Most of us know the legendary stories about Muhammad Ali and his hometown. How he grew up in the West End on Grand Avenue, had his bike stolen and was motivated to fight, that he won the Gold Medal at the Olympics and tossed it into the Ohio River due to racism. We know about his conversion to Islam, his objection to war and his famous quote that really fueled his political opponents — “I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.”
I loved the confidence and arrogance he brought to his sport, the poetry he used to taunt his opponents, the strategies (Rope-a-Dope) he used to win. These words may be the most wonderful lines ever put together by an athlete, or anyone — “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
As a teenager in the ’70s, I remember clearly the build-up for Ali fights, the way the world stopped to watch him, the way his press conferences provided entertainment for millions.
I remember the ugly locals who opposed changing the name of Walnut Street to Muhammad Ali Boulevard. I’ve watched the toll Parkinson’s took on him during the last 20 years, but I’ve also been in rooms that have suddenly grown silent and reverent when “The Champ” entered.
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Ali’s devotion to peace and love and kindness are his real legacy, as anyone who has toured the magnificent exhibits at the fantastic Ali Center will tell you.
But I didn’t really know much about Ali until I got the chance to do a Rusty Satellite interview with John Ramsey, who in 30 years became a confidant and friend, the guy Lonnie Ali called when she knew the end was near. As you’ll here in the piece, Ramsey flew from New York to Phoenix to say his good-byes, flew home with the Champ, and is the Ali family’s go-to for advice and help in arranging details for this week’s activities here.
On Wednesday, Ramsey squeezed me in before meeting members of the Ali family for a private meeting with the Louisville baseball team, a team “The Champ” loved to watch on the Internet. There are plenty more stories, plus some spot-on voice impressions, from Ramsey in this Rusty interview. Please take a moment to listen.