My moment with the Champ

Over the course of my life, I have had a lot of experiences that have left me in awe.

And those experiences have left a lasting impact on me, even if it has taken me years to realize that.

One such occurrence happened when I was the ripe old age of 10 in the late 80s.

For those that don’t know me, I was raised in a community just south of Salt Lake City, Utah, called South Jordan. At the time, my hometown was a rural, farming community where nothing remotely exciting ever happened.

So one day when I caught word that boxing legend Muhammad Ali was going to be visiting a convenience store not even a quarter-mile from my house, I knew it couldn’t possibly be true.

My dad had just gotten home from work and told me and my younger brother to go get our two cousins, who lived next door. He said he wanted to take us for a walk.

We both asked “why?”

He told us there was a person of great significance coming to Monte’s, which was the local convenience store just across the highway from where we lived. The store was smaller than some of the service stations that are currently in business in the Minot area.

My dad said Ali was coming to see a friend. While I’m not sure who the friend was, my dad seemed certain that Ali was going to be in our presence.

A short time later, my dad, my brother, my cousins and I made the short walk to the convenience store. By the time we arrived, a couple hundred people were already outside trying to find a spot to stand. In addition, there was a TV station crew setting up for a live shot.

We, luckily, made it inside the store. We proceeded to walk down the candy aisle. At that time, we were all into baseball cards, so we had to check to see if there were any in stock.

About 45 minutes later, we heard some excitement and noise come through the door. And low and behold, Ali was standing no more than 20 feet from me. After a brief introduction by a representative of Ali, he sat down and starting greeting all the people who had come to see him.

At that point, Ali had already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, so his ability to communicate was extremely limited.

To this day, the thing I remember the most about Ali was how he was able to communicate expression through his eyes and smile. While he may not have been able to speak, he was communicating in other ways. It was breathtaking and inspiring to say the least.

Finally, my turn came, and I was holding a pen and a notepad to obtain his autograph. How ironic is it that I was holding a pen and notepad, and now I use both heavily on a daily basis?

He took my notepad and pen and put his signature on my piece of paper.

I was in the presence of greatness. After a few moments, he handed me back my notepad and pen and I moved on to give the next person a chance.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending, unfortunately. Later that night, I was invited over to a friend’s house for a sleepover. In the hustle and bustle of getting ready to go, I misplaced my autograph of Ali, and never saw it again.

At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of being in the presence of Ali. But in light of his passing late Friday night and all that he meant to the world, those few moments may have been the greatest moments of my life.

Now over the years, I have run into the likes of Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon as their teams were in Salt Lake City to play the Utah Jazz (both stories for another day), but neither are as special as the moment I got with the Champ.

Rest in peace, Ali.

This is the opinion of Mark Jones. He covers high school sports and general assignments for him on Twitter @hoopsfan27_MDN.