KEEPING THE LEGEND ALIVE

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June 16, 2016

1970 was the third year of the Andy Williams San Diego Open. This was a golf tournament that I had started along with Dennis Waitley in 1968. My purpose was to give Andy who was not on TV at the time, International exposure. For Dennis, he was attempting to help the Salk Institute in San Diego raise funds for much needed Medical Research.

For the first 5 years, we were Co-Executive Directors. Both of us achieved our desired goals. We brought in a great deal of money for Salk Institute and Andy was, deservedly so, hailed as it’s benefactor.

Dennis who was studying for his Doctorate in Psychology at the time, has gone on to become one of the world’s foremost Psychologists in the field of learning how to succeed and win. His client list has included the International Olympic committee, The United States Olympic Team, countless athletes, major corporations and even governments.

One of the things he shared with me is his Psychology of winning which he was to develop as the years went by. Simply stated “ happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, won, or consumed. It is the spiritual expression of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude”. This attitude permeated how we ran the golf tournament.

In our third year, 1970, Pete Brown became the first African- American to win an Official PGA Tournament. Pete won by one stroke with a score of 13 under par. This was a momentous occasion. Over the four days, Pete bested many of the foremost players of the day.

The Andy Williams Open had hosted the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Gary Player, Tom Weiskopf and Lee Trevino. His victory was in a sudden death playoff over Tony Jacklin, the British Golfer who that year was the reigning U.S. Open Champion.

To the Black community, this was an exciting accomplishment. At the time, The Los Angeles Sentinal, an African –American owned newspaper, had a terrific golf column called “Tee Time” and written by a lady named Maggie Hathaway. Ms Hathaway contacted me about doing a column on Pete Brown’s victory and what I thought it meant to the world of golf.

I was delighted! She showed up at my office with a young photographer named Howard Bingham. They were both terrific and easy to deal with. Maggie went on to expand her vision for Blacks in golf and Civil Rights. She accomplished much in the years to come . She was a co-founder and President of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood Chapter on the NAACP. Along with Sammy Davis Jr she created the Image Awards.

Finally, I am getting to why I wrote today’s Blog. I want to tell you about the photographer I met that day. He was 31 at the time. Howard Bingham was his name.

In 1962, Maggie had assigned Howard to cover photographically a young, up and coming Black boxer named Cassius Clay. Clay was in town to fight George Logan.

Satisfied that he had some good Sparring Session pictures, Howard was in his car hustling to take his pictures back to the Sentinel to develop them. As he was driving, he spotted the young Boxer and his Brother Rudy just hanging out.

He offered the two Boxers a ride to their hotel and then decided that he would show them Los Angeles. This chance meeting has become a fortuitous one for all of us. Howard’s pictures will help generations to come understand and share in the glory and mystique of Ali.

For Howard and Clay, it was an instant rapport. Their friendship developed like Damian and Pythius. For 54 years they were inseparable. Along the way, Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali… and a legend began.

Howard, developed into a photojournalist par excellence. He established new norms for photographic coverage. In 1969, he became the first Black male photographer allowed on a TV Set working as a member of the Hollywood International Cinematographers Guild . Until the Bill Cosby Show, it was whites only.

Born with a speech impediment, his pictures talk for him. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. In that case, through the photos, he has told the story of Ali in over six hundred million words. At one point, he even ran for congress. Many of us worked on his campaign to no avail.

His is largely known as Muhammad Ali’s photographer/biographer. For over half a century, wherever Ali went, Howard was at his side. All the while, Howard’s camera was at his side. In such a way, Bingham believes he has shot almost 600,000 photographs of Ali. Therein lies the story.

The legend of Ali will live on perpetuated by the lens of Howard Bingham. As Ali’s fame grew, in lock step, but separate from Ali, Howard’s reputation also expanded.

He has taken some of the most iconic photographs of the last 40 years, from the Civil Rights era to today. His work spanned the globe from the Black Panthers, to little Richard, to Nelson Mandella. His photographs have graced the pages of all the great magazines.: Life, Look, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Ebony and others.

When a person dies, without fail, someone will say, “He’s gone, but not forgotten”. In the case of Muhammad Ali, the photos of Bingham make this a fact. “Ali will never be forgotten”.

You can see his photographs in many different venues. However, the most complete collection is at the Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville.

THEY GIVE ACADEMIC SHOLARSHIPS ALSO

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Friday, June 10th, 2016

Most of my readers understand that this column is not just about Sports. Hopefully, it is an insight into life and one Octogenarian’s thinking.

I have always written about Colleges and Universities and the massive amounts of money given for athletic scholarships. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I realize all too well the importance of winning athletic teams.

These teams fill stadiums and arenas. They bring about a great, almost parental, pride to alumni and alumnae. This pride helps to induce the graduates and people sometimes called “subway alums” to reach into their wallets and contribute to various scholarship funds.

However, I do not think that Princeton enjoyed too many donations because of Albert Einstein’s achievements. Nor does NYU amass donations because of Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s achievements. I do not believe Union College had many alumni reach into their pockets because the eminent Theologian, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr taught ethics there.

Yet, not only do successful sports teams raise money for athletic scholarships, but also there is a trickle down system of funding important areas such as Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering and Political Science.

Not enough goes toward helping to develop the future leaders of our nation. It’s tough to raise money that might help develop the next man, or woman who possibly could discover the cure for Cancer, negotiate World Peace, or develop methods of growing crops for starving nations in dusty and arid conditions.

Instead, we place a great emphasis on trying to develop the next Julius Irving, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Dave Winfield .

The sad fact is that of the approximately 480,000 athletes that compete annually in collegiate sports, just a select few move on to compete at the professional or Olympic level.

According to NCAA statistics, the 2016 probability of competing beyond the collegiate level is as follows: in Football, there were approximately 72, 788 competing in college. Among this number 16,175 were eligible for the draft. 256 were drafted and 256, or 1.6% became pros.

In Men’s NCAA basketball, 18, 697 competed. 4,155 were eligible for the draft, 60 were selected. 1.4% made it to the pros. Whereas, those receiving academic scholarships, over 90% were able to work in their selected fields achieving exceptional societal contributions.

Normally, I look on statistics as being a non-exciting way of making a point. However, as the story develops, I believe you, the reader, will see my agitation that in this world of sports adulation, Academia sometimes gets in the way.

All too many believe that the purpose of a College, or university, in this day and age, is to turn out a winning team. Many have lost sight of the real purpose of a college education. They bend and stretch the rules.

Probably, the greatest example of bastardizing the true purpose is what the Kentucky Basketball team has done in its effort to win a Championship. It’s called the “one and done”.

The school awards scholarships to many academically unqualified students whose only purpose is to play Basketball. They play for one year and if their talent is sufficient, they turn pro the next year.

The sad fact is that when their playing days are done, they have limited skills to help them compete in the real world. This is not true about the students who go to college for an education. They leave schools with the tools to compete in life.

I decided to write about today’s subject based on what I learned from watching the National Spelling Bee on Television last week.

Ironically, I believe there is a connection between how one trains for the physical adjure of sports. Preparation for an academic decathlon, in its way, is as demanding as preparing to make the football team.

As a matter of fact, the erudite Decathlon, (the National Spelling Bee), was first brought to Television by George Wallach. George Wallach understood what it takes to be a great competitor, either Academic or Athletic.

After all, George Wallach was Bruce Jenner’s manager right after Bruce set the Decathlon record at the 1976 0lympics. Bruce trained 12 years to achieve his goal. He broke the World Record at the time garnering 8618 points.

In appreciation for all George did for him: — Wheaties, endorsement, TV and movie roles etc.; Bruce had two identical 18 carat gold necklaces made with the number 8618 on each… one for himself and one for George.

George felt training for scholastic competition is not unlike training for an Olympic Decathlon. The discipline is the same with victory as the goal.

In order to get a picture and understand what competing academicians (in this case, High School Students) must do to win a place on the team, I sought out an expert who has gone through many local, regional and national competitions.

Len Soloff is a retired teacher who for years was the coach of perennial champions, North Hollywood, California High School. In his retirement, he still contributes his time as Assistant Coach.

In 18 of 20 years, the North Hollywood team won the Regional eliminations and the right to go to Washington, D.C. to compete. In the District, they were first once, second 7 times, third 6 times. Today, they are considered one of the six top teams of all times.

Like the Athletic teams, at the beginning of each school year, there is a call for students to compete for places on the team. The Spelling Team looks for those who have a vast knowledge for a potpourri of words.

The Science Bowl Olympiad seeks to create a team that comprises of players who possess wide knowledge of building things. The Science Bowl teams coached by Mr. Soloff over 20 years enjoyed an equally successful program. So successful that 100% of the team members have gone on to college and 75% were awarded scholarships.

Today, those college graduates are doctors, astrophysicists and lawyers as well as Biochemists and Academicians. Their lives are full and they are contributing to the good of society.

Looking toward the future, the government considers the Science Olympiad so important that it is funded by the combined efforts of the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Food and Energy.

As soon as a team gets back from the Nationals, the schools start training for the next year. They begin to recruit. They initiate practices and based on what the coaches see, the groups are divided into Varsity and Junior Varsity squads.

Each week, the squads square off… each competitor trying his/her best hoping to be noticed and move up to, or stay on the Varsity.

Usually, the JV of the year before will form the next year’s Varsity. However, if a bright freshman comes along, he/she can challenge for a place on the team. Finally, when the team is formed, 5 will be selected for competition… 4 starters and one alternate.

There is no chance of a concussion, a torn knee, or a separated shoulder. Instead, it is a challenge of the best minds leading to a bright future that doesn’t end with the final bell.

This year, the winning word at the National Spelling Bee to be spelled was the definition of a mountain completely surrounds by glacial ice.

Of course, you knew the answer “NUNATAK”.

Unfortunately, the Science Bowl and the Spelling Bee plays before a small audience… give, or take, 3000 people.

The Alabama football team plays before 80,000 people. I guess that’s why Coach Nick Saban makes over $4million annually and Coach Solof gets a free trip to Washington, D.C.

But then again, the Soloffs of the world only help make citizens who contribute to the betterment of life… ‘Nuf said.

THE WORLD IS IN TEARS

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June 6, 2016

I heard the news that Muhammad Ali had finally succumbed to the ravages brought on by years of fighting Parkinson’s. He had devloped a respiratory illness. Finally, he could breathe no longer.

As I listened to the news, many fond memories and images came flowing back. I had the pleasure of working with and knowing Ali over a long period of time. For the most part, it was the Halcyon days.

All of us who were part of the inner circle basked in his reflected glory. Of that group there are only two of us left… Dr. Ferdie Pacheco and myself. Ferdie is the last of the men who made up Ali’s corner.

Ferdie who ran two clinics in the heart of Miami’s ghetto was a perfect fit for Ali. Ali, a gentle giant of a man, learned early what it was to give back to a community. He saw Ferdie treat indigent patients who could not afford his services, for nothing. Ali, a happy spirit, learned early the reward of caring for others.

Ali lived by the biblical principle that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”. Wherever we were, be it Tokyo, Manila, New York, Kinshasha, Vancouver, London, the Bahamas, or Seoul, Ali always had time for people.

He understood the mantel of humanity that he was wearing and the responsibility that had been placed on his shoulders. He was loved and adored, both up close and from afar.

Over the years, my life has been filled with big personages. However, no one for me has ever approached the majesty, as a person, that Ali possessed.

The world was shocked when in 1967, he refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army. He pleaded that it was against his religion. Many of us labeled him a “draft dodger. He was vilified, even burned in effigy. However, he stood tall! He never deviated from his belief that the war was wrong.

Many of the days great Black Leaders begged him not to do this. In fact, at one point a meeting was held in Cleveland. At that meeting, many sports giants asked him to reconsider… go into the service and do exhibitions. Among those at the meeting were Lew Alcindor, who would later become Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns, (considered the NFL’s greatest running back). They feared a backlash against the Black Community. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.

I was among those who were unhappy with him. After all, I and most of my friends had served in the Military. However, as I got to know him and realize that he was so genuine in his belief, I could do nothing but respect him and envy him in his courage.

Behind the scenes Ali was a gentle caring man. I can never forget sitting in his room at Houston’s Astroworld watching Jerry Quarry fight Jack O’Halloran from the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva. It was a bloody and savage battle.

He turned to my late wife Mollie and said profoundly, “What a terrible way to make a living. My son will carry a briefcase”. Two days later, Ali fought Buster Mathis at the Astrodome across the street and won a unanimous decision as he pounded Buster without mercy.

Speaking of the Astrodome, in 1972 I flew from L.A. with Wilt Chamberlain and his lawyer Seymour Goldberg to meet with Ali and Bob Arum. The idea was that Ali would fight the 7’2” Wilt.

We posed for pictures in Judge Hofheinz’ office when Wilt received a call from Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Lakers. The press was assembled upstairs and waiting for the announcement about Ali’s next fight. They had no idea whom it might be.

Wilt had to take the call, but we could not hold up the press conference. So Angelo Dundee, Ali and myself went up to meet the press. For a half hour, Wilt did not appear. During all that time, Ali entertained the assemblage with the doggerel, (the poems), that became his trademark before each fight. It was that poetry which got him the award of a literary seat at prestigious Oxford University.

Wilt did not show up. He had taken a plane back to Los Angeles. We learned, he had been in a contract dispute with the Lakers and used the fight ploy to achieve his goal which was settled when Jack Kent Cooke called. Hastily, Jimmy Ellis, a former Ali sparring partner and boyhood friend who had briefly been champion during Ali’s suspension, took the fight.

A picture of Ali posing with Wilt was published in the Guiness Book of Records.

During Ali’s 1976 down period, he agreed to fight Antonio Inouki. Inouki was a Japanese wrestling champion, as well as a holder of a 10th degree Karate Black Belt. When Angelo saw Inouki train he was afraid for the injury that Ali might incur.

Angelo wanted out! But the promoters, (Yakuza) would have no part of it, so they made special rules.

According to Inouki, Ali believed he had signed on for it to be an exhibition of Wrestler versus Boxer. When Angelo saw Inouki training with a series of brutal drop-kicks and violent grapples on sparring partners, Angelo realized he was training for a real fight.

Ali’s management renegotiated the rules. A list of restrictions was imposed on Inouki. The fight went off and to the TV audience it seemed boring. However, in Tokyo’s Budokan, Japan’s Madison Square Garden, the atmosphere was tense. It was ruled a 15 round Draw.

After the fight, I sat in Ali’s hotel room with Dr. Ferdie as I helped him apply Ice Pack after Ice Pack on Ali’s swollen legs which were a mass of Black and Blue. He had Hematomas from ankle to thigh as a result of Inoki’s kicking.

Ferdie wanted Ali to stay in the hotel room and rest for a few days before traveling anywhere. Ali would have none of it. Despite Ferdie’s warnings, Ali flew to Korea to honor his commitment to U.S. Troops stationed there. He fought exhibitions in seven different camps.

He then flew home to Los Angeles. His leg conditioned had worsened. Upon arriving, we were met with an ambulance. Ali was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. There he hovered between life and death for almost two weeks. A fact that most of the public did not know until this day.

I was also there for his last fight against Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas. Ali, as they say, had nothing left in his tank. Berbick who under normal conditions would never deserve to be in the ring with Ali, hurt him badly. Along with my associates, Bob Block, Phil Gillen, Burt Sugar and Clair Higgins, I cried.

Ali passed the other day. I had not seen him in over 20 years. He was a kind, gentle man. He loved people, especially children.

There will be many eulogies attesting to his greatness and everyone of them will be true. He touched all of our lives… even those who never met him.

He was a man of great courage, honesty and humility. His overt braggadocio was only for the purpose of building interest in his fights. He always had a sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step until he was felled by Parkinson’s.

Ali’s inspirational legacy will live on for generations to come.I shall never forget him!

Grantland Rice, the great sportswriter, once wrote; “It’s not who wins, or loses, but how you play the game that counts!”

In the ring, Ali mostly won, but on rare occasion also lost. He always played at his best. The real winner is us, mankind. We are better off for his having been part of our lives.

R.I.P.