To say San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer has a lot on his plate right now would feel like an understatement, but in light of the passing of Muhammad Ali there was another thing on his mind. After answering the presses questions on Saturday, he offered, without prompting, a story from his youth.
“I know that’s the last question, but I just want to end with a quick thing on Muhammad Ali,” DeBoer said. “Lost a great person. The reason I want to speak about him, I’m not a collector of sports memorabilia, but I have three things in my basement. I have a Wayne Gretzky stick, a Bobby Orr print, a Mike Weir Masters print, and I have a Koran signed by Muhammad Ali.
“I wouldn’t normally share this with you, but I think considering the circumstances today. I got it 30 years ago. I was at my prom at the Royal Connaught Hotel in Hamilton. I was a 17-year-old kid. Had my tux on. I was in the lobby. Muhammad Ali walked in with his entourage. He was there for some type of appearance.
“I asked one of the entourage if I could meet him with my friends. He said to give him a minute. He came back to me and he said, Muhammad Ali is up in this room. Meet him up in his room in five minutes.
“Me and three or four of my buddies went up to the room. 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.
“It was an unbelievable life experience for me. 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. I know you guys have the time, too, to listen (laughter).”
The mourning of Muhammad Ali extends far beyond the boxing world and DeBoer isn’t the only member of the NHL community paying tribute to him. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Ali “might be one of the most impactful athletes in this past century” and forward Bryan Rust noted “seeing the legacy that he built for himself” is “one of those things you can learn from.” You can read more of the praise he’s received from teams and players here.