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Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 15, 2011. Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee.

There are artists who shine above the rest, Beethoven, Mozart, The Beatles, Van Gogh, Picasso. In the world of sports there are those who are no lesser artists than those listed above.

Willie Mays was the Picasso of Baseball. Tom Seaver said that he was the only outfielder that he ever played with, that wanted to know what pitch he would throw. This is because Mays could usually tell by the combination of the pitch and the angle of the batters bat where the ball would be hit. He knew that the game was entertainment, and that people came to see him, he rarely disappointed.

Wayne Gretzky made everybody around him a superstar. They used to say that he could see the play unfolding in slow motion. I had season tickets for the Islanders for 20 years, much of it during Gretzky's prime. Although I always rooted against him, I marveled at how great he was.

Everybody knows about Michael Jordan. There was nobody like him. He walked on air. During his prime I had season tickets for the Knicks. As long as Jordan played, the Knicks would remain the perennial also ran.

I never was a boxing fan. It wasn't a sport to me. With one notable exception. Muhammad Ali. Ali was grace, pure entertainment. He'd dance and recite his poetry, and have the crowd roaring. He even made Howard Cosell enjoyable. Thirty years after his last fight, he is still considered the most recognizable face in the world.

Ali suffers from Parkinson's disease. Most likely the disease was caused or at least exacerbation by the many blows to the head that he took. He was diagnosed in 1984. Today Ali barely speaks, needs help walking, his hands tremble and shake. His infectious smile is a struggle, that he seems willing to overcome.

"When Ali was first diagnosed with Parkinson's Syndrome, he went through a battery of tests, first at the renowned Mayo Clinic, then at a series of other highly respected institutions. Ali's physical exams and tests indicated a surprising amount of abnormalities, all of which seemed to be boxing related. It was found that Ali had a hole in the membrane separating the two sides of his brain. While this type of abnormality is often congenital, being punched in the head repeatedly, if not causing such a condition, can certainly exacerbate and worsen it. Further complicating matters, Ali was shown to have a series of degenerative changes in his brain stem; a part of the brain that is linked with dopamine production, a neurotransmitter that is lacking in those afflicted with Parkinson's-like afflictions. Ali's brain stem was shown to be significantly damaged, and his attending physicians, in a statement released at Muhammad Ali's behest, stated that they believed Ali's brain damage to be boxing-induced."

Ali doesn't appear to be bitter. He appears at many charitable events. Somehow he seems to be able to fake a combination to excite his legion of fans.

I haven't watched a Boxing match in more than thirty years, and will unlikely ever watch another. Because there will never be another Ali.

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