Muhammad Ali's Son Asaad Makes Impact as Different Louisville Slugger
Well, it wasn't exactly his father. But a picture of his dad plastered on a T-shirt. The T-shirt was worn by a coach trying to recruit Asaad to play baseball at his college.
"The coach [who Asaad wouldn't name] is a really good guy, but he was telling me I've already got a spot on his team and he hadn't even seen me play yet," said Asaad, then a high school senior. "I really didn't want that."
Unless you're a fan of the University of Louisville, where Asaad is a freshman catcher, or Niles, Mich., where he went to high school, you've probably never heard of Asaad Ali.
You are, however, very familiar with his father – boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Last week, Muhammad Ali and his wife Lonnie were in Clearwater, Fla., to watch Louisville play in the Big East baseball tournament. While the Cardinals and St. John's were locked in a tight battle on May 27 at Bright House Field, a number of fans instead preferred to twist their heads around for a peek up to the second-level suite where Ali sat, wearing sun glasses. Some fans just glanced and whispered "there he is." Others stared and took cell phone pictures as Ali and Lonnie waved back.
"I'm used to the reaction," Lonnie told FanHouse in an exclusive interview inside the private suite. "People love him and that's real important. He loves it and I love it. I'm just glad people feel that way about him.
"It could be something totally different, when people want to be warm and congratulate him on his career and say kind words to him. Hug him and kiss him, that's all good for him."
Once known as a master communicator, a poet, a verbal sparring partner with Howard Cosell and a virtual quote machine, the 68-year old Ali's verbal communication skills have been diminished through the years by Parkinson's disease. However, Lonnie, who lives with Ali in Paradise Valley, Ariz., said her husband is doing fine.
"He's doing pretty good," Lonnie said as her husband watched the baseball game.
"I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world," Ali once said according to ali.com, the official website of Muhammad Ali.
In November, Lonnie and Muhammad Ali will celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary. During that entire time, Ali has been battling Parkinson's disease.
Last April, Lonnie was among 10 individuals named by President Barack Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. A White House release said the commission will advise the president on bioethical issues that might emerge from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology.
"It was a big honor," Lonnie said. "I was totally caught off guard when they called. There's a lot of important work for us to do. I'm proud to be a part of it and hopefully I can contribute something meaningful."
The White House credited Lonnie as being "an outspoken advocate working to raise awareness of Parkinson's disease." Last December in Phoenix, the Alis opened the Lonnie and Muhammad Ali Pavilion, which houses the Muhammad Ali Parkinson's Center on the Barrow Neurological Institute campus.
Lonnie also helped found the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville in 2005. The Ali Center is a cultural attraction, museum and international education center.
"It's for everybody," Lonnie said of the 2½-level building located in downtown Louisville. "The center is a backdrop, taking from Muhammad's life values and life lessons that he's learned that we felt were too important not to pass on to future generations. That's what inspired the center. It's to inspire people to be as great as they can be."
"I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest."
On April 1, The Greatest and The Greatest's wife are at Louisville's Jim Patterson Stadium watching the Cardinals play Villanova.
Word quickly spreads through the crowd that this is not an April Fool's Day joke, but that Ali is at the game. For the rest of the evening a constant stream of fans snake past Ali like a parade procession. Each and every person receives an autograph
There were 2,078 in attendance that night and "about 2,000" got autographs, Louisville play-by-play announcer Sean Moth said.
"He's big on signing autographs," Asaad said. "He loves that stuff. He feeds off that. That's what keeps him going."
Asaad, who is sitting out and not playing this season as a redshirt, is reduced to just watching the Cardinals. Asaad (right) said it's been an adjustment not being able to play this season.
"I've started every year of my life, but I'm getting more understanding of the game and more educated with the game," Asaad said. "You always want to be out there playing. You know your role and know what you have to do. I understand that now. It's not too bad for me at all."
Ironically, part of the reason Asaad is playing baseball in college is fairly simple. The wife of the greatest fighter of all time didn't want their adopted son to play football because it was, you guessed it, too violent.
Asaad wasn't allowed to start playing football until his freshman year in high school. He played fullback and defensive end at Niles (Mich.) High School, but opted to play baseball in college. He was a 40th-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels in last year's MLB draft, but decided to play in college instead of signing a professional contract.
"A lot of coaches at other schools, they were more about my dad," Asaad said. "Coach Mac [Louisville coach Dan McDonnell] was more about me. He told me, If you're good enough you'll play, if not you have to get your skills up.' He was worried about me, the player. That was awesome. I love that. He never bothers me about my dad. He treats me like a regular player.
"Coach Mac was the most up front and real with me about everything. I just liked his style of coaching. He does more than coaching. He gives life lessons."
"It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe."
Once again, "the dad" questions were coming fast and furious.
"How's your dad? What's he like at home? Is he any different?"
It was nearly 10 years ago while Asaad was on the set during the filming of the movie "Ali" when the barrage of questions began.
Only this time, Asaad was the one doing the asking. Asaad, then 10, was grilling Trey Smith, then 9, about his father: movie star Will Smith.
"I was asking him questions like people always ask me about my dad," Asaad said.
The question Asaad gets peppered with the most, of course, is what is it like being Muhammad Ali's son?
"A lot of people ask me that question," Asaad said. "I don't look at it like that [being a son of a famous father], I just say, 'How does it feel living with your dad?' It's the same for me. That's my main answer to that question."
Lacey Jurich also is a freshman at Louisville. She plays on the Cardinals' field hockey team and also is in somewhat of a similar situation to Asaad, at least in Louisville and on a much smaller scale. Lacey is the daughter of UL athletic director Tom Jurich.
"I can't imagine [what it's like for Asaad]," Lacey said. "For me, there are always eyes watching [because of whom her father is]. But for him, it's a different level. People watch you. There's a lot of good, but a lot of negative if you don't respect your name."
Lacey and Asaad are pretty good friends now. But she remembers when she initially met him a few years ago. "It was intimidating at first," she said.
It didn't take long to discoverer Asaad was just a regular guy. A regular guy, that is, who happens to be the son of the most famous athlete (person?) in the world.
"He is just a loving and welcoming guy," Lacey said. "I never have a dull moment with him. He's really, really caring. He always makes jokes. He's an easy guy to be around."
A number of Louisville's student-athletes live in the same UL dorm – Bettie Johnson Hall – and hang out together. Asaad is your typical college freshman.
"He's not cocky at all," Lacey said. "I've been around him a lot and never heard him say that [Ali is his dad]. All the athletes are pretty close and everyone just respects him and no one would make him feel uncomfortable."
Lacey said Asaad's mom is like any other mom. "She's super nice," Lacey said. "It's really funny, his mom will come to the dorm and clean up his room. She's just a regular, loving mom."
If Louisville advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., Muhammad and Lonnie Ali will go, too.
"You better believe it," Lonnie said. "If they go, we will be there. We will follow them wherever they go. We're really proud of the guys and coaches. They're all a class act. We're really happy our son decided to go to Louisville."
Asaad is confident the seventh-seeded Cardinals (48-12) will make the College World Series. "Everyone understands our concept and what we need to accomplish right now," Asaad said. "Everything seems to be going our way right now."
And if Louisville does make it, remember these famous words from Asaad's father:
"It's not bragging if you can back it up!"
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at email@example.com or on Twitter @BrettmcmurphY