Muhammad Ali and the Day
He Tried to Pick Up My Wife

 By Jim Berlin 

The 1970s, I’m walking my wife and young daughter through the Phoenix airport to their gate, putting them on a flight to Detroit. And suddenly there he is – the most famous athlete on the planet…Muhammad Ali!

He is strolling past in the center of a protective cocoon of five bad-ass bodyguards, but my wife is undeterred. She trots toward him calling out his name.

The cocoon turns and tightens, raising hands to stop her, but Muhammad signals to let her pass. He takes her hand in both of his as she babbles her admiration. How his heroics in and out of the ring had awakened in her an interest in boxing she never knew existed.

Relevant or not, I note here that my wife was twenty-something at the time, and so hot that men reported second-degree burns just passing her on a sidewalk. But Ali was gracious and grinning and that seemed the end of it.

 But then they wound up on the same flight.

 And before the 747 took off Muhammad left first class and walked back into coach. He made eye contact with my wife but she looked away: “I wanted him to know I wasn’t interested in anything more.” 

Apparently Ali was. A minute later one of his bodyguards approached her and said, “Muhammad would like to invite you to join him in first class.”

“You can tell him,” she growled, “that my

husband is not only better looking than him, but he could kick Ali’s ass from one end of the parking lot to the other!”

Well, that’s not exactly what she said. She simply and politely declined the invitation.

I come with this true story not to bury Muhammad, but to praise him. He was more than the best boxer in history, a humanitarian and a being with the courage of his convictions. Even when Parkinson’s turned the butterfly back into a caterpillar, he crawled again and again onto the world stage, refusing to exit the public eye. He let the world see him at his best and worst.

And equally important: He was one damn fine judge of women.