“That was always the difference between Muhammad Ali and the rest of us. He came, he saw and if her didn’t entirely conquer-he came as close as anybody we are likely to see in the lifetime of this doomed generation.”
-Hunter S. Thompson
By Doc Lawrence
MIAMI BEACH-After two days covering Art Basel, the global fine art event, and marveling at how so many people seemed to be able to purchase works by Warhol, Kahlo and Dali with an American Express card, I changed into a tuxedo for an evening with Muhammad Ali.
Both events were in the complex known as the Miami Beach Convention Center, the same venue that once hosted television’s “The Jackie Gleason Show.” This was my fairyland.
Donning a tuxedo, appropriate for this December 6, 2003 invitation-only evening, I walked over to the legendary Van Dyke Café on nearby Lincoln Road for dinner, drinks and live jazz. A prelude for a star-spangled evening.
|Etta James Serenaded Ali|
Standing in the middle of the ring was the emcee, actor Will Smith, who starred in the movie, “Ali.” Countless celebrities were there including Chris Rock. Etta James and her orchestra provided the music. Over the course of the evening, she built up to the finale, singing “At Last,” dedicated to the Champ. The coldest hearts melted.
Ali was there with family and friends, comfortably seated in the old bus he once used to promote his bout with Liston, driving through Miami’s lush mansion districts and housing projects, blaring a message: “Come see me whup Sonny Liston at the convention center!”
He wasn’t kidding.
I walked in, met him and departed with my book returning to my seat.
|The Bus with a Prophetic Message|
After celebrity appearances, Ali took the stage in a mock boxing match with Will Smith. Ali was laughing and like the world had learned to do, the audience laughed with him. Almost on cue, the Champ could bring out that inner child.
The next day, on a South Florida Sunday morning I went to the living room coffee table confirming that the book was still there. The first page was signed Muhammad Ali. It’s my Hope Diamond.
A night of magic in Miami Beach with the highly principled kid from Louisville, Kentucky who was tough when he had to be and gentle enough to thrill small children and admiring adults.