Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Usain Bolt Could Learn From Muhammad Ali

Usain Bolt is the best sprinter in the world. No contest there. But in another critical area--hard-core, no-holds-barred bragging-- he thinks he's world-class, but he's just a rank amateur.  Next to former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, the King Kong of bragging, Bolt is strictly bargain basement.

Are you, like me, sick to death of Bolt's ego-drenched, self-hyping spiels? Here's an example of one, delivered Saturday at the London Olympics just after he ran a scorching anchor leg for the Jamaica team that set the world-record, 36.84 seconds, in the 400-meter relay.

"Who's number One? Who's still a legend? Who's number One? Everyday, all day! Believe me!"

That was the highlight of a long, ragged rant. Enough already. Bolt may be the best sprinter in the world but as a braggart--he's a bust. There's no zest or sparkle in his delivery. There should be a sprightly comic edge to his lines, some creativity, a sense that he's joking and merrily letting us in on the joke. But his self-congratulatory monologues fall flat. There's an uneasy harshness to them, a snooty, I'm-better-than-you-are feel that feels antagonistic. Bolt's rants don't make him lovable. They just make him seem like an obnoxious ass who's full of himself.

Now, Ali--there was a braggart cum laud. In his heyday in the 1960s, when he was the best boxer, he knew he was supreme and didn't mind telling the world, joyously blowing his own horn. "I'm the greatest, I'm the greatest!," he'd howl, thumping his chest, King-Kong style. Or he'd do some dazzling footwork, demonstrating how he danced around his opponents, how he'd "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." He'd deliver his spiels with the touch of an ace comedian. You never felt like he was stuffing his superiority down your throat. When Ali was barking "I'm the greatest!" we loved hearing it. Sure he was doing some high-level boasting, but he was, at the same time, being an amiable clown.

Ali had something else going for him. Back in the 1960s when blacks' equal rights battle was raging in this country, he was, with his egomanical chatter, in a way, thumbing his nose at the Establishment. So he wasn't just bragging, but also making sort of a political statement. He was more than a braggart but also a hero, a champion of people of color and millions of leftists. So his aggressive self-hype had another meaty layer, which his many fans, world-wide, simply gobbled up

Bolt, who has no deeper layer, needs to learn a lesson from Ali. The key to effective bragging and over-the-top self promotion is to tell everybody how great you are but, at the same time, while they're eating up the hype, do it in a ingratiating way to make them love you. Ali was the master of this kind of smart, irresistible flamboyance.

With his lame, clumsy stabs at showmanship Bolt isn't in the same stratosphere as Ali. What Bolt should do is get tape and film of Ali's egotistical blasts, study them and use them as guides. Bolt will never be as charming and riveting as Ali but, with some modification and a lighter touch, he could become considerably less insufferable,