Monday, June 6, 2016

Just Dad, Me, and Ali

Muhammad Ali died the other day. There was no where to turn this weekend without hearing or reading a tribute. I terrorized my family all weekend with that noteworthy line from Coming to America, "His Momma called him Clay. I call him Clay."

Cassius Clay was arguably the most famous man of the Twentieth Century on the Planet! There is NO WAY I am going to delve into all the facets of this icon's life. It has ALL been said. From the "Conscientious Objector," to the religious conversion, to the multiple marriages, to the kids (born both in and out of wedlock), there is simply nothing new to say. In fact, I DON'T CARE!

The theme, however, that I keep seeing repeated comes from the folks my age, that were born in the 60's. More than a good number of you just keep posting, "Muhammad Ali reminds me of time spent with Dad." And oh what a time it was!

Boxing was still Boxing back then. It had not yet become as authentic as professional wrestling and been ruined by some of the sorriest people to ever waste oxygen. It was on Network TV. It didn't cost $100 on PPV.  It was broadcast via satellite all over the globe and it was the spectacle of spectacles!

There was no "school night" bedtime on the night of an Ali fight. My mom and sister would go to bed. But Dad and I would be glued to the television. We would mock Howard Cosell. But, in truth, was there anyone any better in the fight game? For some reason, the loss to Spinks stands out most in my mind. But watching an Ali fight with Dad are some of my greatest memories from childhood.

I met The Champ back in 1991. I shared an office with a dude whose wife worked for the property management company of the building we worked in. She called and said that Ali was in the lobby. I tore down there as fast as I could.

And there he was! Just him and a handler. Just the three of us. No crowds. No fans. No spectacle. I froze. I had no idea how to proceed.

His handler noticed me and said, "Son, you want an autograph?" I said "No, I'd just like to shake the Champ's hand." He then informed me that an autograph would be okay. He asked my name, turned to Ali and said, "It's Kevin, Ali." The Greatest just kind of grunted. He repeated, "He said Kevin, Ali."

Ali was holding a stack of pro Islamic tracts. The "To:" was already written, as was his name and the month and year. My stomach tied up in a knot as he wrote, with horribly shaking hands, "Kevin" and entered the day between the month and year on the date.

I then put my hand into the largest hand I have ever seen and shook The Champ's hand. I managed to stammer out, "It's an honor. Thank you." He threw a slow, shaking jab at my chin. And I walked away.

I found it difficult to get back to work. I felt ill. I told my office partner that I was almost sorry that I ran down there. I did not want to remember Muhammad Ali that way.

I only wanted remember the spectacle. I wanted to remember the interviews with that annoying Howard Cosell. I so wanted my lasting memory of the Greatest to be the nights of  those nights, when it was just

Dad, me, and Ali.