Part of Muhammad Ali's training yesterday for the defense of his heavyweight boxing title against Earnie Shavers Sept. 29 in New York City was a casual stroll from the Hay-Adams Hotel at Lafayette Square to the southwest entrance to the White House.
The champion stopped rush hour traffic as he walked hand-in-hand with wife Veronica at the head of a group that grew from about 15 to hundreds before he reached his destination.
People shouted greetings from cars, pedestrians stopped him to shake hands or get autographs.
In a catch-95-catch can interview reminiscent of reporters trying to keep up with a former resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Lyndon B. Johnson, Ali answered a complaint by Madison Square Garden, the promoter of his bout.
A letter to the champion reminded him that he had been hired at $3 million to train diligently, but has missed 10 of his last 16 training days.
"That's right, "Ali said, trying a grim expression." And I'm going to miss five more. I've got more important things to do than boxing. I'm boxing a benefit exhibition on Saturday before the Howard University-Florida A&M football game in Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
"I am going to an affair for an old friend in Lousiville on the 21st." He was in New York City the other day campaigning for Percy Sutton on his bid to be mayor.
"Course it is important to keep my title, too. I am 230 pounds. I am missing training. Both my hands have hurt for several bouts, since I fought Chuck Wepner in Cleveland. I hurt my right hand so bad against Alredo Evangelista that I couldn't hit him with it for most of the bout here. My legs are gone.
"I'm 35 years old and most champion retire by the time they are 32. I'm fighting a guy who has knocked out 52 of the 54 guys he beat. It's dangerous."
Then why is he attending all the functions?
"I had made the commitments," he said. "I trained yesterday, I ran near the Potomac River this morning for 5 minutes, I'm going back to camp Deer Lake, Pa. tonight."
A colleague did not seem to be alarmed by Ali's routine.
"He might have sent that letter from the Garden himself," the members of the retinue said.
Ali was here for a meeting of the advisory council of the National Committee on Friendship, of which he is a member.