Only One Person Could Call Ali Cassius

A young Cassius Clay before he became Muhammad Ali.

A young Cassius Clay before he became Muhammad Ali.

“Do you remember when…?”

I can’t tell you how many times a conversation starts that way. I’ve been in this game so long that I have so many fond memories. And I miss a lot of things and even more people.

Such people as Ed Hasenour and his restaurants.

His first was a little restaurant just across the street from old Male High’s football stadium. A lot of Male’s athletes didn’t have much and there were no free lunches. Ed saw to it that none of the Purples went  hungry.

When he opened his fancy place in the Highlands it became a favorite watering hole and fine dining for the elite of Louisville athletes and administrators.

It was my favorite place, not just for the food and drink, but also for the many news sources. If I needed information or an idea for a column, Hasenour’s was the place to be.

When Ed built his fancy atrium, A. Ray Smith, the owner of Louisville’s Triple A baseball team, held court there every day.

There are a lot of people and things I miss:

Clarence “Slick” Royalty was  one of many characters no one could forget. He was a hustler, a man for all seasons who worked a little for The Courier-Journal’s Sports Department  and did publicity for promoters. He got his nickname because of his wardrobe.  He was a nifty dresser.

He hadn’t driven for some 20 years, but he decided he wanted  a new Cadillac. He bought it and wrecked it before he could drive it out of the auto dealer’s parking lot!

You can’t make up stories like that.

None other than Cassius Clay was a frequent visitor to the sports department. Satchel Paige was a visitor. After Cassius changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he would visit the C-J sports department to see his friend Larry Boeck, who wrote the earliest stories about him.

“Cassius!” Larry would greet him. Ali would say, “Larree, you is the onliest one who can call me Cassius!”

And Joe Martin, the Louisville police officer who taught Ali to box, could never be forgotten. When Ali started to lose some of his faculties, Martin would tell me, “They say he can’t talk. Well, he calls me at all hours of the night from all over the world and he talks to me!”

I – and tennis fans – miss Sam English Jr. The Male High and Yale  graduate knew all of the greats of the tennis world and he could get them to come to Louisville. The talented Aussie men would play here for relative peanuts because of their friendship with Sam. And I wish I could reveal the name of the wealthy man who never said no to Sam when he needed financial help to stage a tennis event, but I would be violating a trust. My wife and I sat inches away  from Crissie Evert when she and Martina Navratilova would take breaks when they played an exhibition match at Freedom Hall. Sam’s work again.

Lyman Johnson, the Louisville Central High School administrator, was the man who broke the color barrier so that he could study at UK. During a dinner sponsored by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, a Western Kentucky principal was president of the KHSAA. I was seated next to Central High’s table when the president told a racial joke.

I could see Lyman fidgeting.

As soon as the dinner was over, Lyman made a beeline to the head table. Poking his forefinger in the man’s chest, Johnson said, “Mr. President, those days are gone forever!”

The first time I went to Central to cover a basketball game, Lyman was at the door to the gym. If a Central student tried to enter with his hat on, Lyman would firmly say, “Young man, please remove your hat!”

If the student didn’t, Lyman would swat it off!

The legendary Central coach,  Bill Kean, won national black championships in both football and basketball.

When I was lucky enough to be inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Association Hall of Fame, I looked down  from the podium at the end of the banquet. There stood Mrs. Kean (Alice Houston’s mother). She said, “Do you know why I’m here? I am here because you always treated us fairly.”

At another function, a photographer was about to take a picture of her and her son, Dr. Bill Kean. She grabbed me and said, “There will be no picture until Mr. Cox gets in it.”

I promise more “People I Remember” columns before I kick the bucket.

  • Carl Lutes

    Earl, this column sure brought back some memories that I had completely forgotten about. It was the mention of “Slick”. Many years ago I spent my Tuesday and Friday nights (during basketball season) and Friday and Saturday nights (football) answering the phone in the CJ Sports department when you were heading up that dept. We took phone calls from around the state so that we could include the score and the leading scorer/star of the game. At that time, as you know, there were various “star” editions so that paper for the eastern part of the state went out much earlier than the local (seven start I think). We worked from 10 PM until 1 AM or so and I loved every minute of it, feeling like a “real” sportswriter even though all we did was answer the phone. Or make a call to contacts who forgot to call in their results.

    Anyway, at the time, in addition to Slick, some of the other names from that time were Gary Tuell and Frank Hartley Jr.

    Anyway, thanks for the memories, and thanks for great columns every week. It’s the only reason I pick up the Voice regularly.

    Carl Lutes