LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Muhammad Ali represented many different things to many different people. What did he represent to you? A great boxer? A humanitarian? A symbol of peace? A Muslim?
For me it's simple. He was a Louisvillian.
Anyone born and raised in this city has a connection with the champ. I was born in 1971, and he was always our champ.
I do remember seeing him fight, the second Leon Spinks fight is the first I can recall. His black and white trademark shorts etched in my memory.
However, as a sports reporter in this city for the last 20+ years, I have also had the fortune to have some, although limited, interactions with Ali.
The first came during the Ali Cup, an international amateur boxing event at the Kentucky International Convention Center in 1997. Shooting highlights for WLKY-TV at the time, I remember noticing that Ali was ringside for much of the action. I also realized that they were selling Everlast boxing gloves at the merchandise counter for $20 a pair. I told my girlfriend at the time, a news reporter at the station, Connie Leonard, that it would be a good idea to buy some gloves and have the champ sign them.
I didn't think I would have the time to pull it off, but found the time, and came back to the station the next night with a couple of gloves signed by Ali. She was furious and I wasn't sure why. It wasn't until my birthday a few months later that I found out the root of her hostility.
She had worked out a deal with another photographer, begging him to make a special trip and wait in line to get a pair of gloves signed for me. She also had taken my press pass and had that signed as well. She put it all in a shadow box, along with a program from the event. It is still prominently displayed in my basement. The extra gloves became gifts for my dad and nephew.
Some seven years later, after making the move to WAVE-TV, I was invited to a station sales event at the Brown and Williamson Club at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. WAVE flew in Bob Costas from NBC Sports and Ali to help promote the upcoming Olympic Games.
I was sitting a table over from Ali and watched as he drew on the tablecloth. His drawing was auctioned off at the luncheon.
I waited around afterward, hoping to get a picture with the Champ. He took pictures with some clients and as they were heading out of the room, I remember someone saying that he was in a hurry to catch a plane. I said I just wanted one pic with Ali. All I wanted was a picture of me and Ali standing next to each other smiling. Ali grabbed my fist and put it up to his face. He had his fists at his waist. It is a picture that I treasure.
I was also fortunate enough to be in the stadium when Ali was at midfield for the coin toss at the 2007 Orange Bowl and the 2013 Sugar Bowl. His mere presence overshadowed the game. It got everyone's attention.
I was in the fairway on the first hole during the 2008 Ryder Cup when Ali pulled up in a golf cart to greet the European team. I talked with Ian Poulter immediately after and he was like a little kid who had just met his idol.
I was in the elevator for a UofL baseball postseason game and was stunned to get on the elevator and see the Champ standing there.
Six days before he transitioned from this life, I was in the Ali Center, and purchased a t-shirt in the gift shop. It says "Louisville, KY Cassius Clay"
I wore it one week later and I'll wear it many times again in the future. It states a simple truth that makes me and everyone who shares a birthplace with me proud. We are blessed to say that we have something in common with a man who changed the world. He stood up for what he believed in. He preached and practiced peace. He was a uniter, and without question, The Greatest of All-Time.