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Gee Scott: What made Muhammad Ali great to me

The Thrilla in Manila, the third and final meeting between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, is considered by many the best boxing match ever. (AP)

Note: In his new role with 710 ESPN Seattle, Gee Scott will host his own weeknight show and will also write for, among other duties that will be announced soon. In his first “For the People” column, Gee shares his memories of the late Muhammad Ali.

The year is 1986, Chicago, Ill. My cousin and I are walking to our Mama Scott’s house after school. Walking down Martin Luther King Drive, there’s an island in the middle of the street. Muhammad Ali and singer Lou Rawls were standing there with a few kids. Ali was doing some shadow boxing while Rawls looked on. So a decision had to be made. What was more important: Go meet Ali or stay with our after-school ritual?

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Every day after school we would head to Mama Scott’s house. We would have the same after-school meal: grilled-cheese sammich (I know, it’s sandwich). Let me take a little bit of time to explain. You can’t make a grilled sandwich like we used to have ’cause they don’t make the cheese anymore, that Gov’ment Cheese. (It was processed cheese provided to welfare, food-stamp recipients and the elderly receiving social security in the United States. You would get this cheese once a month. It came in an unsliced block form, with no labels and in a simple box. It was so good. OK, sorry, got off track thinking about it). We would take a slice of bread, slice a piece of cheese, place that cheese on the bread, put sugar on top, and then place in the oven on broil until it was to our liking. I could cry right now thinking about it. If you’ve never had it, be jealous.

The cartoon “He-Man” followed by “Thundercats” was what we watched every day starting 3 p.m. Unfortunately, staying with our after-school ritual was more important that day, and I never did get the chance to meet Ali.

My father would always talk about the Thrilla in Manila.  He would tell me how this was the greatest fight ever. He explained to me how Ali would talk and talk and talk, how the whole world loved to hear him talk. That fight in particular got its name Thrilla in Manila because of Ali saying that the fight would be a “killa and a thrilla and a chilla when I get that gorilla in Manila.” This was the third fight between Ali and Joe Frazier. It went 15 rounds, and my father would always talk about this fight. He would say, “Champ (that’s the name he called me my whole life), that fight is what life is all about. Even when you want to quit, even when you’re not suppose to succeed, you just keep fighting, you get back up, and remember it ain’t over until it’s over.”

I would love to tell you that I have watched the entire fight, but that wouldn’t be true. I’ve seen highlights, and more important, I’ve heard my dad tell me about that fight my entire life.

When Ali passed away last week, I immediately started to ask myself, “Why is he The Greatest to me?” I mean, I know he’s called that, but what makes him great to me? I didn’t have an answer. I could only go off of what my father told me. So I went onto YouTube so I could watch the Thrilla in Manila in its entirety. I was feeling a bit guilty that I’ve never seen the fight. As soon as I turned it on, something caught my attention that I never realized. The fight was Oct. 1, 1975. I was born April 11, 1976.

Ya see, I never asked my father why he called me Champ. To be honest, it never mattered. But things are starting to make sense. My mom was pregnant with me at the time of that fight and my father would always reference it when giving me life lessons. So did my name Champ come from my father watching that fight? He passed away this past February, so I will never know.

What I do have now is a better understanding why Ali is The Greatest to me. Ali was a man that inspired everyone in the world. Even if you never saw him fight, or were around in his heyday, you know what he meant to those that were. So rest easy, Champ, the bell has rung. No more rounds. You’re still The Champ and will always be. You loved to give everything and everyone a name, which is so fitting ’cause your life can be summed up with two words: The Greatest.

“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.” – Muhammad Ali