"Is he kidding? Is he putting people on?"
"Even those around [him]--including his considerable circle of... friends--often are unable to figure the depths of his feelings."
Reporters noted his "capacity to hate and his 'obscene' turn of mouth."
"Nobody minded much as long as the antics and brashness seemed insincere, but when they proved not to be a publicity stunt, but part of [his] real character, sensibilities were offended."
"... he simply is not an easy person. He likes to hear himself talk, takes himself very seriously and thinks he knows more than he does."
If you guessed these quotes concern Trump, you'd be mistaken. They are lifted from articles about Muhammad Ali in the '60s.
The assessments of the youthful Ali/Clay and present-day Donald Trump are remarkably similar. (I know, Trump has no game; he needs rhymes. Hey Donald, how about "Hilary's a dork; I'll beat her in New York.")
Before Trump was questioning Obama's birth, Ali reportedly incited fight fans in Zaire by claiming that George Foreman was Belgian. (Belgium oppressively colonized Zaire for 75 years). Indeed, both men are quintessential practitioners of thumping rivals with conceit and diminishment, which goes back at least as far as Julius Caesar.
Now for the differences.
Like Trump, the young Ali was a braggart. His "I am the Greatest" proclamations were considered a poor example for youth. But Ali was arguably the greatest in his chosen profession, while Trump can make no such claim as a world-class statesman or legislator. Even his creds as a top-of-the-heap businessman are questionable. Ali could silence critics: "It ain't bragging if you can back it up." Trump simply cannot.
Ali took his craft seriously. "I am only brash and cocky before and after a fight." Trump hasn't shown any interest in training for the job, putting in time in the gym. Training for the presidency may be a difficult regimen to define, but it's certainly not hours spent tweeting.
Unlike Trump, Ali didn't waiver when it came to convictions. He resisted enormous pressure over his conscientious objector status, even when stripped of his boxing license, which undoubtedly cost him millions. Trump's beliefs morph constantly, and it's especially difficult to imagine him sticking to his guns when a buck is at stake.
If stump speeches and debates can be compared to prize fights, Trump shows none of the "float like a butterfly sting like a bee" skill, although some might say he's mastered the rope-a-dope, having taunted Jeb, Cruz and Rubio to punch themselves out. But in the end, he's just an awkward, flailing brawler. If he doesn't get knocked out in November, blame his opponent for not using the jab.
A journalist reviewing a book on Cassius Clay 49 years ago ironically defines Trump better than most writing today:
"After all, his business includes beating people up (and possibly getting beat up himself) for our entertainment... and he does it pretty well. Maybe that should be enough."
It would be. If he weren't running for president. Like the crowds at the Ali/Foreman fight chanting Ali Bomaye, Trump loyalists want him to destroy his opponents. They just don't agree on who. Or why.
"Champion Masks Real Personality. Sports World Puzzles Over Extremes in Behavior." (1965) The New York Times
Fremont-Smith, Eliot. "A Joe Palooka He Is Not." (1967) The New York Times.