Column #HR171 Muhammad Ali and Darts

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Column HR171
Muhammad Ali and Darts

Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote that in the spring “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” (To be clear, “Al Lord” was not a distant relation to darting great Mr. Stefan Lord who most recently penned, “Lunch?” as his contribution to the literary community.)

Tennyson revised for dart players?  “In spring a dart player’s fancy turn to what the opposite or same or declined to say sex has been thinking about all winter long.”

Every four years people’s thoughts turn to the Olympics. Hopes rise as national pride soars. While if you’re from a country that has hosted the Olympics there’s a special attachment most everyone has memories of the Olympics.

Mr. David Brook of Bun Kan, Thailand, remembers the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta Georgia…

“Along with millions around the world I sat watching the televised Opening Ceremony of the Games in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 19, 1996. And what a sensational and emotional Ceremony.  A truly dramatic Ceremony. Gladys Knight sang ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ Georgia’s official state song.”

The ODC had the same memories but would have sworn, “Dammit,” as did others did, that it was Ray Charles who sang at the Olympics.  The ODC was wrong again but with good company. “Georgia on My Mind” became the Georgia state song in 1979 when Ray Charles sang it before a joint session of Congress.

Mr. Brooks continued, “I was overwhelmed by the appearance of Muhammad Ali to light the Olympic cauldron for the Centennial Games, one of the most incredible images of the great man, who received the Olympic flame from swimmer Janet Evans and, whilst slowed by Parkinson’s and shaking, bent down to light a small rocket that eventually carried the flame to the cauldron. A most moving occasion that brought a lump to the throat… and a tear to the eye. I was no exception…”

There are many that have special memories of Muhammad Ali.

As strange as it may seem, Ali ran into some dart people along the way and they remember him with fondness. Even more strange is that the stories all start at the now long-gone North American Open Darts Tournament.

In 1975, the North American was just getting its sea legs. The ladies singles was won by a 17 year old out Dayton, Ohio, named Julie Nicoll, who beat Lois Miller in the finals and dart legend Helen Sheerbaum in Top 8. The ODC once played with Sheerbaum and even he couldn’t bring her down to his level. They went two rounds.

Julie’s late father,  the late Bill Nicoll, had a company called Eagle Darts which made darts equipment.  The ODC has the company’s first-dart cabinet.  In February of 1976, Julie was working her dad’s booth at the  National Sporting Goods Association in Chicago.

During a break she wandered by a booth selling protective gear for boxing where Muhammad Ali was signing autographs…

She cued up, got to the front of the line and placed a bank paper in front of Ali for him to sign. “He looked up, ” she relates, “and asked me why I was at the show. I explained that I was a throwing darts in my dad booth. He asked if I had a photo and a list of my accomplishments. I answered ‘Yes’ and went back to Dad’s booth for a picture. I laid the picture in front of Muhammad Ali. As I turned to leave he said, ‘Young lady…’ as two of his body guards turned me around.  Ali had my picture in his hand and asked, ‘Will you give me your autograph?’ I  was in shock.”

At the North America in 1996, were Brits John Lowe, Cliff Lazarenko and the aforementioned Mr. David Brook.  As was their want they spent some time in the USA in the days after the tournament ended.  Lowe had met the then Cassius Clay on the BBC when they both appeared on a London chat show. As part of the show they threw some darts. At the end of their USA tour they found themselves in Wasatch, Utah, hitting a little white ball around with pal “Las Vegas” Bob Murdock – an excellent way to kill time ’till the cocktail hour.

Their round of golf included a hotel employee named Val Montao.  Lowe remembers, “Playing partner, Val, hit a stray shot into a garden. He was going to leave his ball and play another.” Mr. Brook recalls, “We feared the worst… and felt a telling off and perhaps a damage repair bill. Instead we witnessed Val and a lady hugging and kissing like long lost friends… they were. They had been at school together and had not met for some 20 years.”

“Jean – that was her name –  informed us that she was the personal assistant to a celebrity staying at the hotel. The celebrity? None other than Muhammad Ali! But there was another shock to come as she uttered those immortal and never to be forgotten words…

“Would you like to meet him?”

The group was invited to a BBQ where Ali would present awards for the American Boys Club. Lowe muses, “Ali came out of the house and approached me, looking straight at me with those bright blue eyes. He pulled back his arm and went through the motion of throwing a dart. He remembered me from when we played darts on BBC!”Ali2

Mr. Brook remembers, “Unable to speak, Ali still had no trouble communicating. Most striking to me was the gleam he had in his eye. He clearly was aware of everything that was happening. He was determined to be a part of it. The time passed so quickly but as I stood to leave he shook my hand and we put our fists together… truly an experience I will never forget.”

“I have met some famous people in my time,” writes Lowe, “from Royalty to Prime Ministers, super sports stars to famous entertainers, but none come anywhere near to being in the presence of Cassius Muhammad Ali Clay.”

Mr. Brook ends with, “If you are a golfer, a slice is not necessarily a bad thing – I met Muhammad Ali because of one!”

If you’re a darts player and asked if darts is an Olympic sport you have to answer “No”  When the ODC represented Thailand to the World Dart Federation he asked numerous times, “What’s the status of darts becoming an Olympic sport?”   When there was an answer it was accompanied with the “Brook Trout Look.” Finally the powers that be got tired of the ODC asking questions so he was “voted off the island.”

If darts does become an Olympic sport it will be a result of the work of the PDC and Barry Hearn. The bastards that run the WDF and the ADO will have nothing to do with it. Not only do they not know “Sweet Fanny Adams” they don’t even know they’re irrelevant.

Clueless in darts.

Stay thirsty my friends.

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Howie Reed
The one and only Howie Reed (the Old Dart Coach) goes back decades with the legends of our sport - he knows where the skeletons are buried. Just ask any of the ADO and WDF old-timers! His widely popular column, Toeing the Oche, is a must-read.