My Time With The Greatest
When you do what I do for a living, and you do it long enough, you end up looking back on a sort of “Forest Gump-like” existence. It is your job to cover sports, which means stumbling and bumbling into events that are important and great, and people who are important and great.
And for me, in one case in particular, The Greatest – Muhammad Ali.
It was 1997 and I was hosting the old “Fish For Lunch’’ radio show, and on this day I was broadcasting live from a charity golf tournament hosted by sports agent Jordan Woy. Jordan’s guest list for the weekend was star-studded…which meant my radio guest list was star-studded too.
It was then, and remains today in my work at 105.3 The Fan, a great source of pride: We effort to gain access to and to build relationships with the luminaries of the sports world, in DFW and beyond. I’ve stumbled and bumbled into some incredible visits with incredible people…
And on that day, I stumbled and bumbled into Ali because somehow, some way, Woy had connected with the heavyweight champ and international cultural icon and convinced him to attend the golf tournament, and to come on the air with me.
By this time Ali was in his mid-50’s and Parkinson’s Disease had taken hold. His body was shaky and so was his on-air presentation. But the spirit of the man was tangible then, just as it was now and forever following the weekend passing of a black kid from Louisville who would grow to change…well, everything. Race. Religion. Politics. War. Entertainment. Style.
Oh, and sports.
Ali was beloved and feared, despised and respected, intimidating and warm, a handsome, charming and bright man involved in a – by definition – ugly profession. He was for the better part of three decades bigger than boxing, bigger than sports, the most well-known human on the planet. In middle age and beyond, the Parkinson’s made him a more sympathetic figure but the Parkinson’s made his spirit no less indomitable.
And his spirit and his soul came through that day at the golf course and on the radio…for 30 full minutes – thrice the amount of time I dared hoped for – and then again later when we visited for a time, off-air, when he generously signed a painting I’d made of him.
He signed something else for me, too, but this one was all his idea: In Ali’s pocket he carried a set of Xeroxed pages titled “Biblical Contradictions.’’ I still have the painting and the page, framed together, a priceless reminder of my good fortune and Ali’s true greatness.
The on-air interview itself? I don’t remember much about it (I certainly wish I had it on tape!) and my performance probably wasn’t very memorable, given that I’m sure I was as shaky due to nervousness as Ali was shaky due to illness. But I do remember this: In my introduction of “my very special guest,’’ I looked him in the eyes and described him as “The Greatest.’’
And Muhammad Ali looked me in the eyes, winked and said, “I know.”