TULSA — Bob Stoops’ best friend growing up was former lightweight boxing champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
That got Stoops in the door for Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday bash. But even having his own champ for a best bud didn’t get Stoops an audience with The Greatest.
On Tuesday during the Sooner Caravan stop at the Schusterman Center, Stoops regaled the time he almost — so close! — met Ali.
“I was with ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini, sat at a table with he and his current wife now, Tina, and my wife at Muhammad’s 70th birthday party at the MGM (in Las Vegas),” Stoops said.
“But I didn’t meet him. The only guy — athlete — I’d ever want to meet, that I would truly … but I wasn’t going to be that guy, that night. Way too many important people there, and he was awfully busy. Again, I wasn’t going there.
“Felt honored to be in the room with him.”
Stoops’ nature is to be guarded about much of his personal life, but he wasn’t bashful about his admiration for Ali, who died last Friday at age 74.
“I’m a major fan of everything that he’s done,” Stoops said. “Athletically, that goes without saying. But what he stood for is just incredible — at such a difficult time. That’s what can’t be understated, is what a hard time (it was in America in the 1960s), and then for him to stand for what he did and then people finally realize he was correct in what he was thinking and the way he presented all of it. So, rest in peace.”
Stoops offered up one more tidbit on Ali.
“That’s the only athlete,” he said, “that hangs in my home — and has for a long time.
“The iconic (photograph), standing over (Sonny) Liston. It’s signed. I don’t know if it’s (signed by) him or not, but my wife was good enough to get it for me a long time ago. I’ve always been a major fan.”