Thom Loverro: Muhammad Ali's story is still one worth telling

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Sports,Thom Loverro

The story of Muhammad Ali has been told many times, in many ways, because he was so much a part of a generation of change in this country.

From his brash declarations that he would beat Sonny Liston to his "Fight of the Century" against Joe Frazier -- the single greatest sporting event in the second half of the 20th century -- to his refusal to enter into military service during the Vietnam War.

A measure of the Ali impact is how many people still want to tell his story in 2013, long after his own voice has been silenced by Parkinson's disease. His name still rings throughout the world.

On June 8 and 9 at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, Ali's story will be told in an hour-long opera based on "The Tao of Muhammad Ali" -- Davis Miller's story of his meeting with the American legend.

The name of the show is "Approaching Ali," which may perhaps be the best title and description for any work expressing the life of Ali. He was as approachable a giant as we have ever seen.

I heard him say that very thing in 1980, standing in the ring after a sparring session before a crowd of people at his Deer Lake, Pa., training camp called "Fighter's Heaven."

"Who else could you watch like this working who is a big star?" he asked the crowd. "Can you go watch Paul Newman work? No."

I was fortunate enough to approach Ali a number of times from 1978 to 1980, when he was preparing for the second fight against Leon Spinks and then when he was training for his unfortunate comeback bout against Larry Holmes.

Deer Lake, off Route 61 north of Reading, Pa., was about an hour from where I was working at the time at a small weekly newspaper in Stroudsburg, Pa.

I would go to Fighter's Heaven, a kid from a weekly paper trying to get some time with Ali alongside legends of the sportswriting business like New York Times columnist Dave Anderson.

Fortunately for me, one of Ali's entourage, Gene Kilroy, took a liking to me and got me into Ali's dressing room as part of the press corps who interviewed him after workouts. I became a regular there.

I brought my parents visiting from Florida one day, and Ali spoke to them and got pictures taken with them -- ironic because neither one, like many of their generation, was a fan of Ali's early in his career. He won them over that day.

One of the great moments of my life I treasure was late one afternoon when Ali gave me -- just he and I -- a tour of the entire camp, including the cabin where he stayed and the giant bed he slept in.

Approaching Ali was a gift he gave to people, and it's worth telling in all forms, including opera.

Examiner

columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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