A local businessman brought Joe Frazier to Charlotte to talk to employees and clients, and invited me to join them. I had to ask my questions in front of everybody, which was awkward then. It was my first year in Charlotte.
I asked one of the dumber questions I ever have. I asked Frazier if he stayed in contact with Muhammad Ali.
"Who?" he asked.
Frazier was angry, and didn't try to hide it.
The question was dumb because despite all that Frazier, who was born in Beaufort, S.C., accomplished, he was best known as Ali's foil. The three Ali-Frazier fights were some of the biggest of all time. If you were a fan, you can remember where you where when they fought for the first time. I was in a building that usually features basketball and hockey games watching them on closed-circuit TV.
Frazier won that 1971 fight. I was shocked then and am shocked still. Ali won the next two.
Ali was so vast that the stage was always his. That was Frazier up in the bleachers.
Joe, who died Monday night of liver cancer, might have lacked Ali's flash, charisma and bravado, but he brought honor to his craft. He moved like few sluggers did, changing angles. He never devolved into one of those you-hit-me, I'll-hit-you sluggers. His head moved, his shoulders moved, and when he tagged you with that left hook, you moved. The punch is one of the greatest in heavyweight history.
The image he was assigned was the humble laborer because next to Ali everybody was humble. But Frazier sang and danced in retirement, and he loved attention. He resented the attention bestowed upon Ali.
Although Frazier grew up on a plantation in Beaurfort, S.C., he was a Philadelphia fighter. They don't dance up there. They're craftsman. And Joe became a very good one.
Although Ali overshadowed him, he owes Joe big-time. Without Frazier, we never would have known how great Ali was.
Frazier had a career to be proud of. May he rest in peace.