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T PAGE 16 BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, JUNE 17, 2016 HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss .r Some Thoughts On Muhammad Ali Muhammad All, who passed away last week at the age of 74, is probably the most writ- ten about athlete in history. He is most likely the most photo- graphed as well. I have been thinking a lot about him in the days since his death and think- ing about what or if I should write about him. With so much being said, both fact and fiction, I have not been sure what to say. My feelings towards this most interesting of sports heroes have been very mixed over the years and remain so. Being a person who misses the art that was once practiced in boxing, I still am in awe when I see foot- age of him in action. While he is amazing to watch in there against his opponents, I also can spend hours just watching him shadow boxing, hitting the heavy bag, speed bag, or doing roadwork. From a technical Cassius and Sam Cooke. standpoint, he did so many things incorrectly, but his su- perb athleticism coupled with uncanny reflexes along with his ability to keep his body totally relaxed would make him the envy of any dancer. Watching him move and real- izing he weighed well in excess of two hundred pounds makes what he was able to do even more remarkable. I got to meet him a couple of times. I was once standing next to him be- fore he was about to enter the ring for an exhibition match at the old Boston Garden. What struck me about being right up by him was how big he was. Seeing Ali on TV put me in the mindset that I was watching a middleweight. The reality sunk in when I saw how he towered over me. I remembered reading how Angelo Dundee had told the young Cassius Clay right before he was about to meet Sonny Liston mid-ring for pre-fight instructions before their first fight, "Stand up straight kid, you're bigger than he is and let him know that." Dundee knew how important details were; any edge helped. Clay, who would soon change his name to Muhammad All, went on to win the title from Liston. Many question whether Liston threw the bout. I have no doubt that Cassius legitimately won the title that night. The details for my opinion will be the subject of another column. I will just say that the world was witnessing an amazing perfor- mance by a phenomenal athlete that night in Miami. The young Clay, who returned from winning a Gold Medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics, was a remarkable personality. He All and Cus had boundless energy, supreme self-confidence, good looks and charm. He also managed to get under some people's skin because of his braggadocio. No matter, he was a shot of much-needed adrenalin for a sport that was beginning to die. People who didn't know the dif- ference between a boxing glove and a pair of winter gloves were now paying attention to boxing. Cassius Clay made it all fun. When in England to fight Henry Cooper, he managed to rankle the British when he said American woman were prettier than the English girls. He was predicting the rounds in which he would stop his opponents and than do just what he said. His public relations campaign for getting a title shot against Liston was unlike anything ever seen before. Most people thought he must be insane just to want to fight Sonny; his antics only seemed to reinforce that view. Cassius became friends with popular singer Sam Cooke and they spent some time singing together. Clay even cut a record album. While he was no Sam Cooke, he could sing. Again, he made everything he did look like fun. Things would change. Cas- sius had also struck up a friendship with Malcolm X and started being influenced by the separatist Black Nationalist group the Nation of Islam. After winning the title, he announced he had joined the Nation and would now be known as Mu- hammad AlL It was during this period that his persona began to change. He was still a master at promoting his fights, but the taunting and gimmicks were taking on an uglier edge. His remarks were taking on racial overtones and, oddly enough, these racial slurs were mostly directed at his darker skined black opponents. He was also calling for the races to be kept separate..In one interview, he stated his support for the seg- regationist views of George Wal- lace. He stated that blacks and whites should remain separate because they were actually two different species. He stated that a black woman who would go with a white man should be put to death. This was really ugly stuff. Some say he had this rage because he had been subjected to growing up in the South dur- ing Jim Crow laws', and the resentment of having to sit at a different lunch counter and use different bathroom facilities fueled this anger. However, he D'Amato. had no desire to change those policies. He, in fact, wanted to strengthen the laws of segrega- tion. This put him at odds with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who foresaw a nation where blacks and whites would learn to live and respect one another. Did All truly believe what he was saying, or was he an im- pressionable young man taken in by a cultish hate group? I doubt even he knew the answer to this question. Cus D'Amato, who knew and loved Clay/Ali very well and for years, once told me that after All got involved with the NOI he would carry that angry persona with him, but not all of the time. He said that Ali would be in a room talking with people of all races and truly enjoying himself until members of the Nation walked in. It was then that he would go into his angry mode. Cus also told me that All re- ally didn't know much about the Viet Nam War on the day he re- fused induction into the Army. He said he was told to do what he did and followed orders. This is not said to take away from his stand against the war, but I do wonder if he would have been as vehemently outspoken against it if not for the fact he was going to be drafted. These are just some thoughts I have had about a very com- plicated and also simple man. I have many more and they con- tinually change. Anyone who met him felt they knew him, yet I am not sure anyone could really know him. Ali heading to the ring. THOSE PROUD PENS -- Sometimes it's a long and wind- ing road to reach a highly desired goal. That's what hap- pened to at least two members of the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise with ties to Boston. For that's what Pens' head coach Mike Sullivan and player Phil Kessel experienced in their lives as they gradually moved toward the .fulfillment of their ultimate dream -- winning the Stanley Cup. It was back in the cold dark days of winter -- December 12, 2015, to be exact -- that Sullivan, then the head coach at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Pens' American Hockey League affiliate, got the call to replace Mike Johnston as the head coach in Pittsburgh. Six months to the day later -- on June 12, 2016 -- in a storybook end- ing, those Pens who had once floundered in the dark wound up clutching the Stanley Cup after a Game 6 victory over the San Jose Sharks in California. "I don't know if there's a team in the league that, from the start of training camp, has been through more adversity," stated Sullivan in an ESPN article. "They went through a coaching change, there was a lot of noise and a number of critics out there suggesting these guys didn't have what it takes. I couldn't be happier for them right now because they proved everybody wrong." It was a long time in com- ing for SuUivan, who grew up in Marshfield, went to Boston College High School, and was captain of the team at Boston University. He went on to play for several NHL franchises, including the Bruins, before ending his playing days and em- barking on a coaching career. He took to the switch in posi- tions- from being on the bench as a player on the roster, to directing strategy from standing behind it -- right away, lead- ing the 2002-2003 Providence Bruins to 41-17-9-4 mark in his rookie coaching season. That was good enough for the Brulns GM Mike O'Connell to promote him to the parent club. Up on Causeway Street, the B's flourished under Mike, go- ing 41-19-15-7, accumulating 104 points, and finishing first in the Northeast Division. But things went right downhill in the playoffs as the Bruins were eliminated in the first round by the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens. The lost season of the lock- out followed and the Bruins just were not the same after that. A 29-37-16 record in the 2005-2006 season, coupled with a last place finish in the Northeast Division, meant Mike was gone when new GM Peter Chiarelli took the reins. Then came the wandering years -- assistant coaching positions with Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers, the Vancou- ver Canucks and finally a slot as a development coach with the Chicago Blackhawks. Which brought Mike to June 18, 2015, when he accepted the head coaching job at Wilkes- Barre/Scranton. Six months later, he was back in the NHL, as the head coach of an underachieving team that seemed headed for oblivion. Fast forward an additional six months and there was Mike Sullivan cherishing the Stanley Cup, the culmination of a life- long dream that began nearly five decades ago in Marshfield and reached its pinnacle in an arena some 3,000 miles away on a warm June evening in San Jose. And what of Phil Kessel, a man who, according to ESPN, was booed out of two towns (Boston and Toronto) before finally finding appreciation in Pittsburgh? Well, at least with the Toronto fans, Phil got back at them in a way that only a player with an $8 million annual salary could: he took out a full page ad in the Toronto Star and thanked them. Here's what he stated in the ad: ~rhank you. A year ago I was facing the very real prospect of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs through the 2021-2022 season, possibly to the end of my professional hockey career. "Being stuck with a franchise without any understanding on how to build a winner or what to do with star players was crush- ing to my hopes and dreams. TODAY I AM A STANLEY CUP CHAMPION. ~And not just a champion, but the leading playoff goal scorer on the Cup-winning team. What happened? "Well, you forced me out of town. No matter what I did on the ice, no matter how poorly constructed the roster was dur- ing my six years in town, you blamed me. I used to hate it, but now I know I never would have made it to Pittsburgh without you. Thank you. I will never forget you. I will never stop smiling." But Phil did remember one Toronto fan in a very gener- ous way. It seems there was a hot dog vendor in Toronto's downtown area that he used to visit. That person is some- what wealthier now, thanks to receiving a $50,000 anonymous gift that came with a note: "From a big fan and Stanley Cup champion." "I don't know who else it could be from,~ the vendor was quoted as saying. "Obviously there are no Stanley Cup champions here in Toronto. Phil may have a bigger waistline than most hockey players, but he has an even bigger heart. I'm happy for him. I miss seeing his face every day -- sometimes twice a day." Kessel led the Pens in playoff scoring with 10 goals and 12 assists for a total of 22 points. ~I'm not surprised, he's a spe- cial player," said Pens GM Jim Rutherford to ESPN. "Phil really was an impact player for us. I'm so happy for him because his years in the league haven't been easy. Now he's got his name on the Cup." Both Sullivan and Kessel each had their own personal journeys in the NHL. Much like the classical tale of old, each experienced an odyssey that encompassed a good number of years. But in the end, it was all worth it. As Shakespeare once wrote: "A11's Well That Ends Well."