60th Anniversary: Muhammad Ali's Greatest Moments - caught by WHAS11


by Gary Roedemeier


Posted on March 18, 2010 at 5:59 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 3:41 AM

Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - All month long WHAS11 is celebrating the station's 60th birthday!
As part of our 60th anniversary special, WHAS11's Gary Roedemeier took a look back at one man who has played a big role in our history and the city's.
He's simply known as 'The Greatest.'
Just a few days after his 68th birthday, Muhammad Ali appeared at Freedom Hall and the chant was unmistakable.
It was a moment to soak in the affection from a community that has followed his exploits for 60 years. 
Former WHAS11 Sports Director Dave Conrad was here to report on "The Greatest."  
"He had the gift, the absolute knack of making people feel so comfortable in his presence," he said. "I think that's one of the reasons that endeared so many people."
He burst on the scene as an Olympic champion in 1960 when TV was creating mega-stars.
His family was waiting at Standiford Field when Cassius Clay returned from Rome, and so was WHAS11 Sports Director, Cawood Ledford.
His days as an amateur were over, and soon Cawood and WHAS followed Clay to Miami for the fight with Sonny Liston. Liston was the dour destroyer, who Clay baited in a press conference.
Clay said, "If Sonny Liston whips me, I'll kiss his feet in the ring."
In a stunning upset, Cassius Clay would back up the tough talk, saying, "I shook up the world. I shook up the world, I want the world to know, I am so great that Sonny Liston wasn't even a match."
And the next day, WHAS-TV was there, and Clay had a new title: The Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Clay would tell Cawood Ledford about plans to quickly visit his hometown.
And the man who followed Cawood as Sports Director said that's the way the champ was about Louisville.
"He always proudly proclaimed the fact that he's from Louisville, Kentucky," said Dave Conrad. "He was 22 when he won the championship. And the saga of his life, the battle over the draft, and two more championships are enshrined at the Ali Center in downtown Louisville."
And while he was the Greatest, WHAS11 followed Ali when he wasn't champ.
In Deer Park, Pennsylvania, Ali sat with his trainer, Angelo Dundee, and Conrad watching a fight he had lost to Leon Spinks in 1978. Ali was visualizing his next fight.
Conrad had never been to a training camp until doing the story for "Louisville Tonight."
"What impressed me most was the dedication that he had," he said. "You're talking about 4 o'clock in the morning, up and at 'em, hitting the roads in that area.”
Ali would win the re-match, but the years of boxing began to take its toll.
In 1994, WHAS11 honored Ali on the 30th anniversary of his first championship, but the champ was showing the first symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
"We've had the Rembrandts, the Van Goghs," said Conrad. "They worked on a canvas. There was no better artist on canvas than Muhammad Ali."
And for 50 years, WHAS11 was the canvas for a man from Louisville, who shocked the world.