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June 04, 2016

Muhammad Ali's Philly connections

Late boxer had plenty of ties to the area

The late Muhammad Ali's presence was felt throughout the globe during his life, and his lasting legacy is being remembered since his death at the age of 74 on Friday.

His connections to Philadelphia, New Jersey and the surrounding area are many. Here are a few of the "The Greatest's" ties to the area:

Pennsylvania training grounds

About an hour and a half northwest of Philadelphia lies Deer Lake, a tiny borough in Schuylkill County where Ali trained during the 1970s. Ali had returned to the United States at the turn of the decade after a break from boxing, a hiatus caused by his heavyweight title being stripped because of his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. Because of his incredible popularity, Ali chose Deer Lake as the setting for his training camp at the suggestion of a Reading man who told him the small village could provide tranquility.

Philadelphia Daily News journalist Dick Jerardi penned a piece following Ali's death in which he remembered accompanying Ali to Deer Lake in 1974 as the boxer looked to regain his crown in a bout with George Foreman (Ali, of course, won). Jerardi wrote of the trip:

The Deer Lake visits linger still. I remember them as if they were yesterday, just as I remember the fight, the night justice was done and Ali was the champ again, forever young in my mind, the greatest of all time.

Jerardi's whole piece is worth a read, and you can view it here.

Philly lawyer restores childhood home

Ali grew up in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in western Louisville, Kentucky. This past year, Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto led the efforts to renovate the property.  Ali's brother, Rahman Ali, consulted on the reconstruction, which aimed to make the home look like it did when Muhammad Ali was a boy with big dreams in the ring.

"It's just like my boyhood," Rahman Ali told the Associated Press while admiring the restoration work. "The only things missing are Dad and Mom. Otherwise, it's perfect."

A neighbor to Cherry Hill

Real estate enthusiasts marveled at Ali's former 6,688-square-foot Cherry Hill home when it hit the market last year.

But Ali's legacy in the South Jersey town is bigger than any building. As the Cherry Hill Courier-Post notes, while the home has since been sold, many remember Ali's time staying at the house on Winding Drive for his neighborly ways. More from the Post:

Ali's Cherry Hill home wasn't fenced, so anyone could get a good look at the five-bedroom residence. And if you had the courage to knock on the front door, it wasn't uncommon for Ali to answer and willingly sign an autograph, pose for a picture and sometimes engage in conversation.

"The neighbors would tell me how gracious Ali was," said Micale, who bought the boxer's home in 1973 and still lives there.

"He was a very famous man, the world champion of boxing, and he would shake hands with everybody," said

Micale, the owner of several McDonald's restaurants. "He would befriend children. He would ride around on a bicycle and stop to talk to everybody."

You can read the full Post article here.

Photos: Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

Constitution Center honors Ali

The list of Philadelphia Liberty Medal winners includes former presidents, pioneering doctors and world-renowned artists. The honor, bestowed annually by the National Constitution Center to someone who “demonstrated leadership and vision in the pursuit of liberty of conscience or freedom from oppression, ignorance, or deprivation," went to Ali in 2012. Ali was chosen not only for his athletic feats, but also for his philanthropy, civil rights activism, Supreme Court victory and other accomplishments on his stacked resume.

Complicated relationship with Frazier

Ali's three famous bouts with Philadelphia's Joe Frazier — one win for Frazier, two for Ali — took place over the course of four years and were marked by a heated war of words. Not only was there serious cultural and political significance to their first match, known as "The Fight of the Century," but there was plenty of name-calling as well:

That clip is only a snippet of their bickering. Frazier once said he would have strangled Ali if they were twins in the womb, and Ali once berated him using racially-charged language.

Yet a mutual respect formed later in their lives. George Foreman said after Frazier's passing in 2011 that the two were like brothers. Per Deadspin:

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were like two brothers. One that Muhammad Ali always teased the other brother and the other brother is like ‘Oh you teased me again I'm gonna fight you.' These guys genuinely loved each other. They loved each other. I don't know what Muhammad Ali is going to do once he receives that news. He loved that man. Don't let anybody fool you. There was no hate there."

Ali said after Frazier's death that the "world has lost a great champion," and said after a statue of Frazier was unveiled in South Philly last year: "I am very happy to know that Joe is being honored and memorialized in the city he loved, something that is long overdue."