Glance at a man, and you find his nationality written on his face, his means of livelihood on his hands, and the rest of his story in his gait, his mannerisms, shoelaces and in the lint adhering to his clothes. So insisted Dr. Joseph Bell, the Edinburgh surgeon who taught Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and was the real-life model for Sherlock Holmes. "The trouble with most people is that they see, but do not observe," the doctor used to say, while lecturing doggedly on the vast importance of little distinctions, the endless significance of trifles. He himself could detect from a man's hat that his wife did not love him, from a man's cane that he feared being murdered. Nothing much got by Dr. Bell, but it would be long odds that he could unravel Herbert Muhammad.
If you had not seen him before, not known what he does, what would observation tell of Herbert as he sits in his apartment overlooking New York's Central Park? His handshake is limp, his hand is soft. He is black—a smooth, sort of bloodless black. There is no hair, except for his mustache and neatly barbered sideburns. There is no joy in his eyes—or sorrow—nor is there anything sinister in them, either. When he gets up, his gait is slow and weary, that of a man who is not physical, or at least of a man who does not like to walk. His tie is quiet, his suit plain and slightly baggy. You can tell he must be a prodigious eater, for he is a very round man—the kind of roundness that bears witness to long and determined dining. No shoelaces. No lint. What to make of him, Dr. Bell? Who is Herbert Muhammad, and why are people saying such awful things about him?
A good question, one that a lot of people have been asking for more than a decade now. "Herbert is the invisible man," says an old friend. "Has been for years. Sometimes you think you see something, but look back and all you have is a three-piece suit and a hat, brim up, pushed down over a pair of eyes." Others think of him as a grown-up member of Our Gang, or maybe a King Farouk. The more erudite liken him to certain subatomic particles that cannot be seen even through the most powerful of microscopes; their existence is known only by their effects. With Herbert, two effects are always apparent: fear and silence.
Herbert Muhammad is the force behind the most easily recognizable figure of our time—Muhammad Ali, a man who will have earned $50 million before his career ends, $15.5 million this year alone. As a boxing manager, Herbert is antithetic to the breed. He doesn't smoke a big cigar, he uses no unpleasant names for his fighter, and he displays an almost complete lack of knowledge of the ring; he may know that there are three minutes in each round, but that's it, say some Herbert watchers. The one thing Herbert does know is money; he knows the little trapdoors hidden in a deal and can shoot the eyes out of a bad one while half asleep. Ali needs a Herbert Muhammad.
September 26, 1976
No better description of Herbert's style can be given than that which evolved out of a phone conversation between him and Don King, once the exclusive promoter of Ali. As usual, King was doing most of the talking. Frustrated, he finally began to spin a parable with the passion of a stumping preacher.
"Ever hear of the lion," he roared on the phone, "who was so powerful that he couldn't hunt no more because all those other animals were wise to him? He can't get a meal anywhere. So he comes across this zebra, and he says, 'Zebra, huntin' is pretty slim out there. But if the two of us combine our talent, we could make all these other animals a real bonanza for us. With your speed and my power—you round 'em up and I knock 'em out—we gonna have all we want, all the booty we want.' So the two became partners, and business was great. And after a couple of weeks, the lion and the zebra are sittin' around the fireplace at night, and the lion says, 'Brother Zebra, you sure did a good job for us. How we gonna split up this booty?' The zebra says, 'We both worked, my speed and agility, your power and cunning—I think 50-50 would be fair.' Now, ya know what happened? The lion jumped on the zebra and ate him up."
King went on, and now the lion has struck a deal with a wolf, who "howls in the dark of night." The lion and the wolf go to work. The two acquire twice as much as the lion and zebra did, and once more the lion is surveying the spoils, sitting there, picking his teeth. "Brother Wolf," he says, "you did a tremendous job. You worked 24 hours a day, you're a real hustler. Now how we gonna split up all this booty?" The wolf, recognizing the lion's superiority, said he thought 60-40 would be all right with him. The lion jumps on the wolf and eats him up. Then the lion, who is soon hungry again, goes to Brother Fox. The fox is reluctant to deal with the lion, but he is pressed hard. The lion and the fox are immense successes in their hunt, garnering 10 times more than the lion ever did before. The lion is elated and says, "Brother Fox, you truly a hustler, you really know what you're doing. Now how we gonna split up this pile of booty, old brother?" The fox rummages through the pile and takes out a leg of lamb. "I'll take this," he says, "and you can have the rest."
"Brother Fox," says the lion, "where did you learn to be so fair?"
Looking in the direction of the fire, the fox says, "From those shiny bones over there of Brother Zebra and Brother Wolf!"
King's bluster and comic charm might have eased the sting of that little tale, but the implication was clear: Herbert was the boss, and a greedy one at that. It was obvious that King had thought that Herbert needed him, that he did all the work with Ali, that he was obtaining the incredible purses for him, yet he was willing to settle for scraps from Herbert; he merely wanted to be appreciated by Herbert. The two would later part company, but looking back now at that conversation, one remembers the sudden jolt from hearing Herbert Muhammad being spoken to in such a manner. For Herbert had always been a remote figure, forever changing his phone numbers, always off to one of his many houses or apartments around the world, refusing to be interviewed; Herbert was creepy, man, so the word went. Leave him be.
"Why write about Herbert?" a Muslim asked last May during a taxi ride to the stadium in Munich where Ali was to fight Richard Dunn in the early-morning hours.
"Because Herbert is the man who makes the deals," the Muslim was told, "the biggest deals in the history of sport for one athlete."
"Forget about him," the Muslim said. "It's not worth it. All you get is trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
"The worst kind," he said, almost whispering.
"Hey, nobody's here in the taxi except the two of us. You can talk."
"No, I can't," he said. "Herbert is everywhere."
When he is not "everywhere," Herbert, 48, lives with his wife in a big house in Chicago's Woodlawn section near the University of Chicago. Ali has recently bought a house down the street from him. Designed by an Arabian architect, there is a heavy Middle Eastern ambience to Herbert's home; it is filled with exotic rugs and pictures and things like flowers on the backs of camel statuary and strange candelabra. Across the street from Herbert's is the house of his late father, Elijah, where his older brother and leader of the Muslims, Wallace D. Muhammad, now lives (Herbert's other two brothers occupy the houses next to him). "All of his spare time," a friend says of Herbert, "is spent supervising alterations on his house. He never stops making it over. He seems to get a kick out of it."
Herbert, who is known universally by his first name, lives quietly, seldom entertaining at home. He does not have many visitors, except for his five sons, all of whom are married. He spends a lot of time reading from his extensive library—mostly works on philosophy, economics and religion—which includes some extremely rare volumes. Often, when he has lectured Ali, the champion would say, "Hey, that's great stuff. Where you learn that?" Herbert would tell him that it came from one of his books, and Ali would ask to borrow it. "Can't do it; it's too rare, Judge," Herbert would say.
Herbert is out of the house by 7 a.m., usually in a dark suit, off to work—most of which is done over two phones in his Cadillac. Nobody seems to know much about his private life, other than that "he chooses his friends very carefully," and seems to be forever on a diet. "He loves to eat," says a friend named Hassan, "but when he has to give up somethin' he loves, I've never seen anybody with more willpower." Herbert is just as stubborn about his privacy.
"I don't want people comin' up to me while I'm at dinner," says Herbert, who doesn't like to be startled by the sudden appearance of a strange face (he is well-protected at fights). "Most of the world thinks Angelo Dundee is the manager of Ali. When I go to a town, I have to call up Angelo to get me into places. But that's fine with me. I only care if Ali and the bank know me."
Mystery implies romance—but not so with Herbert. "You can sum up Herbert in three words on the head of a pin—dull, dull and dull," says a man who has had dealings with him. That must be a comforting description for someone who has spent most of his life caught in the weft of intrigue and accusation, who has been hounded by the dogs of white justice. "We've never had a day's rest," he says. "I've had more bugs put in my rooms and on my phones. Privacy was just a word to me." Herbert was not just a boxing manager back then. He was a prince of the Nation of Islam, the Black Muslims, the son of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the sect that made a lot of whites, as well as blacks, cringe at what might be hiding behind a phrase like "white devil."
Images of the Mau Mau, of crazed storm troopers, of bloodbaths were widespread in the racially bitter '60s. Over-reaction, maybe, but there was no question that Elijah, the Messenger of Allah, never leaving his compound in Chicago, enforced iron discipline among his people, preached and imposed separatism and militancy. The Black Muslims had two faces. One suggested a placid, committed people determined to exist by means of their will and acumen; they had their own successful businesses—fish stores, bakeries, farms, etc. The other face spread fear in the form of the Fruit of Islam, a coarse, rude and humorless elite corps who wore black leather gloves and overcoats; all of them knew judo.
"Exaggeration," says Herbert now. "My father was not a violent man. He was gentle. He fought hard to make the black man proud of himself. I saw my father fight off all kinds of people. I saw them come and go." In many ways Herbert is much like his father, who was serious and formal, a man who kept a close watch on his time. Herbert does not abide fools or crackpots for long, either. "Herbert did what his father liked," says Hassan. "He communicated well with his father. There's a lot of Elijah in Herbert. He never bucked his father on anything." Once Elijah walked into the family garage and saw Herbert, then a young boy, punching a speed bag. Elijah delivered a stern lecture. "I don't want you around the ring, boxing for any little fat white man with a big cigar," he said. "Don't be around any sports world. Sport is the ruin of our people. Turns them into children who're used and then left broken. Stay out of it."
Herbert's youth was uneventful, except when he was 18. He was working at his first job, painting numbers on office doors, when he was arrested for failing to register for the draft; beginning with Elijah, who did four years in the pen for draft resistance, contempt for the draft runs in the family. Later, Herbert ran a Muslim bakery, the Muslim newspaper Elijah Speaks and a photography studio where he did portraits of Nasser, Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins and others. "Photography—I'm crazy about it," says Herbert. "I wish I could do it again. I like to play with light and shadows. To develop pictures. See the wrinkles in an old man's face coming out." It was in his studio that Herbert first met Cassius Clay in the early '60s, and no two men working together would ever be more dissimilar.
Clay was not Ali yet but had been recruited for the Muslims by Malcolm X. At the time, the white Louisville syndicate owned Clay's contract. Impressed by Herbert, Clay the convert also knew the advantage of being allied with a member of the "Royal Family," and kept after Herbert to manage him. Herbert was wary of his father and of his views on sports—boxing, in particular. After Clay beat Sonny Liston for the title and became Muhammad Ali, the Louisville syndicate was out. Herbert became the closet manager, seldom seen or heard, except in the hushed hallways of hotels, whispering to other Muslims. Soon Ali made Malcolm X an ex-friend and ex-confidant. Told to be "responsible" by Malcolm (who had broken with the Muslims over ideological differences) before going on a trip to Africa with Herbert, Ali said, "Malcolm didn't seem too responsible to me. Man, did you get a look at him? Dressed in that funny white robe and wearing a beard, and walking with that cane that looked like a prophet's stick. Man, he's gone. He's gone so far he's out completely."
Turning to Herbert, he then said, "Doesn't that go to show, Herbert, that Elijah is the most powerful? Nobody listens to that Malcolm anymore."
Herbert became Ali's manager officially in 1966. By this time, Malcolm X had been murdered, and the lover of photography came to despise being photographed. Herbert had a firm grip on Ali and tried to work on Ali's image, to bring it just a bit closer to Herbert's own conservative nature. The Ali Shuffle, which was introduced against Cleveland Williams in Houston, was forbidden. "It didn't add anything," said Herbert. Ali called Ernie Terrell an Uncle Tom, and Herbert zippered his mouth. And it was Herbert who urged Ali, who was alarmed at the heavy taxes he had to pay and fearful (even now) of becoming another Joe Louis, to fight more often. "Standard Oil doesn't try to sell a small amount of oil each year," Herbert told him.
At the time, two questions persisted in the white press: Were the Muslims bleeding Ali white financially, and had Ali been coerced into refusing to be inducted into the Army? "We never took a dime from Ali," Herbert says now. "He made and still makes donations to the religion, but no more than, say, Catholics or others give to their churches." As for the draft, Herbert says, "Nobody put any pressure on Ali. He made his decision independently. He was a Muslim. He loved my father." Ask those two questions of those who have been around Herbert and Ali, and the responses are all the same: silence. The awful things being said about Herbert Muhammad are the things that are not being said.
"Why don't your friends set the record straight?" Herbert is asked. "You say one thing; why don't they say the same thing, if that's the way it was? Why don't they say anything?"
"People are funny," says Herbert. "Maybe they don't want to get involved. Maybe they're afraid what they say will be misinterpreted."
Take the exile, for example, when Ali's passport had been picked up, and the patriots barred him from fighting because of his stance on the draft. Ali's legal fees had wiped him out. There was still the money that the Louisville group had put in trust for him—15% of all his earnings. Ali tried desperately to get to this money, but he was not legally entitled to it until he was 35. He borrowed heavily—even down to $10 and $20 bills—from his friends. Where were the Muslims and Herbert, who had taken a handsome 40% of all Ali's earnings? "We gave him money, did a lot of things for him," says Herbert, who used to have to meet Ali in secret on street corners when Ali was suspended from the Muslims by Elijah because he persisted in boxing. What sort of things? "That's between Ali and me."
The Ali-Herbert union is curious, unique and exemplary in the ring, or for that matter, in the entertainment business; the two really have nothing in common, except their religion. Ali is a public person, grows restless without the stage; Herbert is private. Ali has no regard for money; Herbert seems to care for little else. Ali is genuinely kind and giving; Herbert is often seen as cold and ruthless. Ali is a physical creature, will be all his life; Herbert is exquisitely sedentary. In the past, there were no notable rows between the two, hardly any harsh words. But Herbert was angry after the fight with Jimmy Young, berating Ali—rightly so—for his poor physical condition, describing him as a disgrace, and yelling at him behind closed doors, "From now on, you're going to listen to me."
Girls and sweets are Ali's implacable temptations. "I can't watch him forever," says Herbert. "Like he says: 'Herbert, you got to sleep sometime, and at night I can git out.' " Most of the time Herbert is an absentee manager. He comes into a town before a fight, and stays in a hotel far from Ali's, while those he has hired to watch the champ cater to his desires. Early on, Herbert was a fixture in Ali's corner, but now the only time you see him is when he takes a seat below it. There he sits with a water bottle in front of him, shifting nervously while the wild dollar arithmetic of Ali's future spins through his head; sometimes he walks out in disgust or fright, as he did in the Young fight before the decision was announced. "I was scared, real scared," says Herbert. "Ali says he's never been more scared in his life."
On the surface, nothing seems to have snarled their relationship. "It's clear between the two of us," says Herbert. "Ali told me, 'Look, Judge, I'll handle the boxing, you handle the lawyers and the promoters.' That's the way it is." Herbert is sensitive to Ali, he is aware of his anti-boss attitudes, so they call each other Judge. Look beneath the surface, though, and you sense unrest, strain in their union. Among the causes are the tarnishing of Ali's name after his bout with the wrestler in Tokyo and the ultimate size of the purse; the frequency of Ali's fights, which he feels indicates panic and greed on Herbert's part as the two of them approach the end of Ali's career.
"Champ," one of Ali's people said to him while Ali was in a California hospital recovering from blood clots in his legs caused by the wrestler's kicks, "Champ, don't you think that a man who is getting one third of all you make, don't ya think he should be here with you? Does he care?" The man, of course, was Herbert, who gets a third as his end of the money now. Ali did not answer, but later complained angrily over the phone that he wound up with only $1.4 million of the $3 million guaranteed in the Tokyo contract. "Ali is unhappy," says Don King. "He says at least he got all his money when I was doin' the promotin'." If Ali is disturbed—he has not said anything publicly—it would add credence to the widely held belief by insiders that the death of Elijah set him free, that he is his own man now, that no longer can the name of Elijah be invoked to make him step smartly into line.
Herbert hates conflict, yet such talk does not bother him. "I was heartbroken over Tokyo," he says. "But I would do it again. All that money for an exhibition. How can you turn it down? But the event got out of hand and became dangerous. And I still don't believe Ali was publicly damaged. His fame is beyond that. As for the money, I'll take the blame. It was the first time that I did not get all the money up front and in the bank. It was a mistake." Herbert is aware of those who are trying to undermine him. "Go ask Ali one thing," he says. "Ask what he'd do if he had a problem and I wasn't around. He'd find me if he had to spend $10,000 in phone bills."
Herbert says there have been a number of fights he never wanted to take. Ali makes these decisions, Herbert says, pointing out that he told Ali after the Ron Lyle bout, "Maybe you ought to pack it in, get out of the game ahead." Says Mickey Duff, a London promoter, "Herbert's being smart. He has to fight Ali a lot. Ali away from the ring would be his own worst enemy. At this stage of his career, with his tastes and money habits, long absences from the ring would be terrible. Ali stays in shape by fighting. It's that simple." Herbert speaks bluntly of Ali's financial condition, noting that he will net about $7.5 million after taxes this year, about $3 or $4 million after other expenses. He says Ali is in fine shape with Internal Revenue, that there is no reason why he should end up like Joe Louis.
"Look, I can't lock up his money," says Herbert. "I wish I could have done what the Louisville group did—take that 15%. They did a good job for Ali. But I can't do that. I'd look to Ali like I'm interfering, that I'm the boss getting in the way of his money."
"Is his future secure?" Herbert is asked.
"Yeah," he says. "Ali's got about $4 million in property, and he could live off that alone."
"Why is he afraid of becoming another Joe Louis?"
"I don't know," Herbert says, "but I'll tell you this. I got $1 million in municipal bonds. I'd give it all to him, before I see him go broke. He go broke—I go broke."
For some, Herbert's sincerity is undeniable, while others pass over what he says and look at Herbert as a businessman. "A man who has made $38 million," says one, "should now be worth close to $100 million, with sound investments and good business direction. Ali's real estate isn't worth much, probably less than half of what he paid for it. The Deer Lake camp, for instance, is totally unattractive as real estate. He always comes up way short in deals he makes. His friends get something for $1 and sell it to him for $2. Some friends. Another thing—no good tax shelters have been set up for him." Is Herbert at fault here? Hardly, it seems, for he is not a money manager; he is the man who brings in the deals, sees to it that Ali gets every cent coming to him. Nobody tells Ali what to do anymore, especially with his money.
Before Herbert came along, the promoter was the man who wielded the mackerel, usually slapping fighters and managers in the face with it. For all his great power at the gate and his magnetism, Joe Louis took orders from Mike Jacobs. Al Weill, who was a matchmaker as well as a manager, dictated to Rocky Marciano and his camp; he never referred to Rocky by name or even by "champ." He always could be heard saying, "Git the fighter in here; tell the bum I wanna see 'im." Herbert tells promoters what to do. "I don't owe them anything," he says. "I don't work for promoters. I work for one man—Muhammad Ali. I answer to him. It's my job to get the money for him, and if I don't, he has a right to know why."
Even so, Herbert seems to have blundered in the Tokyo bout and there were a lot of rough edges around the Dunn fight. Both events took place after Herbert left Don King for his old promoter, Bob Arum. Arum says he was not the promoter in either fight, just the television conduit. "The German promoters," says Herbert, "reflect what's wrong with a lot of promoters. They were so eager, they were dreamers. They overpaid for a fight, and then they suffered. Look, it's simple; if you can't handle your business, you don't belong on the other side of the table with me." A stubborn and proud negotiator, Herbert does not bend easily to ultimatums, as Promoter Jerry Perenchio discovered. "He made a good offer for the Zaire fight," says Herbert, "and then he said, 'That's it, you're not going to get one cent more, and nobody else will give it to you, either.' Well, that made me determined to teach him a lesson." Offstage was Don King—with a few million more.
How Herbert handled King sharply defines the views, the thinking of Ali's manager. Before the entrance of King, it was clear that Herbert had become restless. He was looking for a way to unload Arum, his longtime confederate, who had annoyed Herbert by suddenly moving "out front too much." King had also sold Herbert on his blackness, saying that Arum did not care about blacks or Ali, that the Muslims, of all people, should give a black man his chance to promote Ali. Herbert was amused by King—also quite skeptical—but he decided to gamble that King could deliver. Under pressure all the way, King got the money for the Zaire fight, and from then on the two collaborated on seven title bouts; eager to please Herbert and Ali, King inflated the market to a preposterous level.
"The pace became deadly," King says now. "More and more fights, no time to promote in between. I wasn't through with one fight when I had to find money for the next one. Herbert never leaned on a white promoter like he leaned on me, threatening always to go elsewhere if I didn't get what he wanted. I performed for Herbert and Ali, and they tossed me aside like a bum. Not the slightest loyalty."
As the fights went on, those around Herbert knew that King's promotional head would end up in a basket. As far as Herbert was concerned, King had taken his ego and twisted it into his own future as if it were a knife. King had become too big, upstaging Ali in the press and on television, until Herbert was certain the public believed King was the man behind Ali. In Malaysia, when Ali said he was going to retire, King innocently told the press, "No, he won't. I'm going over there now and unretire him." The comment enraged Herbert; he confided, "He's going to have to go." After that, Herbert used King brilliantly for five more fights, then went to Arum and Madison Square Garden for the lucrative Ken Norton-Ali fight in Yankee Stadium next week. King had worked toward this event, had sacrificed money (the huge purses left him little) for promotional continuity with Ali and Herbert, but the two of them had summarily turned him out. Did Ali, a highly sensitive athlete, loyal beyond belief, come to King's defense? "Herbert makes my business decisions," says Ali.
Herbert says, "Don King was never the exclusive promoter of Ali. I never worked for him. I don't owe him anything. I owe only Ali; I must be loyal only to him, to do the best I can do for him. King says he made millions for us. Well, where did he get the money? He never gave us anything. He could have had the Norton fight. I gave him more time than I would give any promoter to come up with the money. But he came up with it too late. We wanted a deal. We couldn't wait for him forever. As for him being black, I don't believe in any fight game around Ali being black or white. Ali is universal."
Two words are always used to describe Herbert: ruthless and fair. "I've never seen a fairer man," says Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the physician in Ali's corner. "Before the Tokyo fight, there were the old gripes, the blacks in the corner complaining about the whites in the corner. I went to Herbert and said, 'Herbert, we're not going to go through this old routine again.' And Herbert said, 'Tell me who's starting this stuff, and I'll straighten him out.' " Mickey Duff remembers: "I once got Ali an advertising spot in Germany years ago. I wasn't making much money then, and I asked the key man in Ali's camp for my commission, about $250. He didn't want to pay me, but Herbert was standing right there and said, 'Look, give him the money, he earned it.' " The consensus is that "if Herbert owes you money, you get it"—without begging; he is aware of the dignity of those who work for him.
The dispute with King underlines a major concern of Herbert's. He wants his role with Ali clarified, to be put into perspective. He did not like Ali's autobiographical book, and bucked the writer, Richard Durham, all the way. "For one thing," Herbert says, "I don't think it's a good book. Secondly, it doesn't really explain my role. A book lasts a long time. It's on a shelf forever. I want my children to know what I did for my one third of Ali's money." He opposes the script of the forthcoming movie of Ali's life—The Greatest—on the same grounds. "The role for Herbert can be made bigger," says a man from Columbia Pictures. "But what do you do with a guy who has been so antipublicity? No television interviews, no press interviews, no pictures, nothing. What do you have to go on? He can't be both anonymous and public." Yet, like the Muslims themselves, Herbert is trying to become more visible, trying hard to alter his image as the secret man of the secret people.
The Muslims, too, do not appear to be as guarded, as sinister as they once were. Since Wallace D. Muhammad has become the leader of the Muslims, they seem nearly ecumenical as they search for the American mainstream. They no longer like being called Black Muslims—just Muslims. They have opened their religion to whites. They have declared sports and boxing permissible, defining them as a luxury. The once terrifying Fruit of Islam has been dismantled, so they say, and the trend is toward the spiritual rather than the material. "My father believed in materialism as bait for our people," says Herbert. "He wanted to show them that they, too, could acquire things through hard work and enterprise." He might also add that the once-profitable bakeries and fish stores are no longer prosperous, leaving the Muslims in financial trouble.
It is unlikely that Herbert himself will ever be in need of money. With much nerve and the hottest property in the world—created by the slide of political events and the growing voice of the Third World that so idolizes Ali—Herbert has become rich. In the end, what can be said of him and his work? The silence around him is a roar. He is ruthless, not an uncommon trait among men of success. He is fair, and he does not appear greedy. He only does what any manager should and must do: protect his fighter.
A man like Herbert—off his record, the smartest manager who ever lived—creates enemies, and it is doubtful that he could ever do anything to dispel the animus swirling about him, or those old speculations that never will die: (1) Ali has been raped financially by the Muslims; (2) Ali is held by the Muslims through terror. Both seem grossly incorrect, but only Ali knows the truth.
Who is Herbert Muhammad? The question nags, making one feel like the eminently deductive Dr. Bell when he was called upon by his students to relate a story of his genius.
Visiting a bedridden patient, Dr. Bell said, he had asked the man, "Aren't you a bandsman?"
"Aye," the man had said.
"You see, gentlemen, I am right," Dr. Bell had said, recounting how he had turned to his class with confidence. "It is quite simple. This man had a paralysis of the cheek muscles, the result of too much blowing at wind instruments. We need only to confirm. What instrument do you play, my man?"
The man had got up on his elbows and said, "The big drum, Doctor!"