Wednesday, July 21, 2010

a childhood sports hero.

Today #2 son took me to a place I have long wanted to visit: The Muhammad Ali Center. This multi-story museum is in downtown Louisville and overlooks the Ohio River.

My dad was a boxing fan so I watched a lot of fights on TV when I grew up. I was in grade school when Cassius Clay, as Ali was known, turned pro. My earliest memory of Ali is from before he was champ, a press conference where he and the fifty-year-old Archie Moore were promoting their upcoming fight - a fight that everyone knew, except for me, was less of a fight than a publicity stunt for Ali and just a paycheck for the once-great Moore.

I loved the brash, always confident, loud-mouthed Ali with his humorous poems declaring his greatness, the futility of trying to beat him, and what would happen to anyone who tried. No one ever acted like that in sports before. I was too young and naive to appreciate just how revolutionary it was that it was an African-American doing it.

Ali was fast, unusual for a heavyweight, and fun to watch fight. After he beat Liston to become world champ, just about all his fights seemed to be televised on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Ali fought everyone. There was no one who came close to him in the 1960's. I realize now that was why he was on TV so much: No big gates for a one-sided fight. He even traveled to Europe to try to make some money by fighting out-ranked boxers on their home turf.

I never understood his treatment, the hostility, the stripping him of his crown, when he made the courageous and principled decision to refuse induction into the military.

He was the greatest. I had no other sports heroes. I loved the Dodgers, but even their great players were not my heroes. Most kids want to grow up and do what their heroes did. Not me. God did not bless me with the the needed upper-body strength. Even at a young age I never had any illusions of someday being a boxer.

Ali has always been amazing and surprising. He is The Greatest.

Be blessed!
RB

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