Listening to legends

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

I recently came across a special issue of Esquire Magazine featuring quotes from several iconic figures on the “Meaning of Life.” The cast of characters was impressive, broken down into seven categories – icons, characters, voices, comedians, titans, public servants and competitors.

I was particularly interested in what four sports legends had to say – icons Muhammad Ali and Pele and competitors John McEnroe and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They represented different sports – Ali for boxing, Pele for soccer, McEnroe for tennis and Abdul-Jabbar for basketball.

Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion who was named the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, died in 2016 at the age of 74. Before turning pro, he took the gold medal as a lightheavyweight at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Ali was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, and changed his name after converting to Islam in 1961. He was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war and refused a military draft, resulting in his arrest. At the peak of his boxing career, Ali was inactive for four years until the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971. Four years later, he fought Joe Frazier in the “Thrilla In Manila” that immortalized the Araneta Coliseum.

Afflicted by Parkinson’s disease, Ali never complained of his ailment. “God will not place a burden on a man’s shoulders knowing that he cannot carry it,” he said in Esquire. “Parkinson’s is my toughest fight. No, it doesn’t hurt. It’s hard to explain. I’m being tested to see if I’ll keep praying, to see if I’ll keep my faith. All great people are tested by God. We have one life. It soon will be past. What we do for God is all that will last. I just wish people would love everybody else the way that they love me. It would be a better world.”

Other Ali quotes: “The more we help others, the more we help ourselves.” “Brooding over blunders is the biggest blunder.” “Wisdom is knowing when you can’t be wise.” “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.”

Pele, 78, is considered the greatest soccer player ever with three World Cup titles.  In 1999, the IOC named Pele as the Athlete of the Century. He holds the Guinness World Record for scoring the most goals in history with 1,281 in 1,363 games. In Brazil league matches, Pele booted in 650 goals in 694 matches. He played his last international game in 1971 and after retiring, focused on humanitarian and environmental work.

Some Pele quotes: “With soccer, I traveled around the world. I was received in friendship and with affection all over. That is the best prize I ever won.” “My father said, Don’t think you’re a great player. You need to train hard. You need to be prepared. You need to respect your opponent. Only then will you be able to be a great player.” “Was there a moment that I knew I had gone beyond my father? I had the luck to be chosen to play on the Brazilian national team when I was 16 and when I was 17, I went to Sweden to play in the World Cup. We won and I was champion of the world. That never happened to my father.” “The most important moment in my sporting career came in Africa in 1967. My club Santos was doing a tour across many continents and we were invited to play in Nigeria. The club directors said, ‘How? Are you crazy? We can’t play there. There’s a civil war going on there.’ But the organizers said, ‘No, no, the people want to see Pele play. We are going to stop the war to see Pele play.’ So they stopped the war for 48 hours and they got to see Pele play.”

McEnroe, 59, won four US Open and three Wimbledon championships. Known for his temper tantrums on the court, he was a volatile player who was exciting and unpredictable. Some McEnroe quotes: “I like to play tennis now more than I did when I was the No. 1 player in the world. At that particular moment, in 1984, I felt like I had taken the game to another level. But there was an emptiness to it. Roger Federer is able to shrug off defeats a lot more easily than almost anyone else and I respect that. It’s amazing how much he actually loves the game.”

“It’s unhealthy to just focus on one thing. The repetition of it, the pressure, hurts you growing up. Look at Rafael Nadal. That guy’s definitely one of the top three, at worst top four, greatest players that ever lived. But he’ll talk at press conferences and it sounds like he never won anything.”

Abdul-Jabbar, 72, played 20 seasons in the NBA, claiming six titles, six MVP trophies and two Finals MVP honors. Pat Riley, Isiah Thomas and Julius Erving consider him to be the greatest basketball player ever. In college, Abdul-Jabbar – then Lew Alcindor – played on three NCAA champion teams at UCLA. In 2009, he was diagnosed to be suffering from a form of leukemia but is now in remission. In 2015, Abdul-Jabbar underwent a quadruple coronary bypass surgery.  A year later, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Today, he remains an outspoken activist.

Some Abdul-Jabbar quotes: “The back-to-the-basket moves, the graceful footwork in the paint – that’s part of the game that is fading. The three-point shot has taken over everybody’s mentality. Why settle for two points when you can have three?” “Bruce Lee said he was not concerned about someone who had practiced 10,000 kicks. He was more concerned about a person who had practiced one kick 10,000 times. I was that person. That’s why the hook was such a formidable weapon.” “I watched this thing showing Steph Curry doing his workout. He shot 100 three-pointers and he made 94 – including 77 in a row. I never heard of anything like that.” “When they banned the dunk in college, I felt like they were trying to inhibit my game but I realized almost immediately that all of the shots I could dunk I could just as easily lay off the glass – and it was still going to be two points. It was strange to think that an entire institution, the NCAA, was changing its rules just because of me. It gets to you because as an individual, you never expect you’ll be seen as that much of a threat.”



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