One of the most popular figures in modern history, Muhammad Ali not only reshaped the self-image of athletes; he helped reshape the African-American sense of identity. There is good reason for the many books we have about him, including several since his death in 2016 at age 74.
One aspect of Ali’s life, though, has gone unexamined: his long and close relationship with Drew Brown Jr., a pre-eminent trickster and master motivator known to everyone as Bundini. With “Bundini: Don’t Believe the Hype,” Todd Snyder, a boxing aficionado and English professor at Siena College in upstate New York, fills the gap, offering fresh insights into Ali’s character along the way.
Born in 1928 and raised in the swampy, Ku Klux Klan country of central Florida, Brown used his brawn and native street smarts to sneak into the Navy as a young teenager, Mr. Snyder tells us. An inveterate Romeo, he was re-christened on one of his voyages: As his ship was pulling away from a port in India, some girls dockside cried out “Bundini! Bundini!”—a name he insisted meant “lover.” His shipmates happily took up his new moniker.