From my nephew, Cooper James:
I have met many personalities in LA throughout my career, but meeting Ali twenty years ago on an overcast Sunday morning will always top the list. March 3, 1996 at the LA Marathon, I was living downtown as the city was being revitalized with a beautiful steel and glass skyline. The race course had changed that year and the new route would now bring 35,000 runners and cyclists through downtown LA. With streets closed to traffic and camera in hand, I took a carefree, carfree stroll. Wandering about, I somehow arrived mid-race at the venue for the marathon's VIP guests, only I didn't have a VIP pass. So geared up in Adidas sweats, a pair of Giorgio Armani wraparound shades, I smiled and with chutzpah, headed towards the entrance. Much to my delight, security waved me right through and directed me upstairs to an outdoor terrace where I found suited and skirted LA city officials eating and drinking with their family and friends. The first person I make eye contact with is a seated Muhammad Ali, uninterested in the festivities around him. With a slight smile and that spark in his eyes, he sent his message, "Come on, Brother, I'm Muhammad Ali. Ain't no body here better than me". Without missing a step, I walked straight over, he signaled to security that I was okay to join him. I shook his hand and we took a photo... his fist to my chin... in a second, every big punch he landed flashed through my mind... CLICK my fist to his chin... wow, this is unbelievable, but I would definitely be laying on my back by now ... CLICK. Now floating like a butterfly, I left to savor the moment, to lock in the memory and to protect my roll of film. Today the world said goodbye to the champion of all people. let's not say goodbye to what he stood for... love. No matter what, Ali always connected with people and made them feel better about themselves. Social media is today's way of connecting with others. Sharing love, kindness and understanding like Ali, is really all it should be about. If we're honest and fair, none of us are perfect, so lift as we climb and in the words of Muhammad Ali, I say... "Me, we." #RIPMUHAMMADALI
Back in March of 1967 Muhammad Ali was in New York getting ready to fight Zora Foley at the old Madison Square Garden. The National Invitation Tourney (NIT) was going on in March also. One night some of us FDU basketball players went over to Manhattan to watch an NIT game. I think that Southern Illinois with Walt Frazier was playing that night. I recall that my friend Buddy Wagner, who was quite short, white, and wasn’t a basketball player, was with us as well. Anyway, we were walking toward the Garden and Buddy suddenly says, "There is Muhammad Ali . . . he just went into that restaurant." We walked over to the restaurant and looked in and we could see Ali and several of his all black group of companions getting seated at their table. So, we are all about to continue on to the Garden and not disturb the great fighter. Buddy says, "I am going into the restaurant and get Ali's autograph." We all said to Buddy, "No way . . . don't bother him . . . don't cause a scene." Well, Buddy went into the restaurant anyway, and we watched and I secretly held my breath as he boldly walked up to Ali's table and requested an autograph. Amazingly enough, Ali looked him in the eye, smiled and gave Buddy the autograph. Buddy happily made his way back to us ‘courageous’ basketball players waiting outside the restaurant…showing us the $10 bill he got Ali to sign! The amazing thing was how amiable and receptive Ali was to Buddy. Almost like he was an old friend. I have always remembered that incident because it was such a surprise to see how real and down to earth this already famous man was in real life. It was his kindness and openness to a total stranger who approached him at a busy time that struck me.
He was a famous fighter already, but at that moment I think I saw a hint of a man who would someday become a great humanitarian beyond the ring. I always remember it, because it was March, and March in New York City always meant it was time for NIT basketball.
- Larry Holmes