The Sartorial Sportsman

Wil Haygood’s new biography shows how the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson became a father to athletic style.

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We take the style of sport for granted now, forgetting that sneakers were once inexpensive and blank. We’ve misplaced memories of a time when a pro athlete’s gestures outside the arena were bland and inconsequential. We’re talking no high fives, no fist bumps. No Jay-Z or LeBron.

That was before prizefighter Sugar Ray Robinson broke onto the scene in 1940. Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson, a new biography by Wil Haygood, explores the moment in history when athletes became the epitome of high style.

His approach in the ring blended speed, grace and power that added a whole new flavor to the sport of boxing. Robinson was known to enter the ring in a short white robe, casing his opponents while his processed hair flew.

Just how cool was this mid-century champion? Haygood tells the story of how, in a Pittsburgh dressing room after a bruising loss to Joey Archer, Robinson sat exhausted. Miles Davis sauntered over to him and croaked, “Sugar, it’s time.” And that was it. The boxer hung up his gloves for good.

How awesome is that?

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