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In Muhammad Ali's Orbit
A Letter to the Editor, Globe and Mail, June 8, 2016
I grew up in awe of Muhammad Ali as a fighter and quipster, but the memory I will cherish the most is when Ali arrived in Baghdad 26 years ago to negotiate with Saddam Hussein for the release of a group of American hostages.
I was a CBC reporter staying at the Al Rasheed hotel when Ali’s convoy arrived on a blistering hot November day. The hotel staff – bellboys, waiters, front-desk staff – swarmed him from the moment he stepped into the lobby. In the hotel restaurant, they lined up for autographs and photos, and Ali, exhausted and already visibly stricken by Parkinson’s, obliged them all.
His staff tried to get him to his room for a rest, but he refused to leave until every Iraqi staffer had his moment in Ali’s orbit.
Ali had to wait in Baghdad for a week, but his “rope-a-dope” statesmanship worked. He finally got his meeting with Saddam, and came home with 15 hostages.