I KNEW HIM BACK WHEN
Temecula, CA – Graduating in 1963 was advantageous time wise but being in Louisville, KY during those years was noteworthy because of a man named Cassius Clay. Later re-named Muhammad Ali, I doubt Ali would remember my face now but I will never forget the last time I saw him up close and personal.
It was wintertime and I was standing outside a small neighborhood mini mart either on Greenwood or Virginia Ave just a short block from Western Parkway, the area of some premium black homes and particulate toxic fallout from refinery sludge. This particular day was cold by Louisville standards but it wasn’t freezing and it was sunny. There was ice still on the ground.
It was probably about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and along with people in general, a black Cadillac pulls up and Cassius gets out. He was Champion but much of his turmoil was ahead of him. As was the custom in those days, if you were important, someone drove you. Someone else was driving that day.
Living in town, even a city, when segregated, the odds of knowing people within your ethnic group are increased over just being in the general population. Over the years of seeing Cassius on TV fighting plus knowing some of his cousins [The Blakeys] personally, I was well aware of him. Because my mother taught next door to the teacher who taught him in grade school, our paths crossed socially enough so that he knew who I was by sight because of my mother.
This Sunday I was visiting my cousin who lived in the area and had gone to the store perhaps with him. Cassius or Ali gets out and I nodded to him and said, “What’s up?”
“Getting some milk for my mama,” came the reply’
Standing over in front of the store doorway were 3 kids who all greeted Ali with “Hey Champ.” When Ali acknowledged them, the smallest one, a little boy with a Sluggo cap stepped out, put his two fists up and prepared to spar.
Ali stopped, raised his dukes, and went about 30 seconds with the little guy. We all cheered and the little boy was all smiles. Then Ali went inside the store and came out about a minute later with the milk, leaving in the caddy like he arrived. I thought it was very cool of Ali to take the time with that kid. After all, now he was famous. Like me, I bet that little boy if he is still living, never forgot that day.
I probably saw him face to face just a few times more through the years before I moved away and we would give each other the head nod of familiarity. But of course he was in the local newspapers and black magazines quite a bit. In the news he was often serious or taken that way when to us in Louisville he was more down to earth. Now according to two of his daughters, that homespun side of him, the side Louisville was more used to is about to come out.
Muhammad Ali's daughters, Maryum and Hana, sat down with ET to get details on who Ali, the father, really was. "My father has a lot of sides and you hear about the fights," said Maryum. "You don't hear about family that much, and what that meant to him."
The father of nine--two sons and seven daughters--tried to cherish every moment with his kids.
"My father gave me some audio tapes that he made when we were young in the seventies," said Hana. "He [recorded] us talking, going to school, playing, talking on the phone with my sister, and various things." All of these personal audio journals will be paired with interviews from Ali's inside circle, to give the upcoming documentary a view from the inside.
Ali's daughters play a prominent role in the documentary I Am Ali, out October 10, which is told through Ali's personal audio journals as well as interviews and testimonials from the boxing legend's inner circle of family and friends.
While Parkinson's disease may have taken away some of his sting, Ali's fight remains.
"I call my father in the mornings and that's when he's at his best," said Hana. "His voice is clearer, speaks slow but you can hear him. He has family around him and he's enjoying life."
The film promises to deliver a never-before-seen look at the iconic fighter and allow fans to see a more personal and family side to "the greatest".
Conversations between Ali and his family feature heavily while the thoughts of fellow boxers George Foreman and Mike Tyson are also included.
Speaking last year executive producer John Battsek was excited about the project.
"It’s a film built around phone conversations that Ali recorded for many years with his family," he said. "That’s the spine of the film.
"It’s a very personal perspective on Ali, from Ali – in a way – through a 20-year period of his life when he was still fighting," he told Screen Daily. – Ben Burrows
I Am Ali is set to release October 10. Consult your local listings.