John Hoover

John E. Hoover: Bob Stoops recalls his close encounter with The Greatest himself, Muhammad Ali

John E. Hoover: Bob Stoops recalls his close encounter with The Greatest himself, Muhammad Ali
A photo from Bob Stoops' collection of Stoops with childhood pal and former lightweight boxing champ Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini.

A photo from Bob Stoops’ collection of Stoops with childhood pal and former lightweight boxing champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. Four years ago, Mancini got Stoops into Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday party, but Stoops didn’t get to meet Ali.

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.”

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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