My brief encounter with Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Above: Muhammad Ali at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport, 1997. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In January of 1997 I had a very brief encounter with Muhammad Ali at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport. I was walking down a corridor and saw him shuffling toward me with his entourage. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome 13 years before and some of the symptoms were evident as he got closer.

Having always respected him as a person and an athlete, I wanted to take a picture as he walked by. As quickly as I could I took off my backpack, put it on the floor and started digging through it to find my camera. He kept getting closer and I was running out of time. Finally I found the camera, removed it from the backpack and began taking it out of the case.

Glancing up to see if I still had time to get the photo, I saw Ali look at me and he stopped walking. He watched as I stood up and raised the camera. Just as I pressed the shutter he and his group were distracted by something off to my right. Then he looked at me as I lowered the camera and he resumed his shuffling down the corridor with his entourage. I said “Thank you” as he passed by.

He was kind enough to stop what he was doing to allow me to get my camera out and take his picture. He did not have to do that, of course.

May he rest in peace.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “My brief encounter with Muhammad Ali”

  1. He always seemed to be very gracious to the fans.

    For you younger readers, back the 70’s at boxing’s zenith fights were not shown live on TV. Pay per view was years away. During the big heavyweight fights we would eat our Swanson TV dinners sitting by the radio, At the end of each round the live DJ would read the wire copy and say “Round one was Ali’s” or something similar. About two weeks after the fight, ABC’s Wide World of Sports would broadcast the fight on a Saturday afternoon. Even though everyone knew the final outcome in advance the fights were still very exciting.

  2. Rest in Peace Champ.

    side note,they all seem to be looking at the short white girl between the champ and the man in red,cept the man to the far right,hes looking right at you Bill.

    may i share this pic and the story on a website called “the Sim outhouse”? SOH….we are a group of virtual pilots,several of us are tanker pilots..of course in the virtual world

  3. Muhammad was a nice guy I met him only once in 1987 …. even with Parkinson’s he was engaging and actually took the time to have a short conversation with me.
    The owner of the store I worked in was a personal friend of his.


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