Remembering Muhammad Ali’s time in Chicago

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By Sean Lewis,

In the shadow of a legend, boxing in Chicago still thrives.

Sam Colonna’s memories of “the greatest” go beyond the ring.

“He’s a legend in Chicago. He’s going to be missed,” Colonna said. “He brought boxing alive; not only was he a champion in the ring, he was a champion outside the ring. He stood up for what he believed and he fought for it.”

Muhammad Ali’s time in Chicago stretched from the ’60s into the ’70s. He visited the old Windy City Gym in Lawndale during his glory days. And while the site of original gym is now gone, the Kenwood mansion he bought, living near nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, still stands.

“His heart was so big, he made everyone feel good,” said Montell Griffin, a friend of Ali’s. Griffin, a former Olympic boxer, met Ali in the mid-70s for the first time.

“I walked in the door and he came and hugged me and gave me a kiss and I was, ‘Wow, this is the guy I saw on TV,’” recalled Griffin. His photos albums show his dad, Clarence, a trainer and friend of Ali. The heavyweight champ served as the younger Griffin’s mentor for years.

It was also in Chicago where Ali continued his outspoken persona, appearing on the “Phil Donahue Show,” taped at WGN, in the 1970s. Those who knew him best say he always wanted the best for the world — even as Parkinson’s began to take away his ability to communicate.

“I think his name will carry on,” Colonna said. “My grandkids, their grandkids, they’re still going to still talk about Muhammad Ali.”

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