That was Howard Bingham’s word, his Bible, his theme, his life. It’s difficult to sum up a man’s entire life with one word, nay, almost impossible. Not with Bingham. That word was his alpha and omega.
Mention Nelson Mandela, “Oh, he’s nice.” Senator Orrin Hatch, “Nice man.” Madonna, “So nice.” There just was no greater thing a person could be. World leader. Great man.
Major star. This didn’t mean anything to Muhammad Ali’s lifelong best friend. No, it’s how you treated other people that counted with him. Your treatment of others summed up who you were. And the nicest of them all was Bingham. As legendary sports journalist Frank DeFord wrote, “Bingham may be the nicest person on Earth.”
It didn’t matter who you were, what your station, you always got the nice treatment from Bingham. He had time for you, for everyone -- even strangers, particularly strangers. As the man next to Ali -- literally and figuratively -- for all of his adult life, Bingham met thousands of strangers and he was nice to them all. Anyone who approached Bingham got a nod, a smile, a non-PC joke (don’t ask), a handshake, a hug, a minute of his time.
People in Ali’s inner circle, and those entering that circle, came to realize that Bingham was so much more than just a friend of the great man; he was great himself. Like Ali, he was also a warrior. His weapon of choice -- kindness. Bingham had a Jesus-like quality -- he loved everyone. He could slay you with that weapon, that love, and make you feel foolish for being pretentious. His persona demanded humility from all the highfalutin’ people who came into and out of his life. He was so good and so magnetic that you wanted to be like him when you were around him. He made you want to mimic his sweetness.
And if you dared get on your high horse around him, flashed some entitled impatience with someone, he was always there to stick a pin in your big shot bubble by reminding you, “Be nice.” Okay, Howard, just for you.
With his passing, the world has lost its best friend, the best friend of humanity. He is irreplaceable. We who knew and loved him should count ourselves lucky. No, blessed. The memory of him will remain and keep us warm. The thought of him will put smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes. And our final prayer is not for that good soul, but that a little bit of him rubbed off on us, the ones he left behind. It’s so simple really. To keep his spirit alive... you just have to be nice.