By Lee Eric Smith

As we look back on the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali, it’s virtually impossible not to take a look at the relationship between Ali and Malcolm X. I ran across this piece on, and it’s worth a look. Karen Grigsby Bates describes how Malcolm X was the catalyst for Cassius Clay to transform into Cassius X and ultimately, Muhammad Ali:

The night Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston, the reigning heavyweight champion, crowds had squeezed into the venue, expecting to watch Liston beat the stuffing out of the young braggart. The odds were 7-to-1 in Liston’s favor. The air was filled with testosterone and cigar smoke. Few people noticed the tall, quiet man at ringside, immaculately dressed in a dark suit and tie and crisp white shirt, watching the fight intently.

The stranger was Ali’s friend and mentor Malcolm X, and he was seen to have smiled broadly when Clay was declared the fight’s winner by a TKO in the seventh. Malcolm believed a victory was preordained, that Allah would guide young Cassius in the ring. The next morning, at the traditional day-after press conference, a subdued Cassius Clay told reporters that henceforth he would be known as Cassius X. A month later, he would take the name that would become world-famous: Muhammad Ali.

NPR’s story, released earlier this year, was hooked on the release of a new book: “Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.” NPR did an interview with the authors, Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith. You can read her piece by clicking here