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Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Review of Bundini

Bundini: Don't Believe the Hype
By Todd D. Snyder
Hamilcar Publications, 2020

Drew "Bundini" Brown would have fit well in today's world. He would've set up a YouTube channel or a Tik Tok account and millions of people would have flocked to his content. After a rough childhood in segregated Sanford, Florida and a stint in the navy when he was underage, Bundini moved to Harlem where he honed his gift of gab. Add in a hard-earned optimistic philosophy on life and you'd have a social media presence that would put Khaby to shame.

By engagingly tracing Bundini's turbulent life, Todd D. Snyder places Brown's famous relationship with Muhammad Ali in context. Bundini developed his reputation in Harlem and eventually linked up with Sugar Ray Robinson. Working in the all-time great's entourage proved to be an effective training ground for his future with Ali. The Ali in this book isn't the sanitized version. At the outset of their relationship, Ali believed in racial segregation; Bundini was the only person around willing to challenge those beliefs.

Bundini's wife Rhoda Palestine grew up a free spirit in an orthodox Jewish home in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Her white immigrant parents accepted Bundini for the most part. Bundini never officially converted, but he felt a connection to Judaism and wore a Star of David on his necklace while working Ali's corner. Bundini and Rhoda's son, Drew, would identify as Jewish and become a bar mitzvah.

The younger Drew, an impressive man in his own right, provides a lot of the background for his dad's journey. He also helps explain some misconceptions about his famous father. Snyder reveals the pain Brown's family endured when watching the portrayal of Bundini as a strung-out drug addict who sold away Ali's championship belt for another score in Michael Mann's film Ali. Snyder focuses on Bundini's drinking problem and how it impacted his life and those around him but notes Bundini stayed away from the hard stuff.

Bundini's relationship with Ali was particularly complex. Bundini was often described as Ali's spirit, yet the Nation of Islam preferred Ali cut ties with his eccentric cornerman. The tension between the NOI and Bundini clouds Ali's relationship with Brown.

Snyder effectively describes this long-overlooked character's importance to society. If Muhammad Ali is one of  hip hop's grandfathers, then Bundini- with help from Rhoda- had an integral though inadvertent part in the creation of the medium. He also helped perhaps the greatest heavyweight of all time push past his trials. Bundini is for those who look to view Muhammad Ali from a different angle and to understand the man who helped him become a legend.

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