Tag Archives: Dave Kindred

Farewell to Muhammad Ali, the most famous athlete in world history. And Novak Djokovic completes a career Grand Slam in Paris.

Aliphoto.Leifer

“You know I’m bad, I have murdered a rock,
I injured a stone, and hospitalized a brick.
I’m so bad, I make medicine sick.”

— Muhammad Ali, 1974

I have never in my life felt more utterly inadequate as a writer than right now, trying to sum up and analyze the life of the most famous athlete in world history.

Cassius Clay, who became Muhammad Ali, was more than just an athlete, of course. He was a trailblazer, an icon, a pioneer and a humanitarian, though we never saw that last attribute until long after his boxing career was over.

I’ve read so many tributes and obituaries to the “Greatest of All Time” over the past 48 hours, since I learned of his death late Friday night, and so many of them have been great (I’ll link some below).

It seems a criminal understatement to say Ali changed the world we live in. From the time he burst onto the scene in 1960 at the Rome Olympics, until his last major public moment, lighting the torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he has been the most intriguing figure in all of sports.

I’m glad that most of the obituaries haven’t whitewashed his flaws; Ali was far, far from a saint. His philandering in regards to women, his horrendous, criminal verbal treatment of decent men like Joe Frazier and Ernie Terrell, and his race-dividing comments on behalf of the Nation of Islam from the 1960s should be as much a part of his legacy as his remarkable personality, his devastating skill in the ring, and the way he became a symbol of hope and courage in dealing with Parkinson’s Disease the last 30 years of his life.

As a writer I loved that Ali loved reporters, using them to entertain, and often inflame. What other athlete, ever, has written poetry like the one I quoted up top? He was an incredibly smart man, something he rarely got credit for.

I never got to meet Ali, which is a huge regret. And I was certainly born too late to have any real memories of him as a fighter. But I remember getting goosebumps seeing him up on that podium in Atlanta, a symbol of America in all its messy, complicated glory.

Before I leave you with the best I’ve watched and read over this weekend, I want to tell one more Ali story that’s always stuck with me, and always made me smile. The story may be apocryphal, it may be true; no one really knows.

The champ was on an airplane once and ignoring the flight attendant’s request to put on his seat belt.

“Superman don’t need no seat belt!” Ali exclaimed.

“Superman don’t need no plane, either,” the flight attendant replied.

Rest in peace, Superman. And thanks for taking so many of us on such a wonderful ride.

**The best on Ali’s death: This column by Jerry Izenberg, legendary sportswriter and Ali’s longtime friend, was excellent.

Robert Lipsyte was one of the first sportswriters to “get” Ali and what he was about, and has spent decades chronicling him. He wrote the New York Times obit, and it was outstanding.

And Dave Kindred, another legendary sportswriter, also covered Ali for almost his entire career, and wrote probably the best thing I read this weekend on the champ: 

— HBO, which always does the best sports tributes, put together this fabulous 8-minute piece on Ali’s life, with some of his most memorable quotes as well.

— And finally, I embedded the famous 1979 Billy Crystal roast/tribute to Ali, called “15 Rounds,” above. Damn, Billy Crystal is talented. His monologue/impression is just perfect.

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**While Ali’s death was by far the saddest sports news of the weekend, Sunday brought me and other tennis fans great joy, as Novak Djokovic finally won the French Open title that’s long eluded him.

I’ve written many times of my admiration of Nole; he’s my second-favorite player, I admire his generous spirit and genuinely good heart, and am thrilled he’s completed the career Grand Slam.

His match Sunday with Andy Murray wasn’t one of their classics; Djokovic started slow, then steamrolled Murray until the end, when at 5-2 Djokovic got tight and dropped two straight games.

I thought it was sweet how after he finally won, Djokovic seemed totally confused about how to react; he’d been thinking about this moment for so long that it was like he didn’t know what to do first.

He ended up painting a heart in the clay (a move Gustavo Kuerten first did at Roland Garros), then summoning a bunch of ballkids to salute the crowd.

He was gracious and classy as usual in victory, and I’m glad crowds finally seem to be responding to him.

Djokovic is up to 12 major titles now, and I can’t believe I’m ever writing these words, but he’s got an excellent shot to pass Federer’s once-unassailable total of 17 Slams.

I mean, Nadal’s body is cruelly breaking down, Federer hasn’t been able to beat Nole in a Slam in years, and Murray just can’t quite top his rival in big matches anymore.

Barring injury, who’s going to stop Djokovic? We are so, so spoiled as tennis fans, seeing three of the all-time greats playing in this era.

Win Wimbledon and then the U.S. Open this year, and Djokovic will have the calendar Slam that eluded Serena in 2015.

I think he’s going to do it.

A beautiful tribute to the late, great “The National” newspaper. I get bummed at the eye doctor’s office. And a computer repairman with a dirty mind

If you’re too young to remember “The National Sports Daily,” let me try to explain it to you.
Twenty years ago, before the Internet and before there were sportswriters spouting nonsense on TV, there was this idea: A daily newspaper in America, devoted solely to sports. It would come out five days a week, be filled with the best writing on sports in the country, and would have all the info you could possibly want.
The National hired every great sportswriter working in 1990, it seemed: John Feinstein, Mitch Albom, Dave Kindred, Charlie Pierce, Scott Ostler … it was the most amazing collection of sportswriting talent ever seen before or since.

I was in high school during The National’s brief life, and I vividly remember reading it every chance I got. My parents had recently gotten divorced in 1990, and I can still recall going to my Dad’s apartment in Great Neck, N.Y., walking to the newsstand near his place, and buying The National and savoring it.

It was everything I loved and everything I wanted to do, and I dreamed of one day being able to write for such an amazing newspaper.

But, well, there were problems. Distribution was awful, the paper wasted an insane amount of money on travel and salaries, and after a year and a half it folded under a pile of bills.

Why am I telling you all of this now? Because ESPN’s new website, Grantland.com (which is fabulous so far, by the way), did a beautiful two-story piece on The National and its glorious successes and failures. The first part is a hilarious oral history from the men and women who worked there, and the second is a beautiful essay by Charlie Pierce, an ode to the best place he ever worked. I highly recommend checking them out, whether you, like me, miss The National all the time, or if you just want to know what it was like.

**Here’s a little life moment. I went to the eye doctor Friday, and in addition to finding out he grew up in the same town as my cousins in New City, N.Y., I learned something else:
My right eye vision is only 20/30. This bothered me a lot, because nine years ago I had LASIK surgery and they swore to me then that I’d have 20/20 sight.
And as far as I know, I’ve had 20/20 vision since the surgery.
And now I’m down to 20/30.
Maybe I just had a bad day guessing the letters. Maybe the assistant was wrong.
Or maybe, I’m just getting a little bit old.
20/20 was a beautiful thing while it lasted.

**Finally today, here’s a man we all can be proud of. 20-year-old computer repairman Trevor Harwell was arrested after he put spyware on the computers of women that allowed him to take candid photos of them, often in the nude, by having remote access to their machines.

Trevor, sweetheart, there are a lot easier ways to get nude photos of women, pal.

What a sleazebag.