Two former Knicks stars currently on the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith and Channing Frye, spoke on Saturday about the passing of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.
Smith said of how Ali affected him, “He affected myself and my peers tremendously. He created so many paths for us to come out here and be what we are and do what we can today. It’s a terrible loss. One of our unicorns is gone forever. I just appreciate everything he’s done for myself and everybody else.”
On if he ever had a chance to meet him, Smith said, “No, I wish.”
Smith said of his first memory of Muhammad Ali and what will stick with him, “My first memory of him is how he beat people with his mind before he stepped into the ring. He played so many mental games with his opponents. That alone made him one of the greatest ever, but also one of the toughest competitors to beat.”
Ali was known for taking stands on issues like the Vietman War. This is in stark contrast to the environment today, with athletes fearful of voicing political views for fear it will cost endorsements and stuff.
Smith said of if he admires the way Ali sort of told it like it was, “Yeah, absolutely. Anything that was on his mind, he said it, no matter what the consequences were. Sometimes it was a smart decision, sometimes it was a great decision. He pioneered that. He allowed people, especially us professional athletes, to have our own mindset and cherish what we do.
“It’s extremely tough to go out there and speak against certain things nowadays, so for him to be able to do that 50 years ago is incredible.”
Frye said of his thoughts on Ali’s passing, “It’s just a sad day. My dad used to tell me stories about being able to watch the fights and what he did for the African-American community, what he did for just transcending sports.
“I got to meet him twice just in passing. Just the aura around him, what he did for an arena. We were playing in the playoffs against the Lakers, and he came to a game. In the middle of the game, the whole place gives a standing ovation. We thought we did something, but it was just Muhammad Ali going to sit down.
“You have to think about kids who have never seen him or never seen any of his fights, but the impact that he still has is going to be missed. I think it affects all of us, no matter what sport you play. It’s a pretty sad day.”