Saturday, June 4, 2016


I met him twice. The first time was around 1967-68 in Iowa City where he had come to give a talk, one of the ways he made money to support himself after his heavyweight champion title was taken away from him and he wasn't allowed to box professionally because he refused to be drafted into the Viet Nam War. As he said in his speech later that night, "No Viet Cong ever called me nigger."

My first wife, Lee, and I were meeting with the University of Iowa's Catholic chaplain about the Christening of our firstborn when Ali showed up to visit the chaplain. I don't know if the young, hip, leftist priest wanted us there as witnesses to their friendship, the basis for which they may have explained but I no longer remember, but whatever the reason it was a special event for us.

Ali was taller and more handsome than in news photos and film, and his hand seemed enormous when I shook it. But he also seemed humble and easy going. It was an odd gathering, Ali and I were the same age, in our mid-twenties, my wife a year younger, the chaplain a few years older, me and my wife and the priest all what this society calls "white" and Ali "black."

But it seemed like just a simple social occasion. We sat around and talked and drank something, tea or juice or whatever, and it all seemed very natural and normal and yet at least my wife and I knew it was extraordinary.

A few years later, at Temple University in Philadelphia where The Black Panthers had called for a conference to work out the agenda and goals for the upcoming Constitutional Convention in DC the Panthers were organizing where they hoped to rewrite The Constitution, I met Ali again because I was a delegate to the gathering which ended up overflowing an auditorium with the more than ten thousand anti-war and Civil Rights activists that showed up, and once again shook his hand and was blessed by that warm and embracing smile and presence.

As I can't stop saying in my old age, I am a very lucky man for the life I've lived, and being in close proximity to Muhammad Ali on those two occasions are just two examples why. He was and will remain on so many levels "the greatest."


Anonymous said...

Excellent piece, Michael. Precise & poignant & honest.
Harry Northup

JenW said...

All we ever really have, any of us, is the eternal now moment. Meeting Ali like you did- I call those magical moments because they are just so perfect and beautifully unexpected. (And meant to happen other way.)
I watched a lot of boxing with my father- loved Muhammed Ali, the fighter & the man.