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Sometimes Wells helped Ali train, exhorting him to run and do sit-ups. Sometimes Wells booked the hotel rooms, or announced Ali's presence in the ring, or urged fans to buy Ali souvenirs. But mainly Wells was just "with" Ali. In 1974 Wells was with Ali in Zaire, for the "Rumble in the Jungle" against George Foreman. In '75 he was with Ali in the Philippines, for the "Thrilla in Manila" against Joe Frazier. And he was with Ali in Las Vegas in 1980 for the fight against Larry Holmes.
Ali's trainers and wives sometimes complained that the entourage was composed of moochers who sucked away Ali's money. Psychologically, though, the arrangement seemed fair enough. The entourage fed Ali's ego, and being with Ali fed the entourage's egos. They appeared in Ali's movies. They were quoted by sportswriters. They met celebrities, loads of celebrities, Donna Summer and Tina Turner and Richard Pryor and more movie stars than even Wells can remember. Because of Ali, they were important.
In Wells's hallway, surrounded by pictures of beautiful women in various states of undress, you see a photo of a young fighting-weight Ali asleep, tangled in sheets. After you pass the photo a couple of times, you realize that he's sleeping in Wells's front room, in the same king-size bed where Wells now reclines. More recently, Ali flew to Houston for Wells's birthday party in March.
Chris Rock flashes on the TV, in an ad for some comedy show. "I know that boy," says Wells. "He's been out to my house. He's famous." Jesse Jackson, "a good friend of mine," has also stopped by, he says; so has Mike Tyson.
Word gets around when you have visitors like that, and Wells has developed his own entourage -- young boxers who like to hang out at his house, guys from the neighborhood who hope to be invited to a celebrity-studded party. One of those guys, Wells says, broke into his house recently and stole his rings -- the Super Bowl rings, the championship-fight rings from Ali, the rings that Wells so loved to flash. Another of the guys, on a separate occasion, broke in and stole $1,300. Wells says he knew who'd committed both crimes because the guys stopped showing up, stopped hanging around, stopped acting like his friends.
Since those break-ins, Wells has ordered replacement rings from Joske's. He's also added locks and door braces, and no longer leaves his money lying around. But otherwise those crimes haven't changed his way of life; he doesn't hold them against the rest of his coterie, his entourage, his main men. "See," he says proudly, "all the guys hang around me because I know so many celebrities. I been in the movies. I got money. And I'm connected."