MY FRIEND MUHAMMAD ALI–TRULY THE GREATEST!
Mayor Walter Washington, the night Muhammad Ali made him the smartest man in DC
Mayor Washington and me pay tribute to my high school coach Dave Brown.
The Louisville International Airport to be renamed for The Greatest!
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the name change reflects the city’s pride in a local son who has “left a legacy of athleticism, of humanitarianism that has literally inspired billions of people.”
Who remembers the tribute to The Greatest by the Washington DC Chamber of Commerce and the first black Mayor of Washington, DC, Walter Washington? The tribute was held at the Sheraton-Park Hotel on Connecticut Ave. NW. I remember the tribute, but I don’t remember the date! Ali was named “The Athlete of the Century” by the DC Chamber of Commerce. Jimmy Denson was the President at the time. I remember him calling me one evening to tell me about the upcoming event and asked if I would pick Ali up at the airport for the dinner. I have no clue to why I was ‘The Chosen One.’ There were rumors that the champ had requested that I pick him up because he needed to talk with me on an urgent matter. I am still trying to figure out that ugent matter!
When I arrived at National Airport on the morning of the tribute I had no trouble finding him, he was surrouned by his fans at the baggage carousel. Passengers were ignoring their luggage as it went around and around. I spotted his future wife Varonica ‘the other woman’ at the time sitting nearby. I went over and introduced myself and she pleaded with me to get the champ so that they could get to hotel–she was exhausted. I had to stand up on a chair and yell for him to get his attention and he yelled back at me “Whoa your horses Harold Bell” and I did! He loved this kind of attention. An hour or so later he gathered himself and we headed for the hotel.
Our adventured was just beginning. He and Varonica got separate rooms and this allowed me to spend some quality time with him to reflect on the Game Called Life. We talked about a range of topics that included the politics of racism, children, and the need to respect our own people, especially our parents and black women. He reminded me, “Our struggles are nothing compared to what our parents went through.” He compared himself to the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. He said, ‘Now there was a man of courage.’
The night of the dinner is one I will never forget. There was standing room only in the hall when Mayor Washington got up to present the champ with this huge plaque honoring him as The Athlete of the Century. Ali stopped the Mayor before he could get started and said, ‘Mr. Mayor do you know Harold Bell?’ The Mayor hesitated and the champ hollered out ‘Harold Bell stand up.’ My wife Hattie muttered under her breath ‘What the hell is going on?’ I stood up and Mayor Washington started to look out into the the audience and the champ pointed me out—you could hear a mouse piss on cotton for real. Ali repeated the question, ‘Mr. Mayor do you know my friend Harold Bell?’ The Mayor responded ‘Yes, who does not know Harold Bell!’ Ali reminded the Mayor that I was his friend and if anything happen to me he would be looking him up. The next words were, ‘Do you understand Mr. Mayor?’ The Mayor’s response, ‘I surely do champ’ and Ali followed with, ‘You are not as dumb as you look.’ Those words brought house down! Only Muhammad Ali could get away with something like that even the Mayor had a good laugh. The next day I was the talk of the town. That was my priceless,unforgettable and my greatest moment with The Greatest. Thanks for the memories champ. RIP my friend you deserve it.
Mayor Walter Washington hanging out in “The Hood.”