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Jabir Herbert Muhammad, 1929 - 2008

Ex-business manager of boxer Ali, 3rd son of Nation of Islam founder

August 27, 2008|Trevor Jensen | Chicago Tribune

Jabir Herbert Muhammad ran a bakery, a dry cleaner and other small businesses for the Nation of Islam before taking on his biggest project of all, boxer Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad took over as Ali's business manager in 1966, a couple of years after the boxer formally converted to Islam. He replaced the Louisville syndicate that launched Ali's career. For the next 25 years, he negotiated fights for Ali, managed his post-fight endeavors and coordinated his role as a fundraiser and public face for the Nation of Islam.

"He let Ali be Ali," said Thomas Hauser, author of 1991's "Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times," meaning Muhammad did not try to clean up Ali's sometimes outrageous persona. "He never tried to curb Ali's inclinations, which was largely good."

The third son of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad died Monday after heart surgery at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago, according to his attorney, Joseph Morris. He was 79 and a near lifelong resident of Chicago's South Side.

While managing Ali, Muhammad secured multimillion-dollar purses for the champion as he fought and won three heavyweight titles and became the most recognized athlete of his generation. Muhammad could demand almost anything for a fight or appearance, and both he and the Nation of Islam were rewarded with a healthy cut of the action.

"I think he genuinely cared about Ali. But he was also interested in making money for himself," Hauser said.

Ali's wife, Lonnie, gradually took over her husband's business affairs, and Muhammad and the boxer cut ties in the early 1990s. In 1993, Ali sued Muhammad, alleging that a foundation that used the boxer's name improperly used his signature in fundraising letters and other work intended to promote Islamic causes. The lawsuit was settled the next year when the foundation changed its name.

Muhammad's son, Elijah Muhammad III, said the issues that sparked the lawsuit were the work of his father's underlings and that there was never any real rift between Ali and his father. A representative for Ali could not be reached for comment.

Muhammad had a successful business career separate from both Ali and his father, who died in 1975, in areas including real estate, food service and Chicago park concessions.

For many years, his close associate was Tony Rezko, the politically connected fixer and early political patron of Barack Obama who was convicted in June of mail and wire fraud, aiding and abetting bribery, and money laundering.

That relationship ended badly and it is now the subject of a lawsuit alleging that Rezko essentially looted trusts set up by Muhammad, Morris said.

Born in Detroit in 1929, Muhammad grew up in Chicago and was taught at home through his school years before becoming his father's business manager.

An energetic entrepreneur, he established a string of businesses for the Nation of Islam, renovating buildings and managing a bakery, a restaurant and dry-cleaning establishments, then training people to take over, his son said. He was an accomplished photographer and for a time had his own studio, his son said.

Muhammad established the Nation of Islam newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, which at one time had correspondents reporting from points around the globe, according to Elijah Muhammad III. Muhammad is survived by his wife, Aminah Antonia; 14 children; a number of siblings; 45 grandchildren; 21 great-grandchildren; and two great-great grandchildren.

A Muslim prayer service is set for 11 a.m. today at Masjid Al-Faatir, 1200 E. 47th St., Chicago. A memorial service is being planned for Saturday at a location to be determined.

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