Muhammed Ali and Michael Alwood

I knew the day was coming, but that doesn't mean I was looking forward to it.


That day was June 3, 2016, the day Muhammad Ali died.

It was gratifying to see the mainstream media give him his due. His passing was well covered and many people paid tribute to him. Most of them shared a personal story about the man known as “The Greatest.”

I have my own story to share.

In 1979 I was the television sports anchor for the American Forces Network Europe, stationed in Frankfurt, Germany.


One day as I was preparing my broadcast for that evening's show, the phone rang and I answered.
On the other end of the line was a man with a thick German accent but who spoke very good English.

“Mr. Alwood,” he began politely. “I was wondering if you would like to interview Mr. Muhammad Ali?”

Well, it didn't take me long to agree to such a meeting. As it turned out the man represented the Capri-Sun company and the meeting was to take place at their headquarters just outside Heidelberg.

At this point I should confess, at the time, I was not much of a fan of Ali. But that soon changed.

On the day of the interview I was lucky enough to be paired with my favorite videographer, a young African-American woman by the name Amelia. I'm sorry Amelia, I can't recall your last name.

On the way to Heidelberg the two of us chatted about a great many things, but I only recall one of the subjects.

At some point during the trip Amelia said, “You know, I met him once. I was at a party in Chicago and he showed up. He wouldn't remember me, but I'll never forget it.”

Ali had that effect on people.

I'm going to save the best part of this story till the end, so I'm going to jump ahead to the actual interview.

To my surprise I was the lone reporter at the scene. I had a private interview and was given as much time as I wanted.

Those Capri-Sun people were smart. Here's the thing, Ali was about to become their official spokes person and the company was to also introduce their product to America. Getting all that free publicity on AFN-E wasn't going to hurt those efforts. And who better to make a big splash in the market than the most recognized face on the planet.

That wasn't hyperbole. At the time there was a study done that concluded that more people recognized the face of Muhammad Ali than anyone in the world living or dead. Jesus Christ was a distant second, thanks to millions of people in China, India and other non-christian lands.

Anyway, I learned a lot about Ali during the interview. For one thing, he was much smarter than I had ever given him credit for. He had a way of answering certain types of questions. He would start by telling a story, but when he finished the story he'd loop back around and say, “now your question was. . .” and he'd repeat the question, then he'd tie the story to his answer.

I also learned what a truly warm, loving person he was. And charismatic, he lit up any room he entered.

By the time I finished the interview, which lasted nearly an hour, I had grown to love the man, and I respected him. I still do and always will.

Now back to Amelia.

When she and I arrived at Capri-Sun headquarters there was already a throng of employees waiting in the massive entrance hall.

Finally a trio of limos rolled up to the front door. Soon the man himself was entering.

Amelia and I were standing in the back of the room far away from the entrance. Ali had taken about three steps when he looked across the room and spotted the one black face in the entire crowd. He made a beeline straight for her and the crowd parted like the Red Sea.

When he got to us he grabbed Amelia in a bear hug and lifted her off the ground. Setting her down he said

“Girl, what are you doing all the way over here (in Germany)?”

She told him about being in the Army and what not and finally said “You don't remember me, do you?”

“Well sure I do,” Ali said.

Amelia looked at him suspiciously and said, “I'll bet you can't remember where we met.”

Ali gave her a comic evil eye and put his finger to his lip in a pondering pose. After a few seconds he pointed that finger at Amelia and said, “Chicago, it was a party.”

You could have knocked her over with a feather, but she pressed on.

“Now, I know you can't remember my name,” she said accusingly.

Again the finger went back to Ali's lip, for longer this time.


Finally he pointed the finger at her again and said, “Amelia.”

That one exchange told me all I have ever needed to know about Muhammad Ali.

Rest in peace, Champ.




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