Ali, Frazier meet again, in friendship at courtside

NBA arranges reunion of old boxing enemies

February 11, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- They were again in close quarters, sharing popcorn and laughs rather than punches and nasty looks. Ali-Frazier IV was much different from I, II and III.

This wasn't the Thrilla in Manila, but the most public detente between these two former world champion boxers and longtime arch-enemies. That it came in the City of Brotherly Love seemed a fitting way for Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier to finally put their 30-year feud behind them.

"Absolutely," said Miya Ali, who sat behind her legendary father at courtside during yesterday's NBA All-Star Game at the First Union Center. "Life is too short."

Frazier, who tenderly helped Ali up from his seat and helped steady him during a rendition of "America the Beautiful," said that the meeting should not have been considered that big a deal.

"We fought so many times on national television, so why can't we get together now?" said Frazier.

The relationship had remained antagonistic long after the last of their historic and often-brutal bouts, which came in 1975.

Frazier always harbored some bitterness about the way Ali insulted him, and when Ali, showing the symptoms of Parkinson's syndrome, shakily lit the Olympic caldron to open the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, Frazier cracked: "It would have been a good thing if he had lit the torch and fallen in. If I had the chance, I would have pushed him in."

But there had been a thawing in the past year, first when Ali apologized to Frazier in a New York Times story last March to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their first fight. They had given each other a respectful nod when both showed up at a fight of Ali's daughter, Laila, in California.

This meeting was certainly the most intimate, and touching. It was put together at the invitation of the NBA, which called Frazier's handlers yesterday to ask if he'd like to attend the game in his hometown. And, by the way, he was told, Ali would be there, too.

Frazier, who still owns a boxing gym in the city, said that he has put their past behind him.

Howard Bingham, Ali's longtime confidant, said that the two began making peace a year ago. Miya Ali said that Frazier visited her father Saturday. "This is great," she said. "It's time."

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