I have had the honor and privilege of being Joe Frazier’s attorney for many years. He had the heart of a lion–he weighed only 199 pounds when he beat the 232 pound Muhammad Ali. And Joe was the most honest man I ever met. He always said to me, “Mike, I don’t want a penny more than what I am entitled to get.” And he was highly principled—once he admonished my son’s basketball coach for having long hair and wearing an earring. Joe said to the coach, “You can’t be a good example for kids looking like that.” Joe was ready to knock the guy out. The coach thanked me for intervening and saving his life.
Joe never enjoyed the fortune to which he was entitled. He was not treated well by some of his past “representatives”. Joe trusted those around him. He expected them to treat him that same way he would treat them. And he used to always say, “I did my job, which was to knock out the other guy. I expected them to do their job as well.” As Joe’s attorney, with the help of other attorneys in my firm, I tried to recover what I could. But it was too late; the harm was irreparable.
Joe had a very kind heart. He would give anyone the shirt off his back. He often did. That will always stick in my mind. And one more thing I will never forget is the time I stepped into the ring with Joe. I thought that I was a pretty good boxer in my youth. So I figured I would show Joe that I was no slouch. I stung him with a jab; and that turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life—Joe hit me with a left hook that came from New Jersey. I never saw it coming, and he knocked me clear across the ring. I never before has been hit half as hard. Needless to say, I never sparred Joe again.
Joe faced his cancer with dignity and courage. He never once complained. He asked those around him not to mourn. He died as he lived, a champion.
Mike Kelly is a Wilmington attorney and former amateur boxing champion.