I grew up with Cassius Clay. During the 1970s I spent evenings in college with classmates watching young Clay devour his opponents with lightning-fast jabs. It was more exciting than watching the latest movie. He was so fast as a heavyweight that he slammed the face of other boxers before his opponent could block his punches. During his fight with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in New York, we held onto his every word over the radio. Cassius Clay then became Mohammad Ali, and this was long before he stepped into the ring with Frazier; it was after his win over Sonny Liston.
When the movie "The Greatest" came out, a bio-pic about Ali where he played himself, I was the first in line at the local Pittsburgh theater. The next day I went out and purchased the movie theme song and learned to play it on the piano.
Ali in his peak was a brash talking, rhyming boxer where as many people came to see him win as to watch him get beaten.
It was in the spring of 1981 while I was working at West Tower Pharmacy, located near Cedar Sinai Medical Center in West Los Angeles, where I met Mohammad Ali. I was delivering medication to the hospital when Ali stepped off the elevator. What immediately impressed me was how big he was. At five foot five I appeared to be a Hobbit standing next to this 1960 Gold Medal Olympian who later became a boxing icon.
What I expected from Ali was a loud trash talker, but what surprised me was how gracious he was to everyone. His demeanor was humble. As he spoke with me, I told him that for years I had followed his career. He told me he appreciated that I had followed him all those years. With a calming poetic voice, he was kind to everyone around him. I realized deep down he was gentleman. His performance in the ring made him a legend but my encounter with him and the grace he displayed toward everyone encouraged me. If Ali could be that gracious then I could learn to carry myself with the same humility.
Meeting an Olympian boxing champion might impress you for a moment, but my encounter with Ali separated himself from the celebrities I met on regular basis at the pharmacy. Few showed the generosity of their time, as Ali had, and the ability to make you feel like you matter, like you were also a champion.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Sports & Recreation
- Cassius Clay
- Joe Frazier