Today we remember this man as the world’s greatest boxer. He is know for so much inside the rink and yet just as importantly outside.
At the age of 18, I was a recipient of his kindness. This story is kind of legendary in our home as it was one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. I had just left for university in Michigan, in Berrien Springs and my parents had come with my youngest brother and surprised me for the weekend. I believe it was my 18th birthday weekend.
We had one stop light in the town. No fast foods like McD, Taco Bell or Wendy’s. It was a quiet town, my university being the main attraction in town, unless you knew that Muhammad Ali lived there too. On a whim, as we drove around, I asked my folks if they wanted to see where Ali lived. I figured we’d drive past it, the gates would be closed and we could say we saw it and on we would go. As fate or something would have it, the gates were open.
I’m not sure what possessed my father to, but he decided that we needed to see Muhammad Ali. Kumar and I begged my dad to drive out. As my dad drove to the house, there were a bunch of dogs barking at us. I remember my dad telling us to go knock. Neither of us would budge. Now we were all scared of the barking dogs. Now what? Well, my dad did the only thing that HE would think to do. Did I mention it was 8ish in the morning? My dad drove a big, Ford Econoline brown huge van and leaned into the horn and began honking. And honking. And honking. I remember I dove on the ground of the van and begged my dad to stop and to please drive away.
I am surprised that with the dogs barking like crazy, the horn yelling out, that the folks inside did not just dial 911 that a looney was outside. I have to give credit to his mother-in-law who came to the door, and said so politely, “Can I help you?”
My dad responses with no shame, “We’ve come all the way from India to see Muhammad Ali!” OM MY GOODNESS! I was so mortified! Yes, my dad has an accent. Yet we have lived in North American for over 16 years at this point. Did I mention his mother-in-law was so kind? She told my dad that Ali was sleeping still but maybe he could come back. Of course my dad, found out 10 o’clock was the time and off we went.
I am not sure why she didn’t shut the gates. Maybe she feared that the Indian in the big brown van would just honk outside the gate and she was thinking of her neighbours. I don’t know, but sure enough, we returned at 10 am and my dad honked his arrival.
I can remember the moment The Greatest came out of the house. I remember feeling like I had to catch my breath. Wow! And he was so lovely! Friendly, charming and welcoming even though we were such intruders. He did magic tricks for us, which included levitating. He was so gracious and gave us a tour of his compound, where he practiced, his ring and THEN invited us into his house.
All the while, it was obvious that he saw our discomfort of having a crazy dad. And yet he did not make us feel less than welcomed. He took a few jabs (verbally, in his jokes ) at my dad, but being all he way from INDIA, my dad did not catch it.
I have always thought fondly of this amazing man and how gracious he was to all of us. This picture my dad blew up and it is leaning on the wall in the family room, waiting for a spot. And yet, Sanj loves to tell the story to anyone that walks in and comments, with some embellishment, of course.
RIP to a very kind and beautiful man. May his family find comfort and peace as they mourn his passing. #RIPMUHAMMADALI