*The year was 1974 and Muhammad Ali was in Los Angeles making an appearance at an event that was being sponsored by the Nation Of Islam at the Shrine Exposition Hall. I had painted a portrait of him that I wanted to present on stage and I was escorted by the F.O.I (Fruit O Islam) to to make this happen.
I remember singer Billy Paul was there to welcome him back from Zaire after taking the heavyweight title from George Foreman. It was such an exciting event to be at for a young man like me at age 22 to be in the presence of someone considered to be “The Greatest Of All Times”.
After that fortunate encounter with him I didn’t think I would have another opportunity to be up close with him again.
But in late 1978 I was managing one of the most popular night clubs in Los Angeles called the Disco 9000 and he had just regained the title from Leon Spinks. He walked in the place with his new wife Veronica and the two of them immediately got on the dance floor. It was just a very beautiful night with the champ.
We reserved the VIP booth and provided champagne and whatever else they wanted, and it was indeed an honor to be able to do it.
I could go on and reflect on many other encounters that I was blessed to have had with him like when I spent three days in Las Vegas hanging out with him in his hotel suite the week of the Don King promoted “Crown Affair” when Michael Dokes went against Mike Weaver, and Larry Holmes fought Tim Witherspoon.
I was invited there by a gentleman named Tom Nemley who was one of Ali’s confidants whom I had met during the fighters training sessions downstairs. I had my artist easel set up doing portraits of all the fighters scheduled to fight that weekend. Tom asked me did I want to come upstairs to meet the champ, and I said sure why not.
So for the next three days I hung out with him, dined with him, and he showed me his magic tricks. And to top all of that off, on fight night I didn’t have a ticket or a fight credential to attend the event, so they allowed me to come into the arena with them.
I’ll never forget that night as long as I live because as we came in the capacity crowd of some 18,000 plus began to chant “Ali,” “Ali,” “Ali”…. and folks I got to tell you something, it felt like I was with Moses as he was parting the Red Sea as the security team led by the one and only James Anderson took us to our seats at ringside.
One of my last opportunities to be in his presence took place a little over ten years ago downtown Los Angeles when former LA County Supervisor Yvonne Burke allowed me to unveil a portrait that I had painted as she was honoring him during the Supervisors meeting.
My good friend actress Bern Nadette Stanis of “Good Times” was there with me and we were invited to have lunch with him and Howard Bingham after the session at the exclusive City Club.
Those are moments that will be forever marked in time for me as we sat and broke bread with the champ.
This one thing is for sure, he always embraced me, and made me feel like I was a brother from another mother.
For me as a Muslim this moment in time is something unique and special because we believe that from Allah (God) we come, to Allah we shall return. And I pray that Allah will protect and bless his his family with love and give them peace.
People all over the world are at a sense of loss for a man that Allah (God) blessed to be great on this earth. His legacy will no doubt be left with his children. He was a man of God, a man of the people, and he was the people’s champ.
May Allah (God) bless him with peace in paradise and forgive him of any sins he may have done on this earth, and reward him for all the good that he did.
Mohammed Mubarak’s Ringside Update can also be read in the High Desert Inland Valley News, and the Pace News. He can be reached at [email protected] for your comments. He is an artist as well and you may go to his website mubarakart.com and view his works.