Ali: The Greatest

muhammad-ali.jpg

The greatest sports photograph of all time.

The Heavyweight Champion of the World used to be the most coveted title in sports. It’s hard to imagine now, considering how terrible the heavyweight division has been for the pass two decades.

I missed seeing Ali in his prime, although watching his old fights and several documentaries (especially When We Were Kings) has given me a singular appreciation of his genius. There simply has never been another athlete with his confidence, swagger, speed, intensity, and power.

Ali is a towering figure in the public consciousness. At some point, every child pretends to box. The phrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ is somehow known by each one of them, even if they have never heard of Ali. Similarly, Rope-a-Dope is a phrase used by many who probably can’t explain the origin of the term. Ali is so ingrained in our collective memory, his personality and greatest moments seem to exist apart from him, as if we are born with the knowledge of his spirit.

Atlanta, 1996. I was at the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. This was before smartphone technology was rampant. As I remember it, the specific person to light the torch was kept an absolute secret. For weeks leading up to it, we debated who would get this incredible honor. Who is the athlete we would lift up to the world as most emblematic of America?

The moment came and with each subsequent athlete bringing the torch ever closer, possible choices were eliminated. As Janet Evans brought the torch to the final stage, Ali emerged and in the moment, it seemed the entire world lost its mind with joy. The stadium convulsed with emotion, each person desperate to let Ali know that he was the one. Not just a great choice to light the cauldron, in hindsight he was the only choice.

He was the greatest.

This isn’t ‘Hoosiers’

IU supporters making it tough for Crean to succeed | 2014-03-19 | Indianapolis Business Journal | IBJ.com.

This article in the IBJ says a lot of what I’ve been feeling lately. The primary change I’d make is to focus less on how the fanbase is impacting Crean’s recruiting (it’s less than during the Davis years, by a wide margin) and more on just how disgraceful this treatment of Crean is.

Crean took over a program that was absolutely crushed by Sampson. There were no players on the team. Literally, no players. Crean has reinvented this program with guts and hard work and less than one year after being a #1 seed with two top 5 NBA picks, fans want him gone.

The worst thing Bob Knight ever did was convince Hoosiers fans they knew something about basketball. Good lord, that scene in Hoosiers when the fellas gang up on Norman Dale in the barbershop is supposed to be a caricature, not the embodiment of how you would confront Crean if given the chance.

I got it out of my head a long time ago that Indiana fans are better than other fans. They’re not; they’re worse. They think they know something they don’t and that gives them license to dissect games as if they understand at all anything that happens on the court. The fact is, 99% of them don’t have a clue.

If a kid didn’t play when Knight was coaching, it was because ‘he must not have practiced well.’ Now it’s because Crean is too dumb to know how to use his players. I actually hear people say that Sampson, who left the program in a smoldering ash pile, was a better coach than Crean.

There’s more to coaching a program than drawing on a whiteboard for 40 minutes. You might want to check if your kids go to class once in a while, for starters. Sampson was a disgrace; good riddance.

In case no one’s noticed, Indiana hasn’t won a national championship in over a quarter century. There are people with¬†grandchildren who have never seen Indiana win a national championship. Remember that the next time you talk about how easy it is to win at Indiana.

TL;DR: Maybe Crean can coach, maybe he can’t. But he cleaned up a disgraceful program and he deserves support for as long as he’s here.¬†