On Friday Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74.
Billy Graham is now 97 years old.
What connects these two opening sentences? For one thing, each man is probably the best known person of their respective faiths. Billy Graham has been the most famous Christian for all of my lifetime. Likewise Muhammad Ali has long been the most famous adherent of Islam.
But another connection exists. It is one that I was able to facilitate. Here’s my story.
In June of 2001 Billy Graham was in Louisville, Kentucky for a four days crusade. At the time I was a manager of a grand hotel in downtown Louisville. While Graham’s team stayed at another hotel, he stayed with us. I had the privilege of speaking with him a few times.
While Graham was our guest, Muhammad Ali and his wife checked in to the hotel. This was not an unusual appearance. Ali was from Louisville and visited regularly. Usually when he was in town, he stayed with us.
I greeted Ali upon his arrival. I remember that as the front desk clerk handed him his key, he looked at me and said, Mr. Gantz, I have never been checked in by three more beautiful women than these three. He was always gracious and kind to the staff.
That evening I spoke with Billy Graham’s right hand man. I told him that Ali was also in the hotel. I told him that if Graham wanted, I would try to arrange a meeting between the two men. A few minutes later he phoned me to see if I could make the arrangement.
I then asked Ali if he would be interested. He quickly indicated that he would.
A few hours later, I ushered the men into a quiet and secluded meeting room. They stayed in the room together for more than an hour.
I do not know what they discussed, but both men thanked me for making the meeting happen.
I wish that this story ended with Ali becoming of follower of Jesus Christ. Sadly I cannot write that. But on one day in Louisville, he did get to spend time with the most famous Christian evangelist.