Wednesday, September 9, 2009
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Earlier this week, we posted a piece on how Muhammad Ali still commands the world’s attention, even though his boxing days are behind him, and Father Time has been in his opponent’s corner in recent years. By writing it, we gained a better appreciation of the man, and what sets him apart.
For decades, many have asked why so many admired him, warts and all. He never claimed that he was perfect, just that he was pretty.
Our readers from all across the philosophical and ideological spectrum, even at its extremes, shared their admiration. Something about his appeal is obviously universal.
Simply put, Ali is the quintessential “Fighter.” He has always stood up for what he believed in, even if society did not always believe in it with him. For all of us who do not stand up for ourselves on occasion, he represents the possibility.
During his recent trip to Ireland, much was written about Ali’s legacy. Sports Illustrated and PBS commentator Frank Deford, in a poignant piece, A Fading Champ, But a Champ Still, claims that, “… a great many people find it as upsetting as it is sad that the old champ continues to make personal appearances.”
But, as one of our readers noted, “They don’t really understand who Ali is.” His eternally youthful attitude, humor, and quick wit have served him well, and counter the ravages of time.
One of our friends loves The Champ – always has; always will. Ali made 3 personal appearances in his life, although the first was not exactly face-to-face, and perhaps apocryphal in nature. They reflect certain aspects of who Ali is.
In 1978, on his way to a wedding, our friend visited a friend in St. Joseph, Michigan on the shore of Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the St. Joseph River. At the time, The Champ maintained a training camp in nearby Berrien Springs.
After getting off the train in a torrential down pour, he took a cab along the winding road alongside the river, and noted people sitting on its banks in the dark of the night, with giant lanterns. He inquired as to what they were doing out in the rain, in the dark.
The cabbie said they were illegally fishing. The area was known for its salmon, and fish are attracted to light emitted by the lanterns. The poachers simply extended their nets from banks, catching salmon as they sprang into the air.
The cabbie told of how The Champ was once on a boat fishing with a local resident, when a group of salmon sprang into the air, and surprised him. Without hesitation, he instinctively turned and punched one of them in mid-air, with his eyes wide open.
The second meeting took place in Universal City in the offices of MCA Music. Our friend maintained his office in the same building. One of his associates had just traveled up the elevator with Ali and his confidante, Bundini Brown. She burst into our friend’s office and yelled that one of his idols was in the house.
He ran back and forth through the halls of the 2nd floor to find Ali, and found him in the dark gray, glass, Italian motif, minimalist lobby of MCA Music. There he stood panting from his run, alone with The Champ and Bundini. Even the receptionist had left her desk to get the person Ali was to meet.
He nervously approached this massive man, and said, “Champ, I’ve waited a long time for this opportunity.”
Ali flicked his head, clinched his teeth, shot out his left fist stopping just short of our friend. In that characteristic Ali tone, he said, “Whew! Bundini. He’d better be glad that I’m so fast. He look like Joe Frazier. I thought that you were Joe Frazier! I was about to kill him Bundini!” His face reflected that special Ali “join me in the joke” smile.
The third meeting was even more personal. During the 80s and 90s, our friend ran the Los Angeles Marathon, and The Champ frequently shot the starter pistol for the race. It was necessary to arrive early, in order to park, store one’s sweat suit, get a massage, and then stretch.
While warming up one year, he encountered The Champ wandering alone amongst the trees and grass outside of the Los Angeles Coliseum, and once again shook The Champ’s hand. However, by this time, The Champ was more distant, already suffering from the condition which makes him tremble, and appear dazed. Additionally, the one-time, rapid-fire “loudmouth,” as proclaimed by our friend’s Mother, was more subdued and mumbling slightly.
But he still had that twinkle in his eyes, and that smirky smile. He wished our friend a good race.
He was, and still is The Champ.
It made us consider what many have learned from this man, with very little formal education?
1. Backing up your promises is generally viewed as a positive attribute.
2. Cheating on your spouse is not.
3. There is some value to recognizing that there are some issues bigger than your short-term personal issues.
4. There is tremendous value to being open to associating with people of all backgrounds, faiths, social position, classes, races, and such, and not judging them.
5. Society admires people who just keep going like the Energizer Bunny.
6. A Father must ensure that he takes care of and is involved in the lives of his children.
7. Saying that you are sorry and admitting that you messed up goes a long way.
8. Society will always admire someone with a twinkle in his eye.
9. Your legacy is enduring and long-lasting, and doesn’t die with you.
There’s only one Champ in our book.
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