Jabir Herbert Muhammad, 79; was Muhammad Ali's manager

By Richard Goldstein
New York Times News Service / September 1, 2008
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NEW YORK - Jabir Herbert Muhammad, who became Muhammad Ali's boxing manager after Ali's conversion to Islam and negotiated his multimillion-dollar fights while also serving as his spiritual adviser, died Aug. 25 in Chicago.

He was 79.

The cause was complications from the heart surgery he had the week before, said his lawyer, Joseph A. Morris.

When Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, captured the heavyweight championship in 1964 by knocking out Sonny Liston, he was managed by a group of businessmen in Louisville, Ky.

The morning after winning the crown, he confirmed that he had joined the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim sect, and he soon became Muhammad Ali.

Mr. Jabir Herbert Muhammad, a son of Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam leader, became Ali's personal manager.

When Ali's contract with his Louisville backers expired in 1966, Mr. Muhammad began managing Ali's boxing career.

Mr. Muhammad, who oversaw Ali's finances until 1991, a decade after he retired from boxing, said that he had undertaken the role at the request of his father to ensure that Ali was not taken advantage of.

"For 26 years, I've been teaching Ali about the religion," Mr. Muhammad told Thomas Hauser in his 1991 oral history "Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times." As Mr. Muhammad told it, "My father put that job on me and asked me to show him the way."

Mr. Muhammad was born in Detroit, the third son of Elijah Muhammad and his wife, Clara.

When his father established his headquarters in Chicago, Mr. Jabir Herbert Muhammad became the Nation of Islam's chief business manager, operating restaurants, bakeries, and laundries.

He also oversaw its newspaper, Muhammad Speaks.

Mr. Muhammad first met Ali after the Liston fight, when Ali visited a photographic studio he operated.

Soon afterward, he accompanied Ali to Africa, then introduced him to a woman named Sonji Roy, who had worked in sales for Muhammad Speaks.

She became Ali's first wife a little more than a month later.

Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion, became one of the world's most recognizable personalities while under Mr. Muhammad's management.

But for all his glory years, Ali essentially ended his career on a brutal note when, coming back from a layoff at the age of 38, he was battered by Larry Holmes in October 1980.

He fought once more, losing to Trevor Berbick in 1981.

"As far as Ali fighting Holmes, I believed he could beat Larry," Mr. Muhammad told Hauser, defending his decision to arrange the bout. "I was the one who stopped the fight," he said.

After the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, Mr. Jabir Herbert Muhammad pursued independent real estate and restaurant ventures.

He built the first free-standing mosque in Chicago, Masjid al-Faatir, on land he donated.

Ali and Mr. Muhammad battled in court over financial disputes in the 1990s, but Morris said "they had decidedly reconciled" and had seen each other within the last year in Chicago.

Ali, in a statement Wednesday, called Mr. Muhammad "a friend and confidant" and said "Herbert and I spoke often about the hereafter, and I pray he has found peace and God's blessing."

Mr. Muhammad leaves his wife, Aminah Antonia Muhammad; six sons, Elijah III, Alif, Mourad, Omar and Jabir Muhammad, and Isa Muhammad Ali; eight daughters: Safiyya Rahmah, Gina Driskell, Saeedah Hamahouallah, Salimah Zahid, Saniyyah Sepanik, and Samirah, Samiha and Zarinah Muhammad; four brothers: Elijah II, Nathaniel and Akbar Muhammad, and Wallace D. Mohammed; a sister, Ryaha Muhammad; 45 grandchildren; 21 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

In 1988, with Ali dealing with Parkinson's syndrome, Mr. Muhammad reflected on the times when Ali proclaimed "I am the greatest."

"Back then, I had to run to keep up with him when he walked," Muhammad told Sports Illustrated. "But this sickness stopped him dead in his tracks. Now everything's in slow motion. Now he's a hundred times more religious and meek than I ever thought he'd be."

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