Echoes 39. Muhammad Ali: Little Jimmy’s Friend
BY Asrar Chowdhury
Shout, The Daily Star, Thu Sep 24, 2015
For Muhammad Ali, 1974 was a big year. That year he fought an epic fight against George Foreman for the Heavyweight Champion title that was taken away from him in 1967. The fight was known as The Rumble in the Jungle. It was fought in Kinshasa, Zaire in today’s Congo. Ever since winning a Gold Medal in the Rome Olympics in 1960, Cassius Clay, as he was known then, transformed boxing into an art, “floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.” Through time, Muhammad Ali became one of the most loved persons of the 20th century.
During the preparation for the Foreman fight, a father and his son, Jimmy, came to Ali’s training camp at Deer Lake. Jimmy was like millions of other kids. He wanted to meet the Champ.
It was a hot day in May. Little Jimmy was wearing a skull cap. He was dressed heavily. Ali got curious. “Why are you dressed like that, Jimmy?” He asked. Jimmy’s answer said it all. “I have leukemia. I take chemotherapy. I lost all my hair. I just came to tell you how happy you make me.”
Ali and his team were touched. Who wouldn’t be? Ali fights battles inside and outside the ring. Little Jimmy was fighting a battle for life. Ali’s manager Gene Kilroy took a photo of Jimmy and Ali. It was enlarged, framed and later sent to Jimmy’s dad. Ali autographed it: “To my friend, Jimmy.”
Ali hugged Jimmy and whispered: “I’m going to beat George Foreman. You’re going to beat cancer.”
Two weeks later, Ali’s team received a phone call. Jimmy was in hospital. He wasn’t doing well. Would Ali come and meet Jimmy? Ali and his Team were at Jimmy’s bedside within three hours.
Cancer had the final say. Little Jimmy’s skin was as white as the bed sheets. The moment he saw Ali, his little blue eyes lit up. “Muhammad, I knew you’d come,” he said in excitement. Ali reminded him. “Jimmy, remember what I told you? I’m going to beat George Foreman. You’re going to beat cancer.”
Little Jimmy looked at Ali. He gave a knockout punch. Ali couldn’t answer back.
“No, Muhammad. I’m going to meet God. I’m going to tell Him, you’re my friend.”
The room became silent. Everybody was in tears. Ali hugged Little Jimmy and went back to train for the Foreman fight.
A week later, Jimmy lost the fight. The family invited Ali to Jimmy’s funeral. Ali couldn’t be present. Gene Kilroy went on behalf of Ali.
Little Jimmy was sleeping peacefully. Beside him was his most prized possession: the framed autographed photo of him and the Champ.
Ali kept his promise to Little Jimmy. He defeated George Foreman and became the World Champion again. Little Jimmy also kept his promise. He was now on his way to tell God that Muhammad Ali, the Champ, is his friend.
Dedication: For Annapurna, who wanted her dad to re-tell the story so she and her friends could read it.
Asrar Chowdhury teaches economic theory and game theory in the classroom. Outside he listens to music and BBC Radio; follows Test Cricket; and plays the flute. He can be reached at: email@example.com