Monday, June 6, 2016
He Would Have Been the Greatest Squash Player Of All Time
As much as I admired and loved Mohamed Ali, I wonder would he have achieved a similar greatness if he had other opportunities open to him other than just boxing? Our country has a way of deifying those we once exploited, killed, slaughtered or crucified. The Buffalo, whom we systematically slaughtered (30 million in a matter of years) we put on our nickel as an endearing American icon. The American Indian, whom we committed enormous acts of genocide against (Hitler's Holocaust pales by comparison), finds it way as an American icon at so many different levels. And then there is Ali, whom we paid to watch him fight others, white audiences, watching him beat another black man to near death, and himself, later on, taking terrible beatings. We remember him in his passing heroically. The very same man we imprisoned and stripped away his titles and the basic right to earn a living --we've now come full circle, from vilified to deified. What would Ali have done on that fateful day, when, as a young boy, he had his bicycle stolen and instead of being near a boxing gym, he was nearby a public squash court, and someone, maybe a club player, a coach, a mentor, had given him a squash racket and told him squash will make your day, will make you forget your stolen bicycle and will make you great in some way? What would he have done with that instead of entering a boxing gym? Would he have achieved the same level of greatness and notoriety? My guess, yes. He would have been the "greatest" at whatever he did. He would have gone to the public squash court in Louisville, Kentucky, picked up a racket and never let it go for the rest of his life. I imagine him coming up through the professional ranks on the courts against the likes of Jonah Barrington and Geoff Hunt, running them around as if he were playing a game of fetch. He would be like nothing they'd ever seen, footwork like we'd never seen, and his racket skills to match. Most of all, how many more inner city kids would he have inspired to play squash? Can you imagine Sugar Ray Leonard playing squash and not boxing, not detaching his retina, or Jerry Quarry, who ended up in diapers and thoroughly punch drunk, appearing alongside all the old grand masters of squash reminiscing about a bygone era. And of course, big George Foreman, how could you forget him in the World Open or British Open, against Jansher Khan. George Foreman in his early 40's, not upsetting boxing champion Michael Moore, but upsetting Khan in the finals to become the oldest World Champion in the history of the game. For me, Ali was always a calm voice in the storm of so much madness. He would move around the court like a butterfly and sting his opponents with perfect length, or a subtle head fake, or a perfectly placed drop shot. He would be known for leaving his opponents just shaking their heads. Ali and Squash, now that would have been something great. I am almost certain Squash would be an Olympic sport, I am almost certain there would be 100's of public courts just like the ones New York Public Squash is trying to build. I can almost hear him predict it, I can almost hear him say, when it comes to Squash, the court doesn't care whether your Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Black, White or anything, just how you play the game. I am almost certain he would still be around, and the El Shorbagys, the Ashours, the Willstrops and Matthews, would all come and meet with the great man, the "greatest" Squash player ever; and you would see his familiar and great face on the pages of the Daily Squash Report every day. You would see him visiting the Zimbabwe Squash Academy, somewhere, in the far reaches of the planet, opening, yet another, Squash academy. You would see him dedicating public courts around the world. And he would be heard to say, Squash doesn't define him, it's just a platform from which he would deliver his message. But he would be heard loud and clear, he would hold his still, formidable racket, with a steady hand, and, of course, would keep his eye always on the ball. He'd be known for being funny, witty, wise and he'd occasionally host the PSA Live play-by-play with Joey Barrington and Paul Johnson. He would be Ali, the "greatest" player in a game loved and played by millions around the world.