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“Hey man, you call me n***a!?”

I think I was the only white guy in the gym that day. Between writing and directing gigs I stayed in shape as a sparring partner in a small pro stable. Tall for middleweight, I had a stiff jab, solid left hook, right cross. I could often get a pro’s respect the first few rounds… until they figured out my telegraphing and put me back in my place. However, I was generally complimented on having a “good chin,’’ allowing my ring partners all the better practice.

So I was working out on the heavy bag when this huge black guy spun me around, held his fist to my face and said, “Hey man, you call me n***a!?

Pause a perfect comic beat, then: “Oh, you called me ‘BIGGA!’ You OK, Red!”

IT WAS MUHAMMAD ALI!!

Good natured, joking around, he autographed stuff for my sons before screwing with some others in the gym.

Outside an African-American woman strolled by with her child. Ali slipped out the door and gave her a surprise hug. She literally whooped and screamed with joy.

Although past his prime, Ali got in the ring and dazzled everyone with footwork and grace that could only be described as balletic.

My older son Bodhi is a particularly avid sports fan, and Muhammad Ali was his longtime idol. Flash-forward some years, my daughter-in-law Jenna Elfman got Bodhi’s friends and noteworthy acquaintances to each record a little birthday greeting for him. Ali, his health now deteriorated—but not his sense of humor, kindly chipped in with…

“Happy Birthday Bodhi! You’re not as dumb as you look!”

Needless to say my son was in seventh heaven.

The greatest heavyweight of all time, Muhammad Ali, was also an amazing human being. Throughout it all, he never lost that infectious sense of play.

“Oh, you called me ‘bigga,’ red!!”

We will miss you, Muhammad.

 

Learn more about Richard here and at RichardElfman.com

Watch Bodhi and Jenna’s hilarious podcasts on Nerdist, Kicking and Screaming

Watch for Jenna’s upcoming new series on ABC, Imaginary Mary