ or something like that. I wanted to move to Alabama and vote for him for governor.

Then an incredible wave went through the room, and Muhammed Ali walked in with his retinue. The people parted and murmured, and reached out and touched his arm as he went past, like Catholics touching a statue’s foot in church, and I did, too, just a feather, and he was already shaky, but dignity personified, a saint among us sinners.

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Tom Lutz is the editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books.