Ali unable to attend Ripken Foundation event as he recovers from surgery

Under Armour founder Kevin Plank tried to think of his perfect dinner party. There'd have to be a Beatle, he said, along with Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth and Mother Teresa.

But the No. 1 guest, he said, would be Muhammad Ali.

Plank and Ali were among those honored by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation at a downtown gala and fundraiser at the Waterfront Marriott on Friday evening. But Plank was not able to have his dinner with "The Greatest." Ali was unable to travel from his home in Arizona because he is recovering from a recent surgery.

Ali's wife, Lonnie, accepted the honor in his place.

"Sharing a stage with Muhammad Ali is probably about as high as an honor gets," Plank said.

"We'd much rather have him here," said Cal Ripken, who met Ali when the great boxer visited one of the fields the foundation built on the former grounds of Memorial Stadium. "It's not going to dampen the night, because still, his legacy, his legend, his aura will be with us."

Asked if Ali would have made a perfect Under Armour endorser, Plank said: "Oh man are you kidding? … No one wore boxing shoes the way he did."

The annual Aspire gala is the Ripken Foundation's signature fundraising event. "It's our celebration," Ripken said. "It's a moment for us to stop and reflect on everything we've been able to accomplish."

Last year's gala attracted 900 guests and raised $2.3 million. Ripken said funds support the building of ballfields in underserved communities and a program that teaches police officers to use baseball instruction as a means of forging ties to neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, Ali's brother, Rahman, gave interviews to several British tabloids saying that the great boxer, who turned 71 last month, was near death.

Ali's wife and daughter quickly refuted those reports, posting a picture on Twitter of him enjoying the Super Bowl in a "Team of Destiny" Ravens shirt. He has shared a bond with Baltimore's football team since he made a surprise visit to practice in September, posing for pictures with coach John Harbaugh and allowing Harbaugh to trace his famous hand on a notepad.

The visit inspired awe from players who are used to being the most famous people in most rooms they enter.

In 2008, the Ravens adopted their "What's Our Name?" slogan from one of Ali's rhetorical flourishes, used by John Harbaugh's father, Jack, during a motivational speech to the team.

Ali never fought in Baltimore.

He and his wife received the award for his work with soup kitchens, hospitals and Special Olympics along with his efforts to fight Parkinson's disease, from which he has long suffered.

Under Armour was honored for its efforts to battle breast cancer, empower veterans and promote environmentally friendly business.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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