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A treasure trove of sports memorabilia

Muhammad Ali glowers at his opponent
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Throughout the decades, America has enjoyed many great sporting events and a multitude of sports heroes. For the most part, existing leagues have captured many of these moments with the walls of their fabulous Halls of Fame.

I have visited most all of them. I have been to Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame in autumn when the leaves were ablaze with a rainbow of colors.

I walked the halls in Canton sharing memories and revisiting the accomplishments of legendary galaxy of those who once thrilled us on the gridiron. Feeling with goose pimples and shivers many of the moments.

The Basketball Hall of Fame presented me with a different set of memories. I was lucky enough to play against Springfield College, the birthplace of Basketball. Today, it is the Basketball Hall of Fame from Dr. James Naismith to Coach Guy Lewis.

Toronto and the Canadian national Exposition Grounds is home to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It is only fitting since although it is not Canada’s National Game, Lacrosse is; it is the country that gave the world the game as it is played today.

For me, visits to these hallowed places has always been special, not only as a fan, but as man whose life’s work was sports, had a chance to re-visit many of the people and events I was fortunate to have been involved with.

There’s one such place I have yet to visit. Yet, it is the one place that houses the complete story of a man with whom I worked closely for years.

I first learned of this beautiful edifice when my cousin Bobbi Cherry and her friend Jacob Weisberg brought me a pamphlet. They got this pamphlet from their visit to this magnificent building. Standing six stories tall and covering almost 97,000 square feet. It houses the most complete tribute ever to any single athlete.

Although I had worked in all sports and with countless athletes, the man whose life’s work is captured here was the one I had yet to visit… and it was he I worked closest with.

It covers his life from boyhood to when he became Heavyweight Champion of the World to the present. A man whom when I first met him, I was prepared to dislike.

After all, he had refused to swear an oath to our country and serve in the U.S. Army using his religious beliefs as the reason. Like so many other young men, I had served and I believed he should also.

However, when I got to work with him, I asked myself how wrong could one man be? He was genuine and his religious beliefs were real. He was man to be admired. I knew I was in the presence of greatness.

In defense of his beliefs, he walked away from multi-million dollar paydays and lost his championship. Deprived of his championship and the ability to earn a living, he held his head high and worked for human good. He was and still , although cursed with a severe illness, cares about people and the good he can do.

Fortunately for him, throughout his career, has had a friend who turned out to be one of the finest sports photographers, let me amend that, one of America’s all-time great photographers. Photographer Howard Bingham met this idol-to-be when he was just a young Boxer. He met him with his brother was doing roadwork, as they trained for their next matches.

He offered the fighter a ride and 45 years later they are still traveling the world together and Howard always has his camera at the ready. Howard already was a working photographer. Eventually, he became the first black photographer as a member of Hollywood International Cinematographers Guild camera crew.

This is considered an exceptional accomplishment for a white… and for a black is was almost impossible. When the two first met, the young Boxer was known by a different name.

Howard, not only chronicled his fighter’s heroics in the ring. When they travelled the globe together, Howard was constantly snapping pictures as our subject met with orphan children in Africa, received a Chair at Oxford for his couplets, was honored by Kings, Dictators, Presidents and entertained servicemen in Korea. People of all ages and persuasions could not wait to be in his presence.

All the time, Muhammad Al. formerly Cassius Clay, kept his humility. A single trait that sets him apart from so many others labeled Celebrity… and all the time, Howard was at his side.

The Ali Center houses memorabilia that is breathtaking and brings about sighs. The building itself and its architecture, just like the man whose life it houses stands alone. It is magnificent. It also includes the most complete collection of Ali Art as seen through the eyes of Leroy Nieman

Located in downtown Louisville, it stands as acultural attraction and an international education center inspired by the man whom it honors. Sports, as taught here, is an unusual learning experience. It is one experience that every American, young an old, will not only enjoy, but after visiting, will feel better about living in our great country.