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At Spalding University, A Different Kind Of Ali Tribute

Take a walk down Fourth Street, a couple blocks south past Broadway. And when you get to the entrance of Spalding University, stop and look up. There you’ll see a red Schwinn with blue and yellow streamers hanging down.

"I did it Sunday morning, just after dawn," says Tori Murden McClure, president of Spalding University.

“It” was to wriggle the red kid’s bike out of a high window in Spalding’s main building and hang it there -- in tribute to Muhammad Ali.

In the days after Ali’s death, Louisville has seen an outpouring of grief and memorials. But the one at the downtown university stands out.

Spalding's headquarters at 824 S. Fourth St. was once home to the Columbia Gym, the place where a young Cassius Clay’s boxing career began.

"That building was there and Muhammad Ali used to -- Cassius Clay -- would jog from Central High School, after school about 2 o’clock, he’d jog over to Spalding -- then Nazareth College -- he worked in the library for about four hours," McClure says. "And then he’d eat a quick dinner and go over to the Columbia Gym and box until it was time for him to go to bed.”

The Columbia Gym was also the site of the famous bike incident. That’s the one where a 12-year-old Cassius Clay discovered his red-and-white Schwinn had been stolen from outside the building, where a bazaar for black-owned businesses was being held.

He went downstairs to the boxing gym and found Joe Martin -- a police officer and trainer -- to report the incident. And famously, the young Clay told the officer he was going to "whup" the thief who stole it.

To which Martin responded: You’d better learn how to fight.

Of course, the future Muhammad Ali did.

McClure, who was the first employee of the Ali Center, has a longstanding friendship with Muhammad and Lonnie Ali. She says she hopes the bike tribute serves as a reminder that bad things can sometimes inspire good -- something Ali embraced throughout his life.

"He’s not saying be happy when somebody breaks into your house or be happy when somebody steals things from you," she says. "But make something good out of whatever happens."

Listen to this story in the audio player above. 

Stephen George is President and CEO of Louisville Public Media. Email Stephen at sgeorge@lpm.org.

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