Tag Archives: Muhammad Ali

The Orlando nightclub shooting and the Tony Awards: Love will always beat hate. The Penguins win the Cup, and Gordie Howe, remembered. And Billy Crystal beautifully eulogizes Muhammad Ali

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I woke up Sunday morning around 7:30, and within minutes I was filled with rage.

Rage at once again, a mass shooting on American soil, by a person using weapons only military should be allowed to possess. A man raging against the world, against gay people, against our values, and mowing down more than 100 people, killing 50.

Last time there was a mass shooting I wrote in this space that I was numb to it, and trying to remain hopeful. Two mass shootings ago I was angry and pissed off, and that’s where I was Sunday. I don’t care if the perpetrator of this heinous act did what he did at Pulse nightclub because he hates gay people, or because he sympathized with ISIS

And my rage barely subsided all day when I thought about the horrible tragedy, and how incredibly frightening it must have been to be in that club. And my rage reached new levels when I read “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims” statements from men like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, who absolutely demonize and spew hatred at lesbian and gay people constantly, yet now more than four dozen of them are dead and suddenly they give a fuck.

So I was mad, and feeling helpless, and knowing that once again, absolutely nothing will change in America even after the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history.

Then at 8 p.m., the Tony Awards started. And host James Corden did a fabulous opening number talking about inclusion, and how diversity is a good thing, and for the next few hours a theater community that welcomes and becomes a safe refuge for so many gay, lesbian and transgender people was a cornucopia of joy, and good feelings.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind “Hamilton,”  gave a fantastic acceptance speech that ended like this:

“We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger,
we rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that
hope and love last longer.

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love…
It cannot be killed or swept aside.”

And awards were handed out and heartfelt speeches made, and tributes to the Orlando victims were offered, and I smiled through much of it.

On such a tragic day, a day that usually leads to feeling such helplessness, it was wonderful to be reminded, by brilliant actors and actresses on the Beacon Theatre stage, that love ALWAYS wins over hate.

Every damn time.

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**Next up, there was a hell of a Stanley Cup finals hockey game played Sunday night, which I watched during Tonys commercials and then saw the whole third period.

The Sharks and Penguins played the whole game like their hair was on fire, and if only the choppy ice had cooperated (it’s June in San Jose, can’t really expect good ice) the score could easily have been 6-5. Pittsburgh is the new Stanley Cup champion, and man it

Couple quick thoughts on the Penguins’ Stanley Cup win:

— Sidney Crosby, hated by so many hockey fans (including me), is just a sensational player. His puckhandling, his vision, he’s been so good for so long that you take him for granted. But this guy almost had his career ended by concussions a few years ago, so to see him playing at this level again is something else.

— Mike Emrick. I mean, what more can you say about the best play-by-play announcer in any sport? He was just so much fun to listen to Sunday night.

— The Sharks have just about put to bed their reputation as playoff chokers, right? What a fantastic playoff run they had. Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

— Gordie Howe, maybe the second-greatest hockey player ever (some blonde dude named Gretzky was better), died on Friday. So many great stories were told by the hockey writers who knew him; I loved this Michael Farber essay on Howe on SI.com, and Canadian hockey legend Roy MacGregor also had a great story and video here as well. In McDonald’s piece, we hear a wonderful anecdote about Howe once picking an opponent up off the ice by his nostrils. And oh yeah, Gordie was still playing pro hockey at age 51. Fifty-one!

Rest in Peace to a legendary player.

**Finally today, wanted to end on an uplifting note. Friday was Muhammad Ali’s funeral, and as you expect, so many luminaries were in attendance.

Billy Crystal gave one of the eulogies, and he was just pitch-perfect. His humor, emotion and words were outstanding. Watch this and again, appreciate how much love and goodness there is in the world.

Billy’s the best.

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

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“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.

The shame of Indiana’s new law, and how the 21st century outrage over it is a great thing. A man’s heroics on a first date put the rest of us to shame. And Muhammad Ali and Roger Ebert watch “Rocky II” in 1979.

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It didn’t used to be this way, and for that, I’m glad.

I’m not talking about the bigotry and homophobia and outright, well, meanness of the new Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Disgusting, prejudiced, homphobic laws have been passed by states and cities for as long as ‘Merica has been around, for hundreds of years.

What I’m talking about is the incredible firestorm of outrage that’s sprung up this week about Gov. Mike Pence’s law. The immediate denunciations on Twitter, Facebook, the local news, by so many, from all corners of the U.S. (that front page of the Indianapolis Star, above, is fantastic.)

I’m talking about governors banning travel from their state to Indiana. Professional sports organizations denouncing Indiana (hey, when NASCAR says your politics are too conservative, you know you’re pretty far afield of reality.) Legitimate columns and commentary being published saying the NCAA should move this weekend’s Final Four out of the state (a nice thought, but seriously, how in the world can you do that on a week’s notice? Would be totally unfair to the thousands of people attending)

Social media and the Internet have all made sure these despicable laws and this blatant bigotry aren’t just quietly passed and ignored; they are forced to endure blinding sunlight, and that sunlight is what brings change.

That sunlight has the ability to shame a state and its legislators, and force change. Because once corporations and sporting events threaten to leave a state and take their $$$ with them, that’s what forces change.

Religious “freedom” to discriminate very rarely trumps a huge economic hit in the eyes of politicians.

Again, I am not at all surprised Indiana’s right-wing legislators passed a bill like this. The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case gave them an opening, legally, and now they’re jumping through it.

But the outrage is beautiful, and real, and it’s dead center of this debate. And that wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago.

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**Next up, this has no major news value today, but the great Richard Deitsch sent it out on Twitter and I thought it was sensational. Roger Ebert, in 1979, sat down with Muhammad Ali and watched the Champ watch “Rocky II” for the first time.
Ali’s running commentary, how he talks about what the movie got right and wat it got wrong, the way Ebert weaves in the movie action … just sensational.

Ali’s the best.

**And finally today, we’ve all had good first dates, we’ve all had terrible first dates. But I don’t think too many of us could ever top the heroics of Tristan Gareau, a Canadian DJ who saved a man from a burning car on a recent first date.

Apparently Mr. Gareau and his date were driving home from their rendezvous when he spotted a car that had smashed into a condo.

Gareauopened the door and, after being blasted in the face with black smoke and hot air, found 65-year-old driver Steve Guy passed out at the wheel. As his foot was still on the gas, the vehicle’s wheels were continuing to spin.

Gareau, who weighs just 135 pounds, grabbed the older and 90-pound heavier man to haul him outside.

What a hero. Only problem is, what the hell is he going to do on the second date to impress the girl? Jump off a skyscraper?

A heart-stopping finish and a snoozer: Seattle and New England advance to the Super Bowl. A great story on how MLK and Muhammad Ali became friends. And the best bribery story involving suckling pigs you’ll ever hear

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So much I want to blog about today, so little time: My red-hot New York Rangers keep rolling, beating the hell out of the hated Penguins Sunday; Duke bounced back with a huge win over Louisville, this North Korea/NSA spying thing just keeps getting stranger and stranger, another famous athlete got busted for prostitution and I can’t understand why they do it. (more on that one in Wednesday’s blog) … but we start where I must start: Championship Sunday in the NFL.

And the last five minutes of regulation/overtime of the Seahawks-Packers game, which was as bananas as anything I’ve seen in the NFL in a long, long time. To recap: Packers dominated the game but kept kicking field goals instead of scoring TD’s, Russell Wilson playing as bad a football game as he ever has, Seattle down 19-7 with five minutes to go… and they score three touchdowns, the last one in OT, to win and go back to the Super Bowl for the second straight year.

Epic, epic collapse by the Packers. You can blame the dude who fumbled the onside kick all you want, but the Green Bay defense melted like wax paper those last few drives.
From getting no pressure on Wilson, to not being able to cover the mediocre Hawks’ receivers, to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (yes that’s really his name) not knocking down the 2-point conversion that put Seattle up 22-19 (thus making the Packers’ field goal at the end of regulation a tying kick, not a winning kick), there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Hell, Seattle needed a fake field goal TD just to get on the scoreboard through 3 1/2 quarters, and they still found a way to win.

Russell Wilson can play for me anytime. What a player. I’m sick for the Packers fans this morning; thank God it’s a national holiday and those people don’t have to call in sick; they can mourn at home.

As for the other game … yeah, that was predictable. Andrew Luck may be great someday, but he needs a running game, a defense with a pass rush, and a lot more seasoning to be able to win a game like that up in New England. That was an annhilation, plain and simple, and now pretty boy Tom Brady and Coach Hoodie and a guy who should’ve been a Jet forever, Darrelle Revis, get to play in another Super Bowl (yes, I’m bitter about Revis.)

Should be a hell of a game. Big stars, great storylines, two very even teams … can’t wait till Feb. 1.

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**Next up, the great sportswriter/social commentator Dave Zirin wrote a terrific column for Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, about the unlikely friendship in the 1960s between Dr. King and Muhammad Ali.

Despite both being rabble-rousers with millions of followers, they were quite different in temperment and in their beliefs, with Ali favoring Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam’s way of achieving racial equality. But in the mid-60s Ali and King grew to respect and appreciate each other, and even develop a close friendship.

Zirin is excellent at these kinds of stories; highly recommend reading this slice of history.

**And finally today, this made me laugh and shake my head at the world we live in.

From the lede to a Washington Post story the other day (hat tip to Bruce Arthur’s Twitter feed for the heads up):

A Malaysian defense contractor pleaded guilty Thursday in a corruption scandal of epic proportions, admitting that he bribed “scores” of U.S. Navy officials with $500,000 in cash, six figures’ worth of sex from prostitutes, lavish hotel stays, spa treatments, Cuban cigars, Kobe beef, Spanish suckling pigs and an array of other luxury goods.

“That’s right sir, the money and cigars are great, but can you get me any suckling pigs? Because that’s what will REALLY make me give your company this contract. I wanna hear these pigs loud and clear, you understand me????”

The story is actually wild and fascinating the largest bribery case in Navy history; but I had trouble getting past the suckling pigs part.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. The great Cassius Clay turns 70. And a wild ending to a middle-school basketball game you’ll want to see.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I give you the “I Have a Dream” speech, which ought to be required viewing for all Americans. I heard one of the GOP presidential candidates (I think it was Ron Paul) invoke MLK’s legacy in a debate Monday night and I wanted to throw up.

The Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali used to call himself. “I’m a baaddd man,” he also said.
Of all the athletes I wish I had the chance to watch live as a sportswriter, the former Cassius Clay is the one I most wish I had the chance to see. The charisma, the personality, the attitude, and the incredible skills in the boxing ring.

I just think it would’ve been wildly entertaining being around him. From everyone I’ve read who was there and covered him, my hunch is correct.

My all-time favorite Ali story is this:  One day in his prime he was on an airplane and before takeoff,  the flight attendants walked by to make sure all passengers had their seatbelts on.
“Superman don’t need no seatbelt!” Ali bellowed.
“Superman don’t need no plane, either,” the flight attendant replied.

Today, Muhammad Ali turns 70 years old. He’s in terrible health now, of course, beaten down by years of abuse in the ring. But he’s still with us, and I hope somewhere today he’s having a happy birthday.

**OK, it’s pretty rare that anyone would want to see footage of a middle-school basketball game not involving a relative. But check out the crazy last 15 seconds of this game from Hilton Head, South Carolina…

That kid who hit the winning shot is so getting asked to the 8th grade Sadie Hawkins dance.

A great ESPN doc on “The Real Rocky.” A very thorough doctor’s office. And if real life were like online shopping

Besides having one of the greatest nicknames in the history of boxing, Chuck Wepner, a.k.a., the “Bayonne Bleeder” has had a hell of an interesting life.
First he was a rising young heavyweight fighter from New Jersey, with a penchant for sporting crimson all over his face during his fights (hence the nickname). Wepner wasn’t a pretty fighter; he was a brawler who didn’t have a ton of natural talent, but had a lot of heart.
Then he was fortunate enough to fight the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, on March 24, 1975, and was 19 seconds away from going all 15 rounds with the champ, an incredible accomplishment (Wepner also knocked Ali down).
A young actor named Sylvester Stallone watched that fight, and was inspired to write “Rocky.” A little movie franchise you may have heard of.
Through the years, Stallone continued to rip off Wepner’s life story, and Wepner got not a penny from Sly. Eventually, ole’ Chuck got into some trouble with the law, went to prison, and finally decided to sue Stallone a few years ago for using his life story without any kind of financial payback.

It’s really a hell of an interesting life Wepner has led. ESPN just made a movie about him called “The Real Rocky,” and I highly recommend checking it out.
It’s hilarious, for one thing, as Stallone repeatedly credits Wepner for being his inspiration, befriends the fighter over the years, then suddenly changes his story when Wepner decides to sue. I mean, it’s astonishing how many parts of Wepner’s life are in the “Rocky” movies.

Not sure when “The Real Rocky” is on again, but I highly recommend seeing it. It’s a great story about a colorful character, back when boxing had such people.

**OK, tell me if you think this is extremely weird. I think it’s weird. So I just started with a new G.P., and made my first doctor’s appointment with her last week, on Wednesday, for an appointment Oct. 31.
And two days after making the appointment, I get a letter in the mail confirming said appointment. An actual snail mail letter from the postman.
Which was followed up by confirmation phone calls for the next three days. All over ONE appointment!
Do these people have a fear of abandonment or what? They wasted two pieces of paper to mail me a letter about an appointment I just made two days ago.
Somewhere, Al Gore silently weeps.

**Finally, this made me laugh. If real life shopping were like online shopping, this is what it would look like… Stick with it, it just gets funnier and funnier.

Riffing on Rafa Nadal, the disgusting paparazzi, and my woeful Jets’ debut

It’s very rare that as a sports fan, you love your favorite player/team and you love their big rival.
How many Lakers fans love the Celtics? Did fans of Jack Nicklaus also adore Arnold Palmer? Did anyone root for both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier?

But even though I’m as big a Roger Federer fan as you’ll find, I can’t help but love Rafael Nadal.

The Spanish lefty won another Grand Slam title Monday, beating Novak Djokovic in a rain-delayed final in four sets. It was a terrific match, and I found myself cheering for Rafa the whole way.

Why? Because he’s such a good kid. Polite, well-mannered, intelligent, and always gracious. He made a point of talking about 9/11 last Saturday, because he knew he was in N.Y. He goes out of his way to praise Federer. He plays his rear off on every point, and plays incredibly passionately.

Nadal was the subject of the famous back-page Vanity Fair Proust questionnaire this month. Just listen to some of his answers:

Q: What living person do you most admire?
Nadal
: Just normal people from my hometown, from my country
Q: Which talent would you most like to have?
Nadal: Roger Federer’s ability to play tennis easily.
Q: If you could choose what to come back in (in the next life), what would it be?
Nadal: I would be me again. I am having a lot of fun, really
Q: What is your motto?
Nadal: To improve, be a better person and player, and to try my best.”

He’s really a great kid, and a credit to his sport. We’re so lucky to have both he and Federer on top right now, and don’t look now, but Nadal is starting to get into the debate of “Greatest of All Time” himself.

***Sometimes a four-minute video stands for itself. This is the nature of celebrity, 2010. I’m no fan of Kate Moss, but how can you not empathize with her after watching this disgusting piece of tape?

**The less I say about Monday night’s Jets game, the better. I waited nine months for another meaningful game, and this is what they produce? Nine stupid points in a 10-9 loss to the Ravens?

Everyone overreacts after Week 1. I’m not going to wildly overreact. Still …

— Mark Sanchez looked awful. He didn’t have a lot of time in the pocket, but when he did he did nothing.
— The Jets’ defense made so many stupid mistakes I couldn’t count them all. Penalty after penalty, and they couldn’t get off the field on third down at all.
— If Kris Jenkins is hurt again, they’re in deep trouble.
— What the hell is Braylon Edwards doing on the field goal block unit?
— Bad, bad loss. And the Patriots come in next Sunday. Jets could be looking at 0-2 very quickly.

A man called Bolt

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Lots of things have happened in this sporting summer. Roger Federer won Wimbledon, which thrilled me. The Yankees pulled away in the American League East. Also good.

But I think the greatest phenomenon of the last few months is a 23-year-old Jamaican guy who right now is miles beyond everyone else in his sport.

We’ve become so immune to numbers in athletics. Some guy hits 65 home runs, and we yawn. A running back rushes for 200 yards and four touchdowns. Meh. A basketball player scores 50 points in a game? Pretty good, but … next.

What Usain Bolt is doing right now at the World Championships of track and field in Berlin is a rare and beautiful thing. Every generation, we get an athlete who takes his sport to the next level. Babe Ruth did it in the 1920s.

Muhammad Ali had the 1960s and ’70s. Jack Nicklaus was right there with him in his sport. Some kid from North Carolina named Michael Jordan brought his game into another stratosphere in the 1980s and ’90s, while Michael Phelps brought those in the water up on his shoulders into a glorious place.

What Bolt is doing, in smashing his own world records in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, is something remarkable. He’s destroying the idea that track records are broken in increments, hundredths of a second at a time.

He beat his own 100-meter record by .11, then broke his 200-meter by the same mark. Do you know how ridiculous that is? It’s like a halfback running for 350 yards in a game, or a baseball player hitting 81 home runs in a season.

It’s laughable, how much of a mockery Bolt is making the competition. Poor Tyson Gay ran the 100 this week faster than any American ever had, posting a 9.71. And he wasn’t even close to winning, as Bolt’s 9.58 blew him away.

His margin of victory – 0.62sec – in the 200 is greater than the sum total of winning margins of the five previous winners of the world 200 title.

As many have said this week, Bolt is simply redefining what the human body can do. Consider:

— His 19.19 in the 200, when broken down by 100-meter increments, were a 9.58 and a 9.61. So he equaled his own world record, and then missed it on the second 100 by .03 seconds. Nobody ever runs the second 200 that fast.

— We’ve always been told sprinters have to short and stride quickly. Bolt is 6-foot-5 and takes long strides. When he runs, he’s like a gazelle, attacking the pavement and the air around him like it owes him money.

— He can still get better. In both the Beijing Olympics and in the 200 this week, Bolt slowed a little in the last five meters. He can go faster. He can run a 19.05 200, and maybe a unbelievable 9.4 in the 100.

Listen to veteran track and field people talk about Bolt, and it’s like they used to talk about M.J. when he first started with the Bulls.

TV announcer Ato Boldon just keeps screaming “Oh my God!” when talking about Bolt. Michael Johnson, never known for humility, can’t get over how “ridiculous” Bolt is.

Is the kid a little cocky? Absolutely.  He says things like “I’m on my way to becoming a legend,” and talks about being up for knightood.

But wouldn’t you be a little in love with yourself if you broke the a world record in the last FIVE major meets you’ve competed at?

Now … the big elephant in the room here is this: Is he clean? So far, he’s tested positive for nothing more than excitement. Track and field has been plagued with so many superstars who flash on the scene, then are disgraced by drug testing results.

Ben Johnson. Marion Jones. Justin Gatlin. Just to name a few.

I don’t know if Bolt is clean or dirty. I pray that he’s doing all this legitimately, because it’s such a good story. But a fellow scribe of mine, Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle, wrote a great piece saying that Bolt is providing so much joy, we shouldn’t race to assume he’s guilty.

“You can’t rob me of my joy,” Solomon writes. “He is the most amazing, entertaining athlete on the planet.”

I couldn’t agree more. If it turns out he’s cheating, well, I’ll be sad because he’s such a remarkable runner.

For now, I’m just going to enjoy this Jamaican kid lift everyone higher, higher and higher.

My main man Shaq

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A note on tonight’s post:

So I was pretty overwhelmed with emotion earlier; I got a letter back from my 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Gehrhardt, after I’d written him six months ago and wondered if I’d ever hear back from him. He inspired me to do what I do. I want to blog about him but feel I’m too exhausted to tell the story properly. Tomorrow night, me and Mr. G.

Tonight?  Shaq.

I love Shaquille O’Neal. Really. I find him endlessly entertaining, and I’m not 100 percent sure why.

But I have a good idea. The guy just seems to have fun in everything he does. He doesn’t seem to take life too seriously, or anybody else too seriously. He has a perpetual grin on his face, he loves children, and he goes through life, mostly, trying to make sure everyone has a good time.

People say he’s incredibly cocky, but I think it’s mostly for show. I think he’s got a lot of Muhammad Ali in him, bragging so much about himself with his tongue firmly in cheek, all to get a rise out of people.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t really love watching Shaq play basketball. I’m bored with that. I like watching him do stuff on TV.

I actually watched several episodes last year of Shaq’s Big Challenge, which was a show about Shaquille trying to help overweight kids lose weight, by inspiring and working with them.

And I’ll admit that I tuned into ABC last night for the debut of “Shaq Vs.”

It’s a show where Shaq challenges some of the best athletes in all of sport in their respective fields (OK, so it’s not “Masterpiece Theatre.” Sue me.)

Shaq will swim against Michael Phelps. He’ll try to out-homer Albert Pujols. Last night he played quarterback against Ben Roethlisberger.

I was fairly riveted last night, only because of Shaq. The show is mostly terrible; the “announcers” for the challenge make me want to stick knives in my eyeballs, and there was more “padding” in that one hour of TV than in a hundred Sumo wrestling suits.

But Shaq was funny. He teased Ben, he harassed him, and he showed off some impressive athletic ability.

I don’t know, the guy just seems to get it: He was blessed with some incredible genetic gifts and tremendous ability, and he uses his privileged place in life for good.

So many athletes take themselves so seriously. Shaq seems to get that it’s all a big game. He’s the biggest real life cartoon character we’ve had in sports since, well, since Babe Ruth.

He says goofy stuff and makes crazy threats and says he wants to be sheriff one day.

And I love him for it.

As usual, the great Rick Reilly can sum up Shaq better than I could. Check out this terrific column on Shaq from SI in 2000.