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Comments On This Tough First Day Without Muhammad Ali

June 4, 2016

I think Muhammad Ali, whom I loved and admired far beyond words, might disagree with some of this, but would laud my insight, understanding and at least respect my passion.

Billy Crystal is in my opinion, a bit phony, certainly when it comes to sports (how with all he has does he have the passion for it that he claims. His movie “61” about two beloved Yankees, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s (another Yankees player) single season home run mark, had more holes than swisscheese) and on that level does not deserve to speak at Muhammad’s funeral service next Friday at the Kentucky Fried Chicken Yum! Center, in the Champ’s hometown of Louisville. There is a joke there and Ali would play along with it.

However, he never played along with overt racism, including when in his own hometown, after winning the Olympic gold medal in Rome, Italy in 1960, he was not served in an eating establishment.

I saw in him as I did with the great football player, Jim Brown, first sports greatness but later and more important, a willingness to buck the establishment for what is right.

While Crystal built his career around doing Ali impressions before moving on to greatness, I doubt he suffered when Ali lost a fight, most notably to the great Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971.

Though I know of Bryant Gumbel’s extreme arrogance, I (a white person for the record) feel he is a good choice to speak next week, not because he is black, but I believe as was the case with me, was devastated when Mr. Frazier scored a unanimous decision vs Ali, in their first fight.

It is hard to explain the passion involved in loving someone seeking the change you aspire and the humiliating emptiness of defeat thereof.

As Bob Costas, one who likes, knows and respects Mr. Crystal, said when he was asked to speak at Mickey Mantle’s funeral, it was not as a broadcaster but as a representative of the so many who loved, thrilled and at times agonized regarding Mr. Mantle.

I would be a great choice to speak on behalf of those of us, “ahead of the curve” in liking and in my case and others like me, loving Ali.

A very meaningful call came to me today from Dr. Ike, a man whose profession and work transcends those of comedian, broadcaster or idealized dreamer.

He praised my insight in admiring Ali, while others condemned his views. Always “Ike” or “H.T.” to me, calling from a Peruvian restaurant with two of his daughters present, he talked of the problems Parkinson’s Disease caused, eventually ending Ali’s life.

I knew he would know that, but what meant the most, even more than acknowledging me, was that he talked of Muhammad as history proved, being right to oppose an unjust war.

He added that he was impressed and moved greatly in reading of Ali touching and helping a victim of leprosy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

This is a truly tough day for me, in a life of tough days, but as Ali said “God tests him and all of us each day.”

Thus it is up to me to do what Ali did and pass that test. I am a kind dreamer, who must work harder.

 

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My mother, in days before VCR’s, somehow allowed me to put a portable television on the dinner table and watch the Dinah Shore Show because Muhammad was a guest.

A young Mr. Crystal impressed me and endeared himself to Ali with great impressions and comedy routine that day. He will do fine next week and surely cares about Ali.

The best choice to speak about Muhammad is not available. However that person, Howard Cosell, surely on a par in the arrogance department and then some with Gumbel, but also one who stuck by Ali, when few in the media did the same, will be watching with Ali.

Oh to be a fly on heaven’s wall for that.

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