As word spread of Muhammad Ali’s death Friday night, young patrons struggled to remember him while those over 40 hailed him as one of a kind.

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Now it’s time for you people of a certain age to remind those who weren’t born when Muhammad Ali was young and vibrant just why he matters.

No YouTube video can replace having been at home with family and friends, or in a pay-per-view theater, to watch the historic fights as they took place.

But for a sizeable portion of the country that’s not how he is remembered.

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Got a favorite story about Muhammad Ali? Email Erik Lacitis at elacitis@seattletimes.com. He’s working on a follow-up story about the boxer’s death. Please include your phone number in the email, which won’t be published.

By 1986, and for a decade on, Ali largely disappeared from public view. By then the signs of Parkinson’s disease were all too obvious – tremors, slurred speech, a slow, deliberate walk.


Muhammad Ali

Ali interview - 1963

Ali Knockouts

By then, around 40 percent of today’s U. S. population wasn’t even born or was no more than 5 or 6 years old.

“The Thrilla in Manila,” the historic third boxing match between Ali and Joe Frazier, took place in 1975.

Now we’re up to around 60 percent of the country not having been born or too young to remember.

Ali would return to public appearances in 1996, when he dramatically lit the flame during the Opening Ceremonies for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, one story describing “his left arm performing an involuntary dance while his right arm held the torch aloft.”

You’d expect Ali’s legacy to be better remembered at a place like the legendary Bumblebee Boxing Club at the back of the Union Gospel Center in Seattle’s Rainier Valley.

It is not a fancy place. Punching bags, a small ring, in the hallway a lineup of plastic 5-gallon water jugs through which you jump over. No expensive digital exercise equipment here.

This Friday night, they are asked about Ali.

“No, I don’t know much about him,” says Kenny Woo, 30, in mobile-phone sales. He’s brought his sons, ages 7 and 9, to the gym, just like he used to come here when a kid.

Another young boxer is asked the same question, and it’s pretty much the same answer, though maybe something along the lines of, “He was the greatest boxer.”

Willie Briscoray, known as Coach Bumblebee after his fighting nickname, runs the gym.

Now 77, he was a world-ranked featherweight contender in the 1960s. Posters of Ali and other boxers line the wall of the gym.

He says about who would have truly felt Ali’s greatness, “You’d have to be at least 40.”

You’d have to have been a kid — no matter what race, what religion — listening to the radio as the round-by-round summaries were broadcast in 1964 of that first fight against Sonny Liston.

It had nothing to do with any interest in boxing by kids. It had everything to do with Ali representing that mixture of rebellion and hope that kids seek.

So it is time for you who were around back then to remind the other 60 percent about Ali.

In writing this story, I did talk to a few 20-somethings like Zachary Stocks, 26, visitor-services manager at the Northwest African American Museum. He has done enough research.

Stocks has a master’s degree in museology and a bachelor’s in anthropology and history. He’s also a boxing fan.

He knows about Ali getting a five-year prison sentence, later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, for refusing induction into the Army to fight in the Vietnam War.

“He was willing to sacrifice his own title,” says Stocks on Friday. “I’d have liked to hear his thoughts on the current presidential election.”

Time to tell your stories, like Michael Solomon, 54, a mail carrier who lives in SeaTac has done:

“As a black kid growing up in Seattle in the ’60s and ’70s, boxing was huge …

“I remember sitting at the kitchen table of our house … my ear close to the small radio. Ali was fighting Oscar Bonavena.

“I remember holding my breath every time Ali got hit. Listening to the round-by-round announcer I was on the edge of my seat.

“My dad had went to watch the fight on closed circuit. Ali knocked Bonavena down three times to win the fight in the 15th round. I couldn’t wait for my pops to get back home so I could ask him about the fight.

“What did Ali look like? What color trunks did he wear? Was he on his toes? Did he sting him? Was he fast? Ali was the greatest.

“I would watch and listen to him and think he’s not scared to say anything. He said whatever he wanted to when he wanted to say it. To me that was POWERFUL. He stood up for what he believed in. And did it all looking sharp and clean.

“There will never be another like him. The Greatest.

“Champ, I miss you already.”