Saturday, June 11, 2016

Muhammad Ali

The dam broke yesterday.

I knew it was coming and was frankly surprised that it took as long as it did.

I set the DVR to tape Muhammad's funeral procession when I got up, then went about my business. Sat down around 12:30 with a bowl of rice chex, banana and strawberries and turned on the tube.

The procession was making its way through the streets of Louisville. When I saw the hearse I had a mouthful of cereal, which I almost choked on.

I started to sob. It came and went quickly but I did have to set the bowl aside for a while. I was overwhelmed.

And what an amazing situation, pure Ali. There was no pomp and circumstance, no ropes preventing people from getting up close and personal. It blew me away to see hundreds, probably thousands of people along the route stepping out to touch the hearse, throwing flowers on the hearse, kissing their hand and touching that hand to the hearse.

Had I been there I would have touched my hand to Ali's hearse, no doubt, no other option, and I would have been crying like a baby when I did it.

The driver had to keep reaching out to brush flowers aside so he could see. The windows of the hearse were down; so were windows on many of the family limos in the procession. The family was actually talking to the mourners, waving to them - how unbelievably intimate.

The Peoples' Champ to the very end.

The ceremony, held later in the afternoon, blew me away. Ali had helped to orchestrate the whole thing going back ten years ago, from the funeral procession to the ceremony, and his presence was so obvious.

No highlight reel, no pictures, no music.

A man devoted to the Muslim faith essentially MC'd the proceedings. There was a reading from the Koran and a translation. Two separate rabbis spoke. A Native American spoke flanked by two of his brothers. Two Buddhist monks chanted.

Ali's spiritual and worldwide influence was so beautifully illustrated without braggadocio, subtly and powerfully.

During the funeral procession and before the ceremony began, commentators were attempting to provide insightful analysis. As is always the case, they were trying in their small minded, torturous and selfish ways,to add gravity to the situation with what they considered to be brilliant questions and insights. They were easily and humorously upstaged by those who knew Ali intimately.

Believe it or not, a man who taught Ali in high school was there. A guy who lived his life in Louisville. The commentator asked him how Ali made such a big impact on Louisville. The guy answered as if he were talking to an idiot "By being Muhammad Ali."

One of the rabbis said the best way to honor Ali is to "Be Ali." Simple. Powerful. Pure truth.

Coverage of the funeral procession began sometime around 9:00 a.m. on ESPN and continued on through the memorial ceremony, which ran until shortly after 6:00 p.m.

There was nothing else on the station - no sports, and none of the typical banal analysis and conversations that dominate the network.

That was meaningful to me. The coverage of sports has become superficial, and the things that athletes say and do are such a joke. There has never been and never will be another like Ali, who dominated and changed the sports world, whose influence and principles and guts inspired people all around the world.

In my opinion ESPN should have closed shop after the ceremony. Gone black. That is the magnitude of tribute Muhammad Ali deserves.

Billy Crystal said that Muhammad made our lives better than they were. That really got to me.

I thought about the excitement I felt as a kid waking up to my father's notes, never doubting that Ali had won the fight. The thrill I got from watching him fight, the beauty and power and grace that would make your jaw drop. The way he made me laugh all the time. The pride and inspiration I felt when he stood up to the United States government. The impact he had around the world after his fighting career was over. The way people both powerful and struggling looked up to this man with awe and respect and how he treated them all with equal respect and love.

Each one of these experiences and impressions made my life better. He made me happy, he inspired me, he taught me, he surprised me. He took me away from my own life and gave the world to me.

I cried a lot yesterday. Why wouldn't I?

I was lucky enough to experience Muhammad Ali in all his phases and all his glory, from his 1964 explosion onto the boxing world's largest stage, which he made bigger, to his death in 2016.

Billy Crystal was right. He made my life better than it was.

I loved Muhammad Ali.

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