Hallandale Beach Blog -A common sense public policy overview offering a critical perspective on the current events, politics, govt., public policy, sports scene and pop culture of the U.S., South Florida and Europe, especially the UK and Sweden. In particular, Broward & Miami-Dade County, and the cities of Hallandale Beach, Hollywood & Aventura. Trust me when I tell you, this part of Florida is NOT the Land of Lincoln. Pictured in upper-left is Hallandale Beach's iconic beachball-colored Water Tower on State Road A1A; September 2008 photo by me, South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Remembering Muhammad Ali thru the prism of an avid, teenage sports fan in 1970's South Florida. To me, for so many reasons, Ali truly was "The Greatest"


As a kid with a Sports Illustrated subscription starting when I was ten in 1971, I can definitely say today, just as I could ten years ago, that this is my favorite Sports Illustrated cover -EVER.
December 23, 1974 Muhammad Ali, Sportsman of the Year




Remembering Muhammad Ali thru the prism of an avid, teenage sports fan in 1970's South Florida. To me, for so many reasons, Ali truly was "The Greatest"
This has been a very sad day for me that I've been dreading for a very long time.

Since at least the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic Torch, and so many Americans who hadn't thought of him or seen him in years, suddenly saw how Parkinson's Disease had begun to rob us of a transcendent and uniquely American personality who was both the source of so many shared joyful moments, as well as the subject of so many heated political arguments over kitchen tables and airwaves from coast-to-coast for years.























Muhammad Ali, Miami came of age together in the 1960s

Growing-up in South Florida in the 1970's, because of my interests and personality, I was fortunate enough through circumstance and by taking full advantage of opportunities I created to be able to talk fairly regularly to South Florida sports reporters and columnists of the era, many of whom spoke to and interviewed Muhammad Ali regularly whenever he was in Miami, especially those times when he was training at the Fifth Street Gym on South Beach, which was later named for another native of Kentucky who left her positive mark on Miami, Elizabeth Virrick.

A 1982 photo of Elizabeth Virrick and Muhammad Ali in a gym named in her honor.

The following video is a combination of genius and heart and will make you laugh AND cry!


(As some of you readers know, I've long thought that Roy Firestone was a genius, but then, I'm biased on that score. I first met Roy when I was a twelve-year old kid in 1973 at the Bob Griese-Karl Noonan boys summer sports camp in Boca Raton, the first of my three summers there, when Roy was one of my camp counselors while still attending the University of Miami, later becoming a friend and common sense sounding-board of sorts.
Roy is someone I've long been planned on writing about here on the blog, with several great anecdotes including a few of the "Only in Miami" sort that South Florida residents can especially appreciate! 
Roy is also the first person to ever explain to me what makes the the film The African Queen magical, before I saw it for the first time more than forty years ago in Boca Raton. 

Years later, when he was doing the Noon and Weekend sports at Miami's WPLG-TVthe ABC-TV affiliate in South Florida, before he left for LA, when it came time for me to consider where to go to college, Roy urged me to go to Syracuse instead of Indiana University, where I eventually went, or USCwhich I had always planned on attending all throughout my days at North Miami Beach Senior High School. That is, until Christmas of my senior year, when the reality of the gap in money needed for making that trip across the country to USC and my dreams of living and networking in LA, an unreachable goal. :-(
Roy suggested Syracuse in part due to the growing prestige and dynamism being attached to what was going on at the Newhouse School of Communications there, which in 1979, was before many of the more-recent but well-known grads there were actually attending. 
Perhaps if I'd gone there, I'd personally know all the very annoying Syracuse grads we all see at
ESPN and the nets, the ones who always want to tell you about how they used to make audition tapes when they were kids. Yes, we know, we know!)

What those journalists shared with me always stayed with me over the years, but I often was able to tell them a thing or two that they didn't know or were unwilling or unable to publicly acknowledge about the reality of the South Florida we lived in, as well as share Ali anecdotes that ABC Sports TV sportscaster Howard Cosell had written about in his own books, which I'd read over-and-over so much that I could practically quote entire paragraphs, to the eternal frustration of my friends and family. (Cosell's account of his times is still great books to read, all these years later.)

But then for people my age, it was hard to think of Muhammad Ali without also immediately thinking of Howard Cosell, the most popular TV sportscaster of his era, to the chagrin of many print reporters and his detractors, but the one person that well-informed sports fans like me could always count on to have the ability to make an #event a #happening -and later tell you why.








I still recall how over-the-top and angry the Miami supporters of the Nation of Islam (NOI) were regularly portrayed by the South Florida news media -esp. Miami TV stations- in ways that would 
be considered completely unacceptable now, even if what they reported then was factually true.
There'd be lots more use of "allegedly"!

It seems like a couple of times a year I'd hear my Dad, a longtime Dade County police officer, say something to the fact that they'd heard some rumors about the NOI Mosque on 7th Avenue & 53rd Street -the Mosque that Ali worshipped at when in Miami- and it was seldom something positive.

Though the powers-that-be in Miami may well deny it now, the truth is that there was always LOTS of concern among the Police and the Miami Establishment of the time that something bad would happen to Ali whenever he was in Miami, due to the myriad NOI personality/turf/power wars, which were generally acknowledged by people who knew the facts, though NOT for public attribution, of course.

My understanding was that very possibility, however remote it may seem now to us from a distance, really ate at some people within Metro Police who had to think about such things, and be prepared to deal with it. As if that were even possible.
Given Miami's unique and unfortunate history with riots, and its multi-ethnic populace's complete willingness to take to the street at the drop of a hat without waiting for all the facts to come in on a situation, something I have been witness to myself, you can well understand why that was a concern.

There were also always plenty of rumors sprinkled with facts about the NOI's involvement with organized crime, their curious easy access to weapons, as well as concern about how frequently NOI members in South Florida seemed to manage to get out of trouble at the last minute, just like in a film, where the audience always knows something the Police don't.
There were, therefore, concerns about possible "leaks" within Metro Police, which were not nearly as unfounded as you might imagine, given the facts-on-the-ground at the time.

In 1975, when I was in Eighth Grade at JFK Junior High in North Miami Beach,  one Spring night, just a few months after the Sports Illustrated cover above, I was surprised to receive a Dade County (Junior High) Track & Field Championships ribbon -Second place- from Muhammad Ali at a Dade County Schools sports award ceremony in downtown Miami, where Ali's appearance came as a complete thunderbolt to everyone -especially the kids! 
And my Dad, who drove me there.

People were, quite literally, in hushed tones in that small auditorium all night, anxious that they would not miss anything Ali said or did, and it will probably not surprise you to learn that the number of the people in the auditorium only increased at the night went on, as word about who was there, in-the-flesh, continued to circulate.
Pre Cell phone, pre-Twitter.

Trust me, if I'd known in advance that Muhammad Ali would be there, me being me, I'd have made plans to have LOTS of photos of that moment! 
Even if by now they were largely faded Polaroids! 

Every year in August on my way to the Cream and Crimson of IU in Bloomington, I'd drive and drive and drive by myself from Miami north to the Midwest, but no matter how much I knew to expect it, every time I first saw the highway signs letting me know that I'd soon be near Muhammad Ali Boulevard in Louisville, it always caught me by surprise.
I'd immediately think back to that surprising and amazing moment in 1975 when I met him in person for the first time, and shook his hand.
Calm when I did it, but slightly abuzz once back in my seat.
Just like all the other kids there, but probably the only one there who, pre-VCR, could name whom Ali had fought and where going back for several years, since retaining information and trivia of that sort was seemingly hard-wired into my brain.
Still is, if you hadn't noticed.











Muhammad Ali , coming and going...



#MuhammadAli #transcendent

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Me in the Summer of 2016

Me in the Summer of 2016
Above, me in June, pre-recent haircut, near acres and acres of orange groves off Scenic U.S. #17 in Frostproof, FL, while visiting hot/humid Central Florida, which I'm convinced is where heat/humidity goes in the Summer to get away from it all... The oppressive heat & humidity there is literally everywhere you go. :-(

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In the Heart of a Great Country, Beats the Soul of Hoosier Nation
"In the Heart of a Great Country, Beats the Soul of Hoosier Nation." -South Beach Hoosier, 2007.

North Miami Beach Senior High School, the Home of the Chargers

North Miami Beach Senior High School, the Home of the Chargers
Before I was a Hoosier, I was an NMB Charger, Class of 1979.
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