Blood Brothers

The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X


By Randy Roberts

By Johnny Smith

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The basis of the Netflix documentary BLOOD BROTHERS, the first book to bring to life the fateful friendship between Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali

In 1962, boxing writers and fans considered Cassius Clay an obnoxious self-promoter, and few believed that he would become the heavyweight champion of the world. But Malcolm X, the most famous minister in the Nation of Islam, saw the potential in Clay, not just for boxing greatness, but as a means of spreading the Nation’s message. The two became fast friends, keeping their interactions secret from the press for fear of jeopardizing Clay’s career. Clay began living a double life—a patriotic “good negro” in public, and a radical reformer behind the scenes. Soon, however, their friendship would sour, with disastrous and far-reaching consequences.

Based on previously untapped sources, from Malcolm’s personal papers to FBI records, Blood Brothers is the first book to offer an in-depth portrait of this complex bond. An extraordinary narrative of love and deep affection, as well as deceit, betrayal, and violence, this story is a window into the public and private lives of two of our greatest national icons, and the tumultuous period in American history that they helped to shape.


Chapter One


As a kid in Louisville, the city seemed so big to me. New York seemed so big. Chicago seemed big. And London, England, seemed far away. Africa was far away. I was Cassius Clay then. I was a Negro. I ate pork. I had no confidence. I thought white people were superior. I was a Christian Baptist named Cassius Clay.


Clay is a product of our times. The minute he got back from Rome, the saga started.


Three hundred and four mostly flat, cornfield miles after it departed Chicago’s Union Station, the South Wind passenger train rolled into Louisville’s Union Station. There, on December 17, 1960, a young man stepped aboard, toting a worn suitcase and a pocketful of dreams.

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was eighteen, tall and slender, with a handsome unmarked face. His body was deceptively lithe, like a dancer’s, but he was a professional prizefighter. His electric smile could light up an arena, though he was haunted by fears real and imagined. He had won a gold medal in the Rome Olympics, charmed the press corps and fellow athletes in the Eternal City, and signed a lucrative promotional contract with a collection of white Kentucky movers and shakers known as the Louisville Sponsoring Group (LSG). It was that group, most of whom were millionaires, that had paid for his train ticket.

After the brief stop in Louisville the South Wind chugged over the rolling hills of Kentucky, through a narrow, river-veined section of Tennessee, and then across the border into Alabama. Looking out the window as evening turned into night, Cassius saw mile after mile of the cotton South as the train made its way through the heart of the old Confederacy, stopping to pick up more passengers in Decatur, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Dothan.

There had never been a heavyweight boxer like Cassius Clay. He had the fresh, unmarked face of a teenage matinee idol and a smile to match. In a division often dominated by ponderous sluggers, his jitterbug style ushered in a new age for the sport. Getty Images

It was those sections of Dixie, those cities ruled by King Cotton, where the civil rights struggle would soon turn bitterly violent. There, many white southerners stood armed and ready to defend their way of life, certain in their conviction of black inferiority. While in Italy, however, Cassius had felt a freedom that he had never experienced growing up in the segregated West End of Louisville. As a member of the United States Olympic team, he had witnessed black excellence. Rafer Johnson had carried the American flag in the opening ceremonies and then won the prestigious decathlon. Oscar Robertson had led the basketball team to the gold medal. And the incomparable Wilma Rudolph, who ran as gracefully as water being poured out of a pitcher, fired the imaginations of people around the globe. Together, Rafer, Oscar, Wilma, and Cassius reigned in Rome like ebony gods. If there was royalty at the Olympics, they were it.

After Alabama, the South Wind passed through the southwest corner of Georgia and entered Florida, stopping briefly in Jacksonville in the early morning before continuing its crisscrossing route through the state, stopping more often now to drop off tourists at such resort towns as Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Hollywood before reaching its destination of Miami.

There, roughly twenty-four hours after boarding the train, Cassius got off. It had been a long trip, but to his way of thinking, riding the train was infinitely preferable to flying. And it had given him some time to plan and dream. He was in the Deep South, a place where white residents still generally regarded Jim Crow as the accepted code of life and believed that a “Negro” should know his place. Even so, Cassius Clay had glimpsed an alternative reality, and he knew with every fiber of his being that he was destined to leave his mark on the world. “I am a Man of Destiny,” he had said less than a year before. “I’m gonna win the heavyweight championship of the world, earn a million dollars and get me a chauffeur-driven, tomato-red Cadillac with a built-in hi-fi, television and telephones.” And that was only for starters. There would be more. Later he admitted, “I guess some sort of divine power must have been with me.”1

He had come to Miami to learn a trade that would make him rich. What he did not anticipate was that a divine message would set him on the path to becoming Muhammad Ali.

WAITING PATIENTLY FOR the boxer was trainer Angelo Dundee. His name, an alias that mixed the hills of Calabria with the grime of Scotland, said more about his profession than his personality. His real name was Angelo Mirena, but Dundee was such a popular name in prizefighting that his older brother Chris adopted it when he entered the profession. Soon, Angelo followed Chris and took the same name. After World War II, Chris began to promote fights in New York City, and Angelo apprenticed as a trainer.2

In 1951, when the boxing business became sluggish in New York, Angelo followed Chris to Miami, where the older brother had established a promotional arrangement with the recently built Miami Beach Auditorium. By the mid-1950s, Angelo had been around boxing for a decade and had learned the craft of training boxers from the tobacco-crusted floor up. His was a hands-on education, learning by talking to and watching the very best trainers in the sport.

By the end of 1960, just short of his fortieth birthday, he had carved out a place for himself in the fight game. He had trained welterweight and middleweight champion Carmen Basilio as well as a stable of fighters who would soon win other titles. Short and round-faced, with bulging dark eyes, floppy ears, and thinning black hair, Dundee liked his pants high-waisted, his trainer’s bag well-ordered, and his life as peaceful as his chaotic profession allowed.

Like that of many men in his world, his personality did not seem to fit the boxing profession. Fiercely loyal to his fighters and capable of all sorts of chicanery in the pursuit of victory, he was in all other ways a gentle, gracious man who sought nothing more than tranquility. He readily chatted with strangers, he was open and friendly with sportswriters, and he did his best to please everyone. The model of discretion, he refused to get involved in marital scraps, religious controversies, or political differences. Over the years he had learned to smile, listen, and mind his own business.

Keeping his mouth shut around Cassius, Angelo learned, was easy. No sooner had Clay stepped off the South Wind than he began singing his own praises. “People say Cassius Clay fights like Sugar Ray,” he told Angelo, as well as anyone within an earshot. Dick Sadler, Archie Moore’s trainer, who had worked with Cassius for a short time in San Diego, had told Angelo if he trained the kid he deserved a Purple Heart with seven clusters. It did not take Dundee long to understand the cryptic warning.3

From the train station Angelo drove to “Colored Town,” where he had arranged for Clay to share a room at the Charles Hotel with a Jamaican heavyweight. Dundee thought that there were two beds in the room, but there was only a double bed for two heavyweight boxers. Furthermore, since Angelo received a discount on the room, the management recouped some of its loss by not installing an air conditioner.4

The spartan, low-rent condition of the room was matched by the neighborhood. Ferdie Pacheco, who would soon become Clay’s “fight doctor” and had a medical practice close to the Charles Hotel, called the area “a hellhole of pimps, hookers, drug dealers, winos, and general bad guys.” It was a no-man’s-land that slept till late in the morning, took a siesta in the afternoon, and then came alive with an adrenaline rush at night. Its after-midnight scene offered a thousand temptations—marijuana from the islands that could knock a smoker on his ass, heroin so pure that it was lights-out with one shot, long-legged “sisters” wearing short, glove-tight dresses, and any sort of alcohol, sex, or adventure that could be dreamt up. This was a place that would test the dedication of any innocent, handsome young man.5

Cassius struggled to get to sleep that first night. He later complained that the worst times of training in Miami were the lonely hours after dark. “I just sit here like a little animal in a box at night,” he told a sportswriter in 1961. “I can’t go out in the street and mix with the folks out there ’cause they wouldn’t be out there if they was up to any good. I can’t do nothing except sit. . . . Here I am, just 19, surrounded by showgirls, whisky and sissies, and nobody watching me. All this temptation and me trying to train to be a boxer. It’s something to think about.”6

The next morning Clay made his way to the 5th Street Gym, where Dundee trained his fighters. In the glory days of prizefighting, four training gymnasiums stood above all the others—Gleason’s and Stillman’s in New York, the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles, and the 5th Street Gym in Miami. Located in South Beach at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue, it was in a neighborhood where nothing good was happening. Increasingly, the money and development were flowing into North Beach, leaving whole sections of South Beach for the derelicts and the druggies. The dilapidated second-story facility featured rotten floors, cracked mirrors, accumulated grime, and the stench of sweat, jock straps, and cigarette and cigar smoke.7

In addition to its foul smell and crusted dirt, the gym suffered from other maladies. Clogged drains in the showers, holes in the plasterboard walls, and chipping paint lent a certain grungy charm to the place, but an infestation of hungry termites threatened the entire structure. They attacked floors, walls, rings, and even chairs and desks. Possibly they were angered, or encouraged, by the heat. Hot and sweltering under its tin roof, fighters training in the gym soon realized that the place had no air conditioning, and large floor-to-ceiling windows added to everyone’s discomfort. Many of the best fighters who trained there were from Cuba and accustomed to such temperatures, but boxers from the North considered the conditions inside the gym inhumane, if not entirely illegal. But to Angelo Dundee, the place was “my little slice of heaven.”8

For the fighters, the gym offered not so much a “slice of heaven” as the chance for salvation. With the windows open, the hot and stale air from the inside mixed with the humid blasts from the outside and the noise of the streets harmonized with the sounds of the gym—men skipping ropes; punching speed bags, heavy bags, and each other; and yelling encouragements and good-natured barbs in English and Spanish. In the 5th Street Gym, white, brown, and black men met in complete equality, fleeing from poverty and even persecution in the pursuit of a dream.

SOME OF THE finest boxers of the early 1960s trained alongside Clay under Angelo’s guidance. In 1961, the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro outlawed professional boxing in Cuba, sending dozens of skillful Cuban boxers into exile in the United States, and especially Miami, where they added to Dundee’s pool of talent. Willie Pastrano won the light-heavyweight championship in 1963, the same year that Ralph Dupas captured the junior middleweight title, Ultiminio “Sugar” Ramos the featherweight crown, and Luis Rodríguez the welterweight belt. Every week, it seemed, Angelo and one of his contenders headed to some world capital for an important match. It was a heady time, with talk of big-money title fights and the smell of success cutting through the malodorous, low-rent atmosphere of the 5th Street Gym.

But at the center of the action was young Cassius, just beginning his professional career and fighting in small-money preliminary matches, but with an ego and energy that filled the gym. Observing the action inside the facility, sportswriter Myron Cope wrote, “Cassius reigns over the gym’s white, Negro, and Cuban fighters like the leader of a street gang who has established his authority merely by talking his subjects into submission. He jabbers away at the Cubans in homemade, simulated Spanish, and they throw up their hands and walk away, shouting, ‘Niño con boca grande!’—the baby has a big mouth.” There was no resentment in the comment, just a statement of fact.9

In Cassius’s case, trainer and fighter were ideally matched. Dundee saw immediately that by the standards of classic boxing Clay was a deeply flawed fighter. He kept his hands too low, often avoided punches by moving straight back, and was a dyed-in-the-wool headhunter. He did not even faintly resemble Joe Louis or Sonny Liston, hard-punching heavyweights with wonderful balance, great left jabs, and knockout power in both hands.

But for all his deficiencies, Cassius had assets. Most obviously, he had extraordinary hand and foot speed. When he arrived in Miami, he was a small heavyweight, weighing only 182 pounds, but his quickness was more than just the result of size. Probably no heavyweight had ever been as fast as Clay, certainly none in the early 1960s, when most, with the exception of Floyd Patterson, tended to be orthodox plodders.

Less readily apparent, Clay’s sense of distance was nearly perfect. This ability is crucial in boxing. Throw a punch from too far away, and it falls short of its target. Throw it too close, and it loses its full leverage. In addition, a fighter who moves too close to an opponent is easier to tie up. Clay’s speed allowed him to dart in and out; his sense of distance permitted him to throw a punch at the ideal moment, when it could reach its target with maximum force. Almost no fighter could snap out a jab as quickly or accurately as Clay, and none could deliver a faster right-hand lead. Furthermore, his quickness and sense of distance allowed him to dodge his opponent’s punches, sometimes by mere inches.

Many trainers would have winced at Clay’s glaring flaws and attempted to teach him proper technique. Dundee, however, focused on Cassius’s magnificent assets. To be sure, he tried to refine Clay’s unorthodox style, smoothing his herky-jerky movements. He worked on his balance, convincing him to throw more flat-footed power punches, and advised him to get his weight behind his blows. But crucially, Angelo did not seek to fundamentally change Cassius’s style. He believed that every fighter was unique and should be treated that way. “There’s not two alike,” he noted. “You don’t say, ‘This guy fights like this guy.’ They don’t. They’re all individuals. They all got their own idiosyncrasies, got their own rhythm.”10

Much as Cassius may have imagined himself as another Sugar Ray Robinson, Dundee’s primary job was to train Cassius Clay to box like Cassius Clay. After listening to Clay talk and watching him spar, Dundee told his fighter, “You, my friend, are neither Sugar Ray Robinson nor Archie Moore, and you’ve got a long way to go before you will even resemble them. Who you are is Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., and that’s the man I’m going to teach you to fight like. A guy is never going to get anywhere thinking he’s somebody else.”11

Angelo quickly realized that, for all his bluster, Cassius was a dedicated athlete. He came to the gym on time, trained tirelessly, and learned quickly, as long as the lessons were packaged correctly. Dundee seldom told Clay what to do; rather, he made Cassius feel like he was the source of every improvement. “I didn’t train him,” Dundee recalled. “I advised him. He’d be in the gym and I’d say, ‘You’re really putting your left hand into that jab. You’re really snapping it.’ Then, when I’d see him doing something right again, I’d say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen a heavyweight throw a left uppercut so perfectly. Oh boy!’ Then he’d throw it again. And again.”12

Confronted with Clay’s ego, Dundee discarded his own, becoming the ideal second banana. If Cassius said, “I’m going to run five miles,” Angelo responded, “That’s good for your legs.” If Clay changed his mind and said, “No, I’m gonna rest,” Dundee instantly added, “Good, you need your rest.” This way the fighter was in charge even when he was not really in charge.13

On the one critical aspect of the pace of Clay’s career, Dundee had the final word. Clay repeatedly told reporters that he wanted to break Floyd Patterson’s record as the youngest heavyweight champion of all time (twenty-one years and ten months), which meant that he had to capture the title by December 12, 1963. But that was Cassius’s obsession, not Angelo’s, who was more concerned with advancing his fighter cautiously. He had seen too many fighters pressured into a mismatch. For the first few years at least, Dundee would only take sure-bet contests for Clay, matches that he could win on his worst day. In the language of the fight game, Angelo arranged for Cassius to box “opponents,” men who had virtually no hope of reaching contender status, or one-time contenders on a steep slide down the rankings.

Beginning in the last week of 1960, Cassius began to fight a string of set-ups. The fights were not fixed, but it would have taken a virtual act of God for him to lose. Herb Siler was a drunk who had no boxing talent; Clay took him out in the fourth. Anthony “Big Tony” Esperti had just gotten out of the can on an unlawful entry conviction and was in no condition to fight; Cassius ended the match in the third. “Sweet Jimmy” Robinson had a razor cut on his cheek and no business in a prize ring; the referee stopped the fight halfway through the first. In just over a month in Miami, Cassius had improved his record to 4–0.14

Still, matches against set-ups were little help when it came to persuading boxing fans to accept Clay’s claim that he was a great fighter. For now, what happened in a sparring match was more important. In February 1961, a handsome Swedish heavyweight and former world champion, Ingemar Johansson, came to Miami to train for his upcoming title fight with Floyd Patterson. Needing sparring partners, the Johansson camp told promotional coordinator Harold Conrad to hire a few. Conrad went to the 5th Street Gym and asked Dundee for recommendations. Calling Clay over, Dundee said, “Hey, Cash. You wanna work with Johansson?”15

The question was a switch, lighting up Clay. “I’ll go dancin’ with Johansson,” he said, repeating, “I’ll go dancin’ with Johansson.” Conrad just looked at Angelo. “You ain’t seen nothing yet with this crazy bastard,” Conrad recalled Dundee saying.

And he hadn’t. “Johansson had a great right hand but two left feet,” Conrad said. Once the former champion and the preliminary fighter were in the ring together in front of sportswriters and two thousand spectators, Cassius literally danced circles around Ingemar, hitting him with light jabs as if he were fighting a rematch with Big Tony. “Cassius Clay, 19, advanced on Ingemar Johansson,” wrote the Miami Herald’s John Underwood. “Whap! His jab bounced off the Swede’s headpiece. Whap-Whap! Two more jabs. Clay danced lightly, shifted feet, led with the right. Zing! Ffrap! Whap! The combination explored the celebrated Johansson profile, above and around the dimpled chin.” And so it continued, Johansson, a miffed lumbering bear, chasing “the bee who had stung him.”

Talking while he moved, Clay exhorted, “I’m the one who should be fighting Patterson, not you. Come on, here I am; come and get me, sucker. Come on, what’s the matter, can’t hit me?” It was like Jack Johnson fighting Tommy Burns, like Clay was the champion and Johansson the trail horse.

“Johansson was furious,” Conrad recalled. “I mean, he was pissed.” He chased Clay around the ring, throwing amateurish punches, missing by feet, and looking, at last, “ridiculous.” After two rounds he was exhausted, and the session was stopped.

“He made a monkey out of Johansson,” remembered Sports Illustrated writer Gil Rogin. When he returned to New York he told the editors at the magazine, “This guy is going to be heavyweight champion someday. You have to write about him.” For Rogin, Underwood, and other sportswriters, this was Clay’s true Olympian moment; they recognized the emergence of a star.

The Johansson session showed Dundee that it was time to match him against more experienced boxers. Clay stopped Donnie Fleeman, a good club fighter, in the seventh round. Then he fought LaMar Clark, who possessed a gaudy 46–2 record that included a streak of forty-four straight knockouts. Against Clay, however, the heavy-punching Clark was outmatched. Cassius took him out in the second round.

Marv Jenson, Clark’s manager, was impressed. “This guy isn’t very many fights away from a championship as far as I’m concerned,” Jenson said. “He has the fastest hands of any heavyweight I’ve seen any place, including Patterson.” Black sportswriters were even more generous. Evoking the near-sacred “L” word, a Pittsburgh Courier scribe compared Clay favorably with the legendary Joe Louis. And for the first time in his professional career, New York Times feature writer Arthur Daley devoted a “Sports of the Times” column to Clay. Describing him as “a compulsive talker with the engaging personality of a youthful Archie Moore,” Daley wrote, “This good-looking boy is a charmer and is so natural that even his more extravagant statements sound like exuberance instead of braggadocio. On him they look good.”16

WITH COMPARISONS TO Louis and notice in the New York Times, Clay’s career was bounding forward ahead of schedule. After a month’s vacation in Louisville and road trips to visit Wilma Rudolph and other friends from the Olympics, in the late spring of 1961 he once again boarded the South Wind for Miami, where Dundee waited to resume his education. And that was fine with the fighter who viewed any gym as safe territory—an oasis away from the nation’s racial problems and the traps and temptations that waited around every corner of the urban South.

“It’s either get rich in three hours or get poor in eight,” he liked to say: train hard for three hours (or four or five) or get a manual day job for pennies an hour. He had chosen the path to wealth and applied himself totally, and the Louisville Sponsoring Group made sure that, unlike most other fighters, Cassius did not have to get a job to make ends meet. Train and dream, dream and train, from busy days at the 5th Street Gym to lonely nights at the Charles Hotel—these formed the physical and emotional parameters of his life in Miami. Boxing, however, could not satisfy his spiritual life.17

THERE WAS NO avoiding the world outside his hotel and the boxing arena. After all, Cassius was in the South, the land of Emmett Till’s murder and his father’s gruesome tales.

Since he did not own a car, he jogged more than five miles from his hotel to the gym at the south end of Miami Beach. He ran in blue jeans and old military boots. As he crossed the Julia Tuttle Causeway, with the Miami skyline in the distance and a cool breeze blowing across the bay, Clay shadowboxed.

It was a strange sight to the white policeman who thought that a black man running across the highway, furiously punching the air, must be crazy or a thief—or both. In Miami, police frequently harassed blacks on the streets and raided black pool halls and bars. The officer stopped Clay to question him. Sweating and excited, Clay explained that he was running to Angelo Dundee’s gym. The police then called Dundee to verify his story. The trainer explained that “the kid” was his boxer. “That’s Cassius Clay,” he said.18

The episode offered an important lesson for Clay. White policemen didn’t know his name and didn’t care to know it. To them, he was just another “Negro” living across the tracks in the “colored” district of Overtown.

After Clay returned to Miami from his visit home, Dundee upgraded him from the low-rent living quarters at the Charles Hotel to the Sir John Hotel on Little Broadway, a vibrant strip of nightclubs, theaters, diners, and shops. Some of the most famous black entertainers and athletes in America stayed at the Sir John Hotel and the Mary Elizabeth Hotel, including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sugar Ray Robinson. These celebrities did not choose to stay at the Sir John or the Mary Elizabeth because these establishments offered the finest accommodations. They had little choice. Blacks could not enter the best downtown hotels unless they waited tables, prepared meals, scoured toilets, or hauled white peoples’ bags. Not even Joe Louis could check into the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach.19

Since the early twentieth century, real estate developers had promoted Miami as “the Magic City.” Beautiful beaches, luxurious resorts, and exotic entertainment attracted wealthy investors, tourists, and dreamers. But the city’s black citizens were barred from the beaches, restaurants, golf courses, schools, and theaters of Miami’s tropical paradise. In 1959, civil rights activists defied white supremacists, sponsoring dozens of sit-ins at department stores, drugstores, and diners. By August 1960, just before Clay arrived, their persistence and shrewd backroom negotiations with white leaders had led to the complete desegregation of the city’s downtown.20

Yet Clay quickly learned that the city’s culture of racism remained intact. In August 1961, Flip Schulke, a white photographer from Sports Illustrated


  • Winner of the 2017 North American Society for Sport History Book Award
  • "[An] absorbing and provocative new book... An engrossing and important book."—David Margolick, Wall Street Journal
  • "A rigorously researched book that gracefully pivots between the world of the ring and the racial politics of the early '60s."
    New York Times Book Review
  • "Earnest and...smartly constructed."
    Washington Post
  • "Exhaustively researched and tautly written.... The authors unearth reams of new evidence, shine light on long-overlooked episodes, and hack away at the barnacles of mythology, thereby giving us the finest portrait yet of the doomed relationship that transformed Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali."—James Rosen, National Review
  • "Though their individual lives have been explored through previous books and movies, Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X delves into the close kinship these men shared, and the reasons it ultimately fell apart."—Economist
  • "This book offers a significant contribution to serious studies of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and the Nation of Islam."
    Library Journal
  • "The authors give us a thorough examination of the relationship between the two icons in the context of the black experience and the turbulent 1960s.... We're brought back to the champ's early boxing days and see how the brash Ali whom America came to know developed."—New York Post
  • "The broad outlines of the Ali/Malcolm drama are well known, but Roberts and Smith emphasize how crucial each was to the other's destiny: Ali's as a global figure of black pride and Malcolm's as a martyred black visionary. They provide more exhaustive detail than previously available, aided by newly released FBI files and personal papers. And they infuse the tale with sharp insights and an impending sense of tragedy."—City Journal
  • "[A] provocative history.... Roberts and Smith map the relationship between the troubled icons in painstaking detail and debunk long-held assumptions about their break.... Roberts and Smith bring a fresh perspective to the story in the civil rights movement, and capture the ferment of the broader era."—Publishers Weekly
  • "[Roberts and Smith] sharply detail Malcolm's growing disillusionment with Elijah, his heartbreak at the loss of Ali's allegiance, and the ugly dynamic within the Nation that left the defiant minister murdered. A page-turning tale from the 1960s about politics and sports and two proud, extraordinary men whose legacies endure."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Thanks to Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith's enthralling narrative we now have a better understanding of how a complex relationship was born, and how it fell apart."
    The Times
  • "A unique hybrid of race, politics, and sports; it is easy to read yet gives rise to sober reflection. It fills a gap in our understanding of one of the most fascinating relationships in American history."—Allen Barra, Boston Globe
  • "Roberts and Smith portray both of these courageous and controversial, inspired and inspiring men with fresh, stinging clarity, and extend our perception of the interconnectivity of race, religion, sports, and media during this violent and transformative era, which is so very germane today."—Booklist
  • "In convincing detail, Blood Brothers traces Ali's rise to international celebrity while Malcolm was stalked and harassed by the Fruit of Islam, the paramilitary group that enforced obedience to the church."
    Los Angeles Times
  • "In the most detailed account to date of this fascinating bond, professors of history Randy Roberts (Purdue) and Johnny Smith (Georgia Tech) unveil a story few Americans know, arguing that Ali and Malcolm were much more than mere acquaintances; their symbiotic relationship, with Ali as pupil and Malcolm as mentor, was deeply important to each man. From beginning to end, Blood Brothers is a story of transformation."
    Dallas Morning News
  • "Blood Brothers is shedding light on the secret friendship between boxing great Muhammad Ali and civil rights leader Malcolm X."—Washington Times
  • "In this illuminating joint effort, Blood Brothers tells the story of a strange friendship marked by initial affection, cold manipulation, and ultimate estrangement."
    Howell Raines, former executive editor of the New York Times
  • "There's brilliant history in this crackling story of two men whose tragic brotherhood changed America. Absorbing and essential reading."
    Robert Lipsyte, former sports columnist for the New York Times

On Sale
Nov 1, 2016
Page Count
400 pages
Basic Books

Randy Roberts

About the Author

Randy Roberts is distinguished professor of history at Purdue University. An award-winning author, he focuses on the intersection of popular and political culture, and has written or co-written biographies of such iconic athletes and celebrities as Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Bear Bryant, Oscar Robertson, John Wayne and Muhammad Ali, as well as books on the Vietnam War, the Alamo, the 1973-1974 college basketball season, and West Point football during World War II. A Season in the Sun is the second book he has written with Johnny Smith. Roberts lives in Lafayette, Indiana.

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Johnny Smith

About the Author

Johnny Smith is the Julius C. “Bud” Shaw Professor in Sports, Society, and Technology and an Assistant Professor of History at Georgia Tech. He is the co-author of Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (with Randy Roberts) and the author of The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty That Changed College Basketball. Smith lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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