Glenn Singleton is the Greatest.
That is, the greatest fan of the Greatest.
And much like Muhammad Ali, Singleton doesn’t mind letting you know it.
“I’m number one,” Singleton said.
And no, Singleton isn’t just some self-proclaimed die-hard fan.
Ali said it, too.
Singleton has the proof, framed on the wall of his home in the tiny town of Ama, Louisiana.
The words were written by Ali himself, back in 1989.
“To my best fan, Glenn Singleton.
From Muhammad Ali.
Serve God. He is the goal.”
It’s one of hundreds and hundreds of items among all the Ali memorabilia in the showroom Singleton built for his childhood hero.
“The champ recognized me as his best fan, so I said, ‘How can I show him that I am worthy of being his best fans?’ ” Singleton explains. “So I made this showroom and dedicated it to him. Everybody says they are his No. 1 fan, but I’m his best fan.”
Photos of Singleton and Ali, dating back almost 40 years, are included in the showroom. Two of the walls are filled with photos of Ali. Another wall is dedicated to Ali’s daughter Laila. There is an enclosed shelf, with books, boxing gloves and paintings.
But this place isn’t just an Ali shrine. It’s also a place of comfort, the room Singleton retreated to on the night of June 3 when he heard that Ali had died at the age of 74.
Singleton had received a call from Ali’s brother just a few hours earlier letting him know the champ wasn’t doing well.
“It was like someone stuck their hands in my stomach and ripped my intestines out,” Singleton recalled. “Like a punch in my stomach. I walked in this showroom and just sat in the chair weeping away.”
Ali had been Singleton’s hero since he was kid.
He still remembers the day.
He was 7 at the time, playing marbles that day before going into the house to get a drink of water.
Singleton’s father and brother were in the house watching boxing on television. It was the 1960 Olympics. A curious Singleton asked his dad about the guy they were watching.
“Boy, that’s Cassius Clay,” his dad responded.
“I became a fan that day,” Singelton recalled. “Most kids at that age had fictional heroes like Batman and Superman. Mine was Cassius Clay. I’m like a little kid when you talk about Ali.”
Fifty something years later and Singleton still is like a kid when discussing Ali. His eyes light up when talking about the first time he met the champ in person.
It was 1978, and Ali was in New Orleans to fight Leon Spinks. Singleton’s wife had an uncle who was a priest who had taught Ali’s wife Veronica. During the pre-fight news conference, Singleton got close enough to Ali’s wife to let her know about the connection. That got him up closer.
And it was close enough that when Ali and then-Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards strolled through, Ali spotted Singleton.He grabbed him and put him in a headlock and gave him playful taps on his head.
Singleton responded by giving Ali a giant hug and telling him how much he loved him.
Ali let him hang around for the fight.
Singleton’s most prized photograph is one from that 1978 fight at the Superdome, sitting beside Ali moments after he captured his third heavy weight title.
Their paths crossed again 11 years later in 1989.
This time, Ali was in town, at Dillards in New Orleans East, promoting a new cologne. Singleton bought the cologne, a requirement to meet Ali that day, and showed him the picture from 11 years before.
And that was the day Ali crowned Singleton his “best fan.”
The two stayed in touch ever since, as the numerous pictures in the showroom show.
There is the one of the two of them walking off a stage, shortly after demonstrating to a crowd how to do the Ali shuffle. And there’s another one of Singleton and Ali, sitting side-by-side in 2002 watching as Ali’s daughter Laila won her first boxing title. And there are others at Ali’s 70th birthday.
Singleton became like family and will be attending the family reunion in July.
His last time seeing Ali was last fall at an event honoring Ali.
A speech by Singleton was part of the presentation that evening.
Singleton, along with three of his children, made the 12-hour trip to Louisville, Kentucky, to attend Ali’s funeral. He compared the event, which included a majestic procession, to Mardi Gras.
“It was a celebration of someone who meant something to the world,” Singleton said. “I know he was happy, because he was all about love and peace. There were blacks and whites, everybody, there together. It might not ever happen again, but Muhammad Ali brought race relations together on Friday.”
The family allowed Singleton some one-on-one time with Ali’s body as it lay in rest.
“The rest of my life is promoting the love this man had for people,” Singleton said. “If I can pass the word down to people and what he meant about love, that’s what I’m going to do. This personal museum I have here at my house is for the young people.
“When they hear the name Muhammad Ali, they can come here and get a history lesson of a man who always stood up for the right thing.”
Singleton welcomes folks with open arms to see his memorabilia.
He doesn’t charge a dime, although he could.
“I’m not going to charge anybody to see what Muhammad Ali means,” Singleton said. “This ain’t about making money. This is about me sharing what Ali meant to the world.”
But it doesn’t stop with his showroom.
He’s also writing a book, entitled “My Hero, Muhammad Ali, Unforgettable Memories.”
The book was originally supposed to be a gift for Ali’s 75th birthday, which is in January.
He still plans to release it around that time.
He would have loved for his hero to get a chance to read it.
But he knows Ali is in better place.
“This great man who promoted peace can now rest in peace,” Singleton said. “If he looked down (Friday) and saw what he meant to so many people, believe me, my hero is resting in peace.”