My father wasn’t a boxing fan but talked about Sugar Ray Robinson with admiration. Robinson was a brutal and efficient fighter, I was told, “pound-for-pound, the greatest boxer of all-time."
The only thing I knew about Robinson came from an oversized book that was given to me as a birthday gift called The Sports Immortals. It featured the 50 greatest sports stars of the century and the chapter on Robinson was sandwiched between ones on Bill Russell and Willie Mays. There was a black and white photograph of Robinson in a tuxedo, dancing on a stage in Paris, and a then a full-page picture of him in the ring, a deep cut around his left eye, blood running down his face.
The caption on the opposite page read, “I never liked fighting.” That stuck with me. How could he be the greatest boxer if he didn't even like to fight?
Dad said that Sugar Ray owned a barber shop, a lingerie store and a nightclub in Harlem. He drove a pink Cadillac and when he was at his peak as a fighter he quit boxing to start a cabaret act. A few years later he was fighting again though and still winning, but that wasn’t the point. Sugar Ray saw himself as more than a dumb jock. He had ambition and intelligence. He was a renaissance man.
And he did it all with style.
“No matter what the man did,” I can see my dad saying with a smile, getting to what mattered most, “he always looked so goddamn good doing it.”