Ali was my idol growing up in the 1960s. He gave me the confidence to be who I am. And to fight, something I had to do a lot of as a kid.
I met him after the Oscars show in 1997 the night the film When We Were Kings won an Academy Award. My mom and I stood across the street from Mortons in a large crowd. Before getting into his limo, Ali crossed the street to the crowd. He wasn’t in good shape even then. When he got to us I embraced him and told him he was my biggest hero as a youth. I then asked him to shake hands with my mom. She stuck out her hand and he brushed it aside and stooped down and gave her a warm hug. We both were in tears. Much love to Ali. He will live forever.
I had a video camera that night. I recorded Ali and George Foreman from across the street in West Hollywood. I had taken my mother to a spot near an Oscar after-party just to give her a thrill. I had no idea that Ali would be there.
When Ali came across the street I continued to record him but when he got close I just let the camera drop. I only have audio of our encounter on tape somewhere. I call him ‘champ.’ I remember my mother is sobbing. She tells Ali, We always loved you.
A decade later I was in Phoenix, AZ. photographing a WNBA playoff game. It was an exciting night anyway. One of those unfortunately rare magic evenings in the WNBA. Incredible playoff atmosphere. I’m on the baseline. Suddenly there’s a roar from the crowd in the U.S. Airways Arena. Muhammad Ali and his wife are in the building. They are on the big screen. I look up and I’m just taken away. An already incredible evening has just gone through the roof.
I look around to see where he is. Where is this person who has meant so much to me in my life? How lucky I am to have crossed paths with him yet again. I look up to my wife (then girlfriend) in the stands. She points behind me. I turn completely around on the floor and there he was, sitting no more than six feet behind me. All I could do at that moment was raise my camera.