San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer ended his news conference prior to Game 3 with a story about his once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the late Muhammad Ali more than 30 years ago in Hamilton.
SAN JOSE – An incredibly telling indication of the impact Muhammad Ali had on the sporting world and society came one day after the greatest fighter of all time died from a hockey arena in San Jose, of all places.
The speaker was San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. One thing you have to understand about hockey people is they usually don’t share much at the best of times. On the day of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, hours before the most crucial game in franchise history, it’s an unheard of occurrence.
But there was DeBoer, waxing poetic about his once-in-a-lifetime meeting with Ali in a Hamilton hotel the night of DeBoer’s high school prom. The fact that DeBoer offered the story without even a question being asked about it, tacking it on to the end of his daily news conference, is a testament to the effect the man and the meeting had on DeBoer.
DeBoer said the meeting occurred at the Royal Connaught Hotel in Hamilton. Clad in his tuxedo for the prom, DeBoer saw Ali, who was in town for a speaking engagement that night, enter the hotel with his entourage. Perhaps emboldened by the naivety and ignorance of his youth, DeBoer went to one of Ali’s handlers and asked if he and his friends could meet the legend. To his surprise, he was told to go up to Ali’s room five minutes later.
“Me and three or four of my buddies went up to the room,” DeBoer recalled. “He got out a Koran for each of us. He wasn’t preaching or trying to convert us, he just personalized each one for us, asked us some questions about what we were doing.”
DeBoer said he doesn’t collect sports memorabilia per se, but said he does have a couple of items on display in his basement. He has a Bobby Orr print, a Wayne Gretzky stick, a photo of Mike Weir from his victory in the Masters in 2003 and the Koran signed by Ali.
“It was an unbelievable life experience for me,” DeBoer said. “I think, considering the circumstances, how this guy transcended not just boxing and sport, but how many people he’s touched, it’s an appropriate story to tell.”
DeBoer wasn’t the only hockey person paying tribute to Ali. Others took to social media to express their condolences:
The greatest will be missed #MuhammedAli
— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) June 4, 2016
Sad day. This man was iconic changed so many people’s lives @MuhammadAli. The legacy will never die. Rest in peace champ
— Nazem Kadri (@43_Kadri) June 4, 2016
Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. RIP @MuhammadAli.
— Claude Giroux (@28CGiroux) June 4, 2016
— Brendan Gallagher (@BGALLY17) June 4, 2016
— Kris Russell (@Russell_Kris4) June 4, 2016
— Max Domi (@max_domi) June 4, 2016