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Milwaukee Man Remembers His Friend, Muhammad Ali

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Muhammad Ali in 2008.
Credit Bonnie Petrie / WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio
WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio
Brady X McKinley, friend of Muhammad Ali, at his business on Milwaukee's north side.

As mourners gather today in Muhammad Ali’s hometown of Louisville for his funeral, an 86-year-old man in Milwaukee will quietly remember his friend’s life. 

Brady X McKinley shared his recollections of his friendship with the boxer known as "the greatest" at the north side business, McKinley Corporation.

McKinley met Muhammad Ali at a gathering of the Nation of Islam not long after Ali won a gold medal at the 1960 summer Olympics, but he had no idea who he was.

I was sitting next to this person, and so one of our officers came and touched me and said do you know who you’re sitting next to? And I looked at him and said, 'No I don’t.' He said, 'That’s Cassius Clay,' and I said, well, I still don’t know who he is. He said that’s the next heavyweight champion of the world.

Before long, Cassius Clay would become Muhammad Ali, and he and McKinley would become friends. McKinley says when Ali lived in Chicago, he’d often come to Milwaukee for a break. McKinley says the Ali he knew was nothing like the bold, brash boxer the world knew. McKinely said, "He didn’t brag with us like he did on television when he was gonna fight. That was promoting a fight, you know. When he was with us, he was just another person, and we’d just talk about the religion or we talked about everyday conversation."

McKinley’s daughter, Cassandra, was a little girl when Ali used to come around Milwaukee, and meeting the greatest is not something you forget.

This I can remember vividly. He picked me up, and he said, 'Girl, you’re so pretty! I’m going to marry you when you turn 18!.' I can really remember that, really good. I’m going to look for you when I turn 18!

But her dad says Ali was more than 200 pounds of charm and a hard left hook. He says watching a man – a black Muslim, like him – nearly lose everything when he refused to serve in the Viet Nam war, and then come back even stronger, inspired him.

Credit Bonnie Petrie / WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio
WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio
Roy X McKinley, friend of Muhammad Ali.

Brady’s brother Roy came into the room while we were talking, and he remarked that it’s interesting to him to think about America’s evolving perception of Ali.

When you look at it now, and look at when he didn’t go into the army, when he stood up for himself, you see two different parts come out. How people honor him now, and how they didn’t honor him when he didn’t want to go.

Brady McKinley added, "He was a no good SOB then, but now, he’s a hero."

Brady McKinley hopes young people in Milwaukee will learn from Ali’s life, and the courage with which he lived it.

I think he would want them to know that he tried to do the right thing, and that they should take a pattern after him and try to do the right thing. Not go out and destroy, but try to build and have something in life, and stop blaming other people for what they don’t have and do something for themselves. And that’s what I think Mohammed Ali would want the young kids to know. Go out and try. At least try.

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