Ep. 5: Meeting Muhammad Ali: Take Two
After one failed attempt, Jonathan Eig will stop at nothing to meet Muhammad Ali. This time, he brings a sidekick, and finds himself sitting just outside Ali’s bedroom. But will his efforts end in victory, or another vicious blow to the author’s book and lifelong dream?
When Lonnie Ali got my letter, she called me. She said I should come to Phoenix some time and bring Lola. “As a matter of fact,” I said, “Lola and I are planning to be in Phoenix in three weeks.” With that, I booked a flight to Phoenix. On the flight, I tried to educate Lola on Muhammad and boxing. She liked the coloring pages, but not the Thrilla and Manila DVD - the third match between Ali and Frazier. A horrible fight.
We go to the hotel. Lonnie said Muhammad was still sleeping. Hours went by, and he was still sleeping. We spent about 90% of every hour in the pool. I was a nervous wreck. Checked my phone every five minutes. Around 1:00, I called again. Lonnie answered and said Muhammad was still sleeping.
Late afternoon, I called again. Lonnie said Muhammad wasn't feeling well, and that it wasn't going to happen that day. Chicago-time kicked in for Lola and we were up at 4:00 am the next day. I texted Lonnie at 8:00. No response. At 9:00, I couldn't keep still anymore. I told Lola we were going to Muhammad Ali's house. I called Lonnie when we were out front. She let us in the gate. At 9:30 it was nearly 110°F.
We spent two hours there. I could hear Ali in his room watching TV. I had my back to his room. The whole time I was there - Lola helping me stall with her pink ballerina bunny - I imagined Ali walking up behind me.
He’d be in black slacks and a white short-sleeved short, young and beautiful again, and he’d tease me like I was Howard Cosell. He’d rub my bald head and throw punches that landed an eyelash short of contact. I thought of the story Tom Seaver told me about meeting Ali. I imagined my own magic moment. But it never happened. He never came out. The story will be a highlight.
Learn more about Muhammad Ali's wife, Lonnie, in my book. Preorder your copy through the link below.