Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 6th 2016 Contents A42
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, June 6, 2016
travelled the world as a fighter
and humanitarian, but he always
came home to Louisville.
His Kentucky hometown was
where Ali, as a gangly teenager,
began to develop his boxing
skills---the dazzling footwork and
rapid-fire punching prowess. The
three-time world heavyweight
boxing champion never forgot his
roots, returning to his old West
End neighbourhood and visiting
high school classmates even after
becoming one of the world s most
Now the focus shifts back to
Ali s hometown as the world says
goodbye to the man who emerged
from humble beginnings to rub
elbows with heads of state.
Ali, slowed for years by Parkin-
son s disease, died Friday at age
74 in an Arizona hospital. His
funeral is scheduled for Friday
afternoon in Louisville.
Ali chose his hometown as the
place for one of his lasting lega-
cies: the Muhammad Ali Centre,
which promotes his humanitarian
ideals and showcases his remark-
able career. Ali and his wife, Lon-
nie, had multiple residences
around the US, but always main-
tained a Louisville home.
The city embraced its favourite
son right back. A downtown street
bears his name. A banner show-
casing his face---and proclaiming
him "Louisville s Ali"---towers over
motorists near the city s riverfront.
Lifelong friend Victor Bender
knew Ali ever since they were
boyhood sparring partners. Bender
remembered Ali---then known as
Cassius Clay---as a dedicated ath-
lete who worked tirelessly to hone
his boxing skills. He also remem-
bered Ali s human touch---his will-
ingness to reach out to others.
"Only health changed him,"
Bender said in a September 2014
interview. "When he was healthy
enough, he could talk with any-
body. He loved children. He d
reach out and touch anybody,
because he loved people.
"Sometimes his handlers would
say, Look, we ve got to go. We ve
got to meet the schedule. And
he d say, The schedule will have
to wait. "
Ruby Hyde remembered the
heavyweight champ cruising into
her neighborhood in a Cadillac
with the top down. "All the kids
jumped in and he rode them
around the block," she remem-
Ali s boyhood home---a small,
single-story frame house---still
stands in the working-class neigh-
borhood where he grew up. The
bright pink home on Grand
Avenue was renovated by its cur-
rent owners and opened for Ali s
fans to get a glimpse into his life
before the world came to know
Ali s storybook boxing career---
highlighted by epic bouts with Joe
Frazier, George Foreman and
Sonny Liston---began with a theft.
His bicycle was stolen when he
was 12. Wanting to report the
crime, the shaken boy was intro-
duced to Joe Martin, a police offi-
cer who doubled as a boxing coach
at a local gym. Ali told Martin he
wanted to whip the culprit. The
thief was never found, nor was
the bike, but soon the feisty Ali
was a regular in Martin s gym.
"He always had a good left-
hand punch," Bender recalled. "He
could follow up. The fundamentals
were always there."
Ali developed into a top amateur
boxer. His early workouts included
racing a school bus along the
streets of Louisville, said Shirlee
Smith, his classmate at Louisville
Central High School.
"Every time the bus would stop
to pick up kids, he would pass us
up," she recalled. "Then we d pass
him up. Everybody on the bus
would be laughing and teasing
him. He was training at that time,
and we were just having fun. But
he was focused on what he want-
Ali s boyhood neighbour,
Lawrence Montgomery Sr., said
he saw early glimpses of the
bravado that earned Ali the
"Louisville Lip" nickname.
"He told me then that he was
going to be the heavyweight
champion of the world, and I
didn t believe him," Montgomery
said. "I told him, Man, you better
get that out of your mind. But he
succeeded. He followed through."
Not long after graduating from
high school, Ali won a gold medal
at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
Smith remembered Ali as a
happy-go-lucky classmate who
wasn t changed by fame. She
recalled the class reunion when
Ali performed magic tricks.
"He never had any airs or any
pretense," she said. "He was just
Ali announced his conversion
to the Muslim faith soon after
upsetting Liston in 1964 to win
the heavyweight crown for the
first time. Ali moved away in the
early 1960s but never lost contact
The Ali Centre includes exhibits
recalling the turbulent 1960s that
Ali came to personify. Ali was
refused service at a Louisville
restaurant after he returned home
as an Olympic gold medal winner.
Other exhibits recall Ali s role as
a civil rights supporter and oppo-
nent of the Vietnam War.
Louisvillians embraced him as
their own again as they mourned
his passing. They flocked to the
Ali Centre and to his boyhood
home along with out-of-town vis-
itors paying their respects.
Amid the flurry of activity by
mourners outside the Ali Centre,
Frank Green, 73, had his own
reflective moment about the
champ. Green gingerly got down
on his knees to say a prayer for
Ali and his family. He brought
along a photo showing him posing
"It s really hurtful and painful
over the last few years to see him
in the condition he was in," said
Green, whose wife was an Ali
classmate. "His dynamic person-
ality---he d go in a dark room and
you wouldn t have to flip the light
switch. The lights would auto-
matically come on. He was that
type of dynamic personality."
At a memorial service outside
Metro Hall Saturday, Louisville
Mayor Greg Fischer summed up
Ali s deep ties to the city.
"Muhammad Ali belongs to the
world, but he only has one home-
town," he said. "The Louisville
Lip spoke to everyone, but we
heard him in a way no one else
...but never forgot his hometown roots
Ali became world citizen
It's really hurtful and
painful over the last few
years to see him in the
condition he was in,"
said Green, whose wife
was an Ali classmate.
personality---he'd go in a
dark room and you
wouldn't have to flip the
light switch. The lights
come on. He was that
type of dynamic
Boxing gloves and a message sit among flowers at a makeshift memorial to Muhammad Ali at the
Muhammad Ali Centre. AP PHOTOS
An image of Muhammad Ali is posted at a makeshift memorial to him at the
Muhammad Ali Centre, Saturday, in Louisville. Ali died Friday at age 74.
TRIBUTE TO THE GREATEST
Links Archive June 5th 2016 June 7th 2016 Navigation Previous Page Next Page