There has been a lot said about the late Muhammad Ali. Fans can recite the facts, quote many statistics and tell you lots of life history. However, East End resident Alan Ebanks has a personal connection to the boxing great, whose recent death had him musing on some very special aspects of Ali’s life.
Mr. Ebanks met the champion boxer when Ali visited Cayman in 1984, not only as an adoring fan but as sports writer and sports editor of the Cayman Compass.
“The title ‘The Greatest’ could never be given to anyone else,” said Mr. Ebanks.
“Ali stood head and shoulders above the rest. On athletic prowess alone, he was superior and when considering the breadth and span of his life, the people he touched and inspired, there is no question about his greatness,” he said.
Mr. Ebanks most admired that Ali stood up to the injustices in life the same way he stood up to boxers in the ring.
“His longest and most difficult fight of his life was against the U.S. government, but in the end, Ali won. He marched with the Indian tribes on Washington to protest the U.S. government not honoring their treaties, and when he died, there was an American Indian presence in Louisville to say they remember him,” said Mr. Ebanks.
While there were detractors who said Ali paid too heavy a physical price, that his boxing led to his Parkinson’s disease and that it was not worth it, nevertheless, Mr. Ebanks believes that given what his life came to mean to so many, Ali would see it as small price to pay.
“Perhaps the way to look at it is this – what if he hadn’t chosen to be a boxer? Would we be talking about him today? I think not,” said Mr. Ebanks.
When Ali touched down on March 22, 1984 at Owen Roberts Airport, Mr. Ebanks waited with many others in the VIP lounge. Ali kept fans buzzing with anticipation by remaining in the jet for a few minutes before emerging to meet the Cayman public.
“He worked the crowd but immediately took a liking to Esther Ebanks and kissed her on the cheek. Her husband Dalmain Ebanks, known as the ‘Father to Cayman Boxing’ looked surprised, but Ali just threw five rapid jabs in his direction and everything was OK,” said Mr. Ebanks.
He feels it is all too soon to say farewell, offering his reflections on the day Ali’s remains were driven through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky, his hometown, where more than 100,000 bystanders lined the streets to say farewell.
“The final bell has sounded. The champ is done, and this time he will not get up. There will be no comeback this time, but Ali will be in my heart forever,” he said.
Mr. Ebanks looks to the sky and breaks out in that familiar chorus echoed by countless millions worldwide.
“Ali, Ali, Ali.”