Saturday, June 4, 2016

My 15 minutes in the shadow of Ali's spotlight

You Tube: Focus Features 

MY 15 minutes of
Thanks to someone simply known as

     It was 1979 when we received word that Muhammad Ali would be coming to our NBC affiliate television station in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania to participate in a national 'Friday Night Fights' nationwide broadcast.

     Realizing my odds of winning an exclusive interview with 'The Champ,' were probably equal to anyone one else on our local broadcast staff, I approached the VP of operations and submitted my bid.  Perhaps my odds of speaking with Ali were probably reinforced by completion of a recent assignment in Italy.  Becoming the first local reporter to land a foreign assignment was a rather monumental accomplishment.  So with feather in cap, I felt reluctantly confident I would get the nod.

     Little did I know, the nod would come only hours before Muhammad Ali, THE GREATEST, was about to arrive at our TV station.  With only an hour separating me from sitting elbow to elbow with the greatest boxer who ever lived, I began to personal boxing knowledge was, like most kids of that day, limited to what we might gather from local news reports, and as we got older,  more likely resulting from conversations among media friends over a brew, at a nearby pub.

     With the clock ticking, I darted out to a corner news stand, and with a few boxing magazines in hand, returned to our newsroom to complete a crash course in professional boxing.

     When Ali entered the room,  and following a brief introduction, we commenced our one on one chat. (Pictured below--Ali is the guy pictured on the right).  Somewhere around the time when this photo was snapped by a staff photographer, Ali abruptly interrupted me mid-sentence, indicating his desire to pause our talk.  Figuring I had blown the greatest interview of my career, Ali was quick to assure me it was because a more important task required his attention.

     A group of kids had gathered just outside a nearby window, hoping to just get a glimpse of the man they only read about as being, 'The Greatest.'  Ali got up, walked to the window, opened it, and began chatting ('jiving' ) with his junior fans.   He asked for my pen, and began signing autographs on anything these young kids could find strewn around in the walkway.  Years later, I imagined a soiled Dixie cup setting on someone's mantle, bearing the signature of probably the best boxer who ever lived.  Indeed, the name Muhammad Ali, is probably more recognizable, anywhere on this Planet, than most wannabe celebrities, politicians and even 'Royals.'

     We wrapped up our interview. Ali  shook my hand, apologizing for the brief interruption, and departed the newsroom, leaving behind a young reporter with another feather nestled in his cap.  But more importantly, a memory of a soft-spoken giant-of-a-man, who presented a much different persona when the cameras were not present and microphones went silent. 

     "Thanks Champ....and good luck in your next fight."


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