My Weird Encounter With Ali

While covering courts in Orlando I once found myself unexpectedly interviewing Muhammad Ali — briefly, even in 1987 he was not able to talk much:

Ali In Town, A Knockout With His Fans
By Craig Crawford of The Orlando Sentinel Staff
February 4, 1987

Muhammad Ali was the main event Tuesday in an Orlando courtroom, where he sat quietly dozing behind sunglasses, hoping to come to the defense of a business associate on trial for bank fraud.

The unexpected visitor appeared in U.S. District Court during the fifth week of a trial against a group of businessmen accused of trying to bilk an Orlando bank of $30 million.

One of the defendants, Charles Bazarian, 46, of Edmond, Okla., said he asked Ali to testify as a character witness for him but decided at the last minute that prosecutor Stephen Calvacca might take advantage of his friend, the former heavyweight boxer.

”We didn’t want to embarrass the champion of the world,” Bazarian said.

Instead of testifying, Ali sat in the courtroom and attracted curious glances from jurors and spectators during the prosecutor’s closing argument. One juror said later that Ali’s presence was distracting.

Bazarian is on trial with three others in the Florida Center Bank case. Five more defendants were charged. One pleaded guilty, two were convicted by the jury and two were acquitted by Judge G. Kendall Sharp.

The second acquittal came Tuesday, when Sharp dismissed charges against Domenic Massari III, 33, of Tampa. He said prosecutors hadn’t proved the former attorney for the bank board was involved in any conspiracy to defraud the bank.

Prosecutors say the group used phony collateral to obtain $30 million in bank loans for a bogus telephone company. They were charged with conspiracy, bank fraud and misuse of bank funds.

Ali, 45, called Bazarian ”my friend and business associate. I heard he was in trouble, so I had to come down to help. He’s an honest man who’s always helping others. He sure helped me.”

The Oklahoma financier arranged a $450,000 loan for one of Ali’s companies, said Ali’s road manager, Abuwi Mahdi. He said Bazarian plans to donate the money, plus interest, to a charity of Ali’s choice after it is repaid.

The ex-boxer was mobbed by dozens of surprised courthouse workers seeking autographs. Even prosecutors got autographs. Sharp called the former champ back to his chambers during a recess.

With trembling hands and boundless patience, Ali slowly signed every autograph without speaking. In 1984 doctors reported that he suffered from minor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Although Ali didn’t testify, his presence impressed the 12 jurors, who are expected to begin deliberating today.

”I saw all of his fights,” said juror Mike Van Kulick, 68. ”I’ve got some of them on videotape.”

Kulick was watching Ali sign autographs in the courthouse cafeteria during a lunch break. Bazarian sat next to the former champ.

Several jurors lined up for Ali’s signature.

”It’s exciting,” said juror Jody Morgan, 32. ”I remember his Olympic fights.”

But Kulick, who said he assumed Ali was in the courtroom as a character witness for one of the defendants, wondered whether Ali’s presence distracted jurors from the trial.

”It’s kind of distorting,” said Kulick. ”It makes you look at him instead of what’s going on. They probably shouldn’t permit celebrities to do that, but I guess anybody can sit in.”

Calvacca said he wasn’t concerned about Ali’s presence. ”I got a kick out of it,” he said. ”And it is a public courtroom.”

Bazarian’s attorney, John O’Donnell of New York, said he didn’t plan for Ali to interfere with Calvacca’s argument. ”We’re not concerned with the government’s case,” said O’Donnell.

Ali stayed in the courtroom throughout the day as defense attorneys gave their closing arguments. Wearing sunglasses, he often dozed. Occasionally he pulled out a handkerchief and sneezed, provoking more glances from jurors.

Mahdi, his manager, said the champ will return to the courthouse this morning and fly to Washington, D.C., in the afternoon.


Author: craigcrawford

Trail Mix Host

43 thoughts on “My Weird Encounter With Ali”

  1. yep, Flatus, at the time I thought it was sad seeing Ali used like that — and btw, it didn’t work so well, the defendant who brought him there was convicted and got 32 years of a 35-yr max sentence

  2. RIP, Muhammad Ali.  I’ll always remember to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

    Rick and I are leaving for Cape Cod tomorrow.  We will be spending Tuesday with OSH.  We’re going to party to the fact that America will finally have a woman candidate for President later that night.

  3. Grandpa was an amateur boxer.  He thought Cassisius Clay was the greatest boxer he’d ever seen.  Later, he said the same of Ali.  Huh? That someone could change their name was a quite a revelation to me as a kid.


  4. If God had set out to craft the perfect athletic specimen, it would have looked like Ali age 24. Power,speed and grace all in a perfectly proportioned body.

  5. Back to politics for a bit.  As Craig is well aware, there is a whole industry that sells its services to candidates from the most minor to the most spectacularly national.  Your contributions to these campaigns pays their salaries and they make a very good living usually by lying to their losing candidates.  They simply do not care if the talking points they provide have anything to do with reality.  As it happens, I came across one today to prove the point simply because this is the way an acquaintance earns his living:

    This one went out to hundreds of right wing contacts in California:

    She released names of SECRET U.S. operatives–Hillary lied and people died.”Albright Claims: ‘Nobody Is Going To Die’ From Hillary’s Emails”

    To which my reply was:

    Another bald face lie and you know better. Of course your next paycheck depends on the lies being told to the gullible.

    With a follow up:

    Indirect References:

    This sort of constant slant goes on both left and right for one purpose and one purpose only:  Milk the American public out of money without ever telling them the truth about anything …


  6. I think the real plunge in politic began with the rise of the professional political class (another Republican development.)

    It used to be you went from a campaign back to whatever you were doing before or got a job with the candidate and now people go from campaign to campaign.    I don’t think it has worked out well for us.

    It’s not just money in politics that is the problem.  We’ve warped our institutions so they aren’t doing their jobs — especially the media.

    As voters we have also failed – even in big turn out years – a lot of people are not participating. There is very little done by anyone to actively engage people in the process in a non-presidential year. And even then it’s minor


  7. 1960, I sort of followed the happenings at the Olympics.  It was the lead up to the Liston fight that my more sportsminded friends and fellow athletes started do the Cassius Clay shuffle and shadow boxing around the fields and in the locker room.  My grandfather was a boxer for the Navy, and that brought a lot of television such as Friday Night at the Fights (brought to you by cigars) so I was very familiar with boxing including how to box.

    1965 and the Vietnam War was getting a lot of attention and so was Ali.  I remember one interview after he changed his name that went something like “why did you change your name?”, reporter(s).  He responded with several references to Mohamed and religion and included a statement, “Cassius Clay is a slave name . . .”  That was more important to me than his fight against being drafted.

    His confidence in himself was contagious.  Many student athletes worked harder at their game because of him.  The shame is the few blows to the head he did receive probably caused the Parkinson’s.

    RIP Ali

  8. wonkette’s postmortem:

    Awwwww, did the Republican nominee for president get a boo boo on his woo woo? As we all know by now, Hillary Clinton delivered a fantastic speech Thursday, ostensibly on “foreign policy,” but really she just used that as a springboard to call Donald Trump an unhinged, thin-skinned man-child who has no business having his baby hands anywhere near America’s nuclear codes. (It was really a great speech! Read more here!)


  9. I figured Liston would win. He had muscles on his muscles. Even his eyelids were mighty. I never saw a back like his, and probably never will. Ya, I figured Liston to win early. Silly me.

    Ali had speed I’d only seen in flyweights and featherweights. He also had the shoulders and back of a normal heavyweight boxer. I should have known.

  10. Ken Norton was just as beautiful as Ali. He was also fast, but still not as fast as Ali. Stronger than Ali.

  11. pogo, here’s your gal alexandra petri:
    Third Party Poopers
    Poor Bill Kristol is going from door to door announcing that he has all the supplies you might require to host a third party (balloons of a red so pure it has yet to be seen in the wild! a sad horn that goes “phooot” when you blow it! podiums! bunting! a Teddy Roosevelt bobblehead!) and he just needs a place to throw it! And a host. As someone who was never an asset on the volleyball team because it was my practice to shout “YOURS! YOU HAVE THE BALL! THAT’S DEFINITELY NOT MINE, BUT IT’S SOMEONE’S, PROBABLY!” whenever the ball came over the net, I sympathize.


  12. I don’t get boxing or any  other of the pugilistic sports but I thought Ali was great at giving the establishment a good solid punch

  13. XR

    That is why I like Knopfler’s Song for Sonny Liston so much and the intense lyrics.  Did he throw that fight?  Did it come down to a conflict between the Mafia and The Civil Rights activists of the time.  Did he actually commit suicide or was it murder.  Fascinating story and we will never know all the ins and outs.  Still remember the activism of the time and how abused Ali was by so called “patriots” of the time.

    This version is from the Real Live Road Running tour he did with Emmy Lou Harris which is one of my all time favorite albums for great music with wonderful story songs.


  14. Warren, in a blistering speech before Democratic leaders attending the state party convention in Lowell, called the billionaire businessman a “small, insecure moneygrubber who doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”

    She called on Democrats to fight back against the expected GOP presidential nominee and to remind themselves “what we get up for every day, what Democrats believe in all the way down to our toes.”

    The Massachusetts senator, who has publicly traded barbs with Trump in recent months, contended that in addition to being outrageous and offensive the businessman “lies so routinely and so ridiculously, it’s really hard to keep up.”

    “Every day there’s another story or incident that completely disqualifies him from being president,” she said.


    “He wants to be commander-in-chief, but he’s only qualified to be fraudster-in-chief.”

  15. devious Donald  only in it for the Benjamins and not Franklin

  16. In the 60’s I was watching the horse races at the Oregon State Fair.  I turned to my left and there was Sonny Liston standing next to me.  He wore a grey suit.  As time went by, people approached him for autographs or to shake his hand.  He was very quiet and nice with people.  To this day I am uncomfortable bothering public figures when they are on private time.

  17. Should HRC become president she will be the second president in a row to be held to an entirely different standard, for reasons having nothing to do with their politics or policies. Like Obama she will have to try twice as hard and be twice as good, only to receive half the credit she deserves. Her press coverage to date is already proving that.

  18. OD

    Being a California girl from another era there were hard and fast rules.  Celebrities on private time were to be ignored as with any stranger unless they spoke to you.  On public time (premiers, stage doors etc) were fair game to approach.  Even then, we usually left the autograph books to the “tourists” lol.


  19. Oregon Democrat – To this day I am uncomfortable bothering public figures when they are on private time

    Although my public experience was brief and local to Denver, it took me a long time to accept that no matter where I was someone would talk to me.  In line at Target, at a restaurant, walking down the street.  I was a very minor politician, but it gave me enough to feel deeply for those who are famous or infamous when they go in public.  If I am somewhere and spot someone who is known, I will not break through the bubble and say HI.  It could be no one sees them and any ripple in the bubble could cause a lot of people trying to then say “HI”.

  20. Cassius Clay was a great boxer; he just had a big mouth.

    Ali is about a year older that I am and I also was born in Louisville, KY and raised on the Indiana side of Louisville.  I remember everyone was cheering for Clay during the 1960 Summer Olympics and during the start of his professional boxing career.  We all cheered when he won the world heavyweight championship in the 1964 stunning upset of Sonny Liston.

    When Cassius Clay joined Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, a lot of enthusiasm for him eroded and he compounded it citing his religious beliefs as a conscientious objector to being drafted in 1967.  A boxer as a conscientious objector just does not fit.

    Elvis Presley was drafted in 1957 and served.  Granted there were no wars at that time.

  21. Pogo,

    In my post from yesterday, Politico states:

    “Counsel for Mr. Pagliano shall file a Memorandum of Law addressing the legal authority upon which Mr. Pagliano relies to assert his Fifth Amendment rights in this civil proceeding, including requisite details pertaining to the scope of Mr. Pagliano’s reported immunity agreement with the Government,” the judge wrote.

    Why does the Hillary Clinton’s IT chief person, during her time at the State Department, need a criminal immunity agreement from the DOJ?  Maybe the judge will make the filing public and the people will know something they don’t know now.

    Politico also states:

    A flurry of discussion over the details of the deal now seems imminent, along with implications that someone involved may have committed a crime, although no one has been charged.

    This has nothing to do with Yves Smith.

  22. Fried baloney.  Remove her name from her deeds and Hillary is a deeply flawed candidate that most would never support.  The same will go for her actions if she makes it to the OO.

    Obama was an empty suit of a candidate and a dud of a prez.

    Trying to push the blame for poor decisions (or outright ineptitude) onto some category into which they fit, it’s a Palinesque ploy to play victim.

  23. “I’m clearly not a 1%-er, but I know what Clinton will do.  I’m not afraid of a Trump presidency, either.”

    Wow, after reading the new you for months now, this just doesn’t shock me.. I hear this from Grace a tea party lifelong Republican lately after she swore she would never vote for Trump, ah but that was before her beloved Cruz dropped out.

    Own it, if you are supporting Trump now that Bernie is history say so.. I’m afraid of a Trump presidency so glad for you that you feel safe.. Being gay myself not sure my white privilege will do much with a racist bigoted crazy hater like Trump..


  24. Obama has been a great President and will be remembered as such in future decades.

  25. You can say what you will of Obama, and I have had my share of disagreements with him but he was never an empty suit! That moniker belongs to his predecessor, and Trump. Disagreements aside, he has been a damned steady hand at the tiller for seven plus years, especially during his second term. I for one am going to miss him, and believe that whomever is elected will have some very big shoes to fill. He played the hand he was dealt and did a pretty good job of it.

  26. Berniebot math problem.  If Sen Sanders left the party he only joined a year ago and took his delegates with him, Hillary Clinton would have enough delegates to be nominated by Tuesday.

    As of this weekend, she will have 2026 of the 4051 needed for majority with more to come next week and that is without the Supers.  So if the cranky old geezer wants to take a hike, let him.


  27. wow craig, interviewing ali is something indeed.  i guess i forgot how long he has suffered. he was great and remember very fondly the times spent with my dad watching him.

    really tickled that i’ll be spending such a historic day with renee and rick.  there will definitely be some glass smashing involved.  have smashed more than my fair share of plates in celebration- glasses are new- think we’ll take a tip from jewish weddings and wrap them.



  28. PiT, far be it from me to know why Pagliani would be offered immunity or need to plead the 5th.  I would ask why after 8 pugn congressional investigations into Hillary’s role in the raid on the Benghazi with no finiding of fault on her part it is still an issue.  Think the same thing could happen with her email server?  Ask asshole Trey Gowdy.  Immunity is offered to get relatively unfiltered information.  The 5th is plead by innocent folks to avoid having testimony in one forum being used in another.  And Yves is a rumor mongering sleeze who relies on suggestion and innuendo, at least in this case.

    BTW I’m watching Crossroads on MTVLive  – Cheap Trick and Jennifer Nettles. It is fucking magical.  Two remarkable voices that mesh like 2 voices rarely do.

  29. red- you are wrong. period.  his future will be a few lonely years in dc. mostly i scroll past you and your bs bs however you directed that at tony so bit tonight.  will be thinking of you on tues. 😉


  30. Bernie is not history.  He is the future.”


    I don’t know if Bernie is the future or not, I don’t do crystal balls. When the polls close in NJ on Tuesday night Hillary Clinton will not be the presumptive nominee of the party she will indeed be the nominee. The sooner Bernie and his supporters come to terms with that fact the more long lasting and brighter future they will have.

  31. Jace

    Lovely comment on President Obama and i couldn’t agree more.. I have been pleasantly surprised at how well Obama did in righting the ship after the disaster of GWB.. A steady leader that has accomplished good things especially given all the racist obstruction he has faced.. Big shoes to fill, you bet..

  32. Pre Virgin Islands, according to NBC, Hillary 75 percent, 6-1 Delegate Split! Hillary is 62 away from clinching nomination. She picked up more supers! Wow, getting close!

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