BYPLAY by ROGER KAHN: Doing It Just One More Time

The fighter sat in semidarkness, talking in an urgent whisper. When you sit with Muhammad Ali, he talks in whispers. He knows that when the heavyweight champion speaks softly, you strain to hear.

"Why are you fighting this fight?" I asked. "Why are you going on?"

Rays of late afternoon sunlight angled against an off-white wall. Ali, who wore black, had positioned himself in darkness.

"To do good works," he said. "I helped a Jewish nursing home. You know I go in the ghettos. Two, three days after this fight, I may be on the...