When Worlds Mistakingly Collide

By Rhonda Harper, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: November 12, 2010

CALIFORNIA (BASN) — On Saturday, November 6th, 38-year-old pro surfer Kelly Slater earned his way into the history books. On this day, he became the greatest surfer that the surf world has ever known. Slater sealed the deal on his 10th championship title. However in a moment’s notice, his accomplishment was to be overshadowed by a questionable comment that will never to be forgotten. The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) interviewer — in almost an inaudible, shaky voice — made a comparison of Muhammad Ali’s career to Kelly’s 10th world title win. The question was asked and Slater either didn’t hear it or didn’t want to hear it, but it went by unanswered. Either way, it went live on the air live. But hold the presses!!! Similar comments have made their way around the net. Surfline, a wave forecasting website, also threw him in the ring with “The Greatest”. More blogs and keywords around the internet would land on several cities repeating the same comparison. They are all apparently well versed with the three-time heavyweight champion. However, the decision of who are the greatest sportsmen and/or athletes of all time depends on the people. The popularity outside of the surfing industry says it all.
There are many people outside of the surf industry who have no idea who Kelly Slater is. He has not been a staple in every community. The majority of the kids here in the U.S. have not been privy to his exposure or lack there of. The ASP, having knowledge that the two were compared on air must be banking on the mainstream media to use this comparison as well because there has been no retraction. Slater would be described as white hot — a buzz term used in marketing to describe the latest trend — and buzz sells a lot of t-shirts. It is common knowledge that the pro surf industry is controlled by major action sport companies from Australia. It is in their best interest to raise Slater above it all others. But it comes at the cost of Ali’s world-wide legacy. And really, what qualifies Slater to be compared to Ali, arguably the greatest athlete the sports world has ever known? The ASP has apparently made themselves judge and jury. We could now argue that it was the actually interviewer’s ignorance and not the responsibility of the ASP. But lets look at the history. We can agree that Slater is by far the best surfer the surf world has ever known. He’s just accomplished what no other surfer has been able to accomplish — win 10 world titles. Hands down he is an undisputed world surfing champion. He proved that in Puerto Rico. He has consistently proved it being still in the game at such a late age.
The Rip Curl Pro Search in Puerto Rico was undoubtedly an historic event in itself. It was the first time that the ASP’s World Championship Tour had come to the island. The people of the island showed love and support, and it was a great moment in time. It was also a time that the surfing world lost a great man — three-time world champion, Andy Irons. He became ill while in Puerto Rico, missed his heat and would eventually pass away en-route to his return home for further medical care. Irons was suffering from Dengue Fever and was well on his way to one of the most admirable comebacks in sports history. Island native Dylan Graves won a wildcard into the event and would eventually surf against Slater in a heat that drove the crowd into frenzy. Kelly himself stated that the crowd had even overwhelmed him with their support of Graves on the beach. Kelly was on fire in the final heat of the Search. His wave selection and rhythm were completely in tune with nature. He held off Bede Durbidge in a wave exchange that was electrifying. It was pure pro surfing at its finest as Slater sealed the deal by winning his 10th title win and the Rip Curl Pro — his 45th career win. Several cases can argue on why he should never be compared to Ali in the future. It is a win-win situation for everyone. The comparison cannot be viewed as simply black or white. You can excuse the play on words. But seriously, Slater and Ali can be compared as two athletes who reached historic heights in their separate careers. At his career peak, Ali would have run circles athletically around Slater. He was a sound muscular statue of strength. So we cannot begin to compare them by physical shape.
Ali’s self promoting and self-made marketing genius lead him to be the crown prince of the media. It was Ali who made Ali, not big surf companies spending millions on campaigns that never reached outside the surf industry and its fans. Even if you hated the brutality of the sport, you knew immediately who Ali was from five miles away and just by his voice alone. Simply put, Muhammad Ali has been a household name for decades. That can’t be denied, but very much verified. He was voted Athlete of the Century in 1999, an award Slater will never live to receive if he is ever to be awarded such a high honor. Ali also lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996. He didn’t get there just based on athletic ability, it has always been what Muhammad Ali stood for as a man that has defined him as the greatest athlete ever. Here is a brief list of his honors: – Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Century”* – BBC’s “Sports Personality of the Century”* – GQ magazine’s “Athlete of the Century”* – World Sports Award’s “World Sportsman of the Century”* With Ali, it was more than just his athletic ability. Ali stood for freedom. He stood for a cause. He stood for hope in a time where hope was scarce. Ali was what every American wished they had the nerve to be if not for the constraints of society in those violent times and even still today. He is champion in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. Ali is still making several appearances a year in the fight to cure the disease. He also helped in the passing of legislation for the financial, health and well being of boxers. This act also protects fighter from unscrupulous promoters. Ali stood for freedom of religion — a right laid out in the United States Constitution, a document the people of others countries are not quite aware of yet. When he changed his surname name to Cassius X, a Muslim name after converting to the Nation of Islam, he was making claim to the ownership of himself. He never yielded and sometimes destroyed his opponents for disrespecting it. He subsequently changed it by high declaration of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to Muhammad Ali. Slater got detained in Palestine in 2007 for pushing reporters taking photos of him and Israeli super model, Bar Rafaeli. It was only then that the mention of him being Syrian was even mentioned. His paparazzi moment was soon stymied by the media no backlash from the surf industry at all. However, Ali — who was well within his right to believe what he felt — was stripped of his license to fight. His passport was seized. He had money troubles. He was hated by every white person with angst against the civil rights movement. He was detained, booed, chastised and threatened. He lost his career, a career he built with his hands. Why? Because he didn’t complete the draft processing for the Vietnam War, that’s why. We all remember his famous quotes from the Vietnam Era: “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me Nigger.” “No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slave masters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end.” “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” Kelly left surfing briefly and resurfaced on the TV show “Baywatch” — as Jimmy Slade — a lifeguard. Oh and yes, he even dated Pamela Anderson.
In 1974, Ali proved once again — under the stadium lights in Kinshasa, Zaire, Africa — that he was the world champion. In defeating George Foreman — whom everyone had predicted to win — Ali once again showed the world that he was still number one. His humanitarian efforts are endless. Still to this day, Ali is the symbol of strength and pride. He works in soup kitchens and interacts with numerous children all over the world who know exactly who he is. He never once sheltered himself from the people, as he is so named, the people’s champ. Muhammad has been the recipient of countless awards. His list of recognitions includes: – United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998-2008, for his work with developing nations* – Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, the United States of America’s highest civil award* – Amnesty International’s Lifetime Achievement Award* – Germany’s 2005 Otto Hahn Peace Medal, for his involvement in the U.S. civil rights movement and the United Nations* – International Ambassador of Jubilee 2000, a global organization dedicated to relieving debt in developing nations* – State of Kentucky’s “Kentuckian of the Century”* – The Advertising Club of Louisville’s “Louisvillian of the Century”* Ali’s finished his career with a 56-5 record with 37 KO’s making his total career record much greater than Kelly Slater’s in comparison. Ali will always be “The Greatest of All-Time” because he earned it. Kelly Slater will be considered the greatest surfer of all time because he earned it. Let the playing field stay equal to achievement and not what sells a t-shirt. A message to the surf industry: When you get at least one African American on either tour getting full publicity then maybe blacks could compare Kelly to someone. Until then keep your references and comparisons within the sheltered confines that you have adopted to be the playing field for pro surfing. Michael Jordan may be a better person to gauge success, but then again why not just let Kelly be Kelly.