Go back to 2003 in Paris. Greene sat at a press conference table before roughly a hundred reporters, including one woman with a hat the size of
"Tell me about your dog," the woman asked Greene. "Do you feel it is OK to eat breakfast for dinner?" "Would you ever race in my slippers?" Greene tried to keep a straight face and never complained about the inane line of requests. Since it was a pre-meet morning conference and nobody was on deadline, our group didn't stop her either. We did manage to get in a few track questions before the moderator cut in to ask: "Any more questions?" Greene spoke up. "Yeah, I have one," he said, staring at the lady in the front row: "Does that ever make your head fall off?"
That was Mo. So was this: When a man at the same press conference pointed out that there was a famous 17th century composer named Maurice Greene, the 20th-century sprinter told him to speak to the other athletes at the table while he composed a song. So it was rap song. At least Greene made a few phantom strums of the viola while reciting hip-hop.
His résumé is loaded with achievements. He won golds in the 100 meters and 4x100-meter relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and bronze and silver in those events four years later in Athens. He won the hundred at three consecutive world championships (1997, 1999, 2001) and doubled in 1999, by winning the 200. In 1999, he broke the world record in the hundred, blitzing the tape in 9.79 seconds.
Even as end-zone celebrations are becoming showier, answers from athletes and coaches are now ever more rehearsed, managed, predictable and almost interchangeable. Take the head off one grumpy jock, place it on another and you either have a second
Granted, his playfulness got him into hot water at the 2000 Sydney Olympics when he and his relay teammates celebrated too much after winning the 4x100-meter relay. The celebrating was especially overdone when the runners were on the victory stand receiving medals from
Greene also never hid his bravado. He would swing his shoulders on his walks to start lines in the most exaggerated strut imaginable and he had a tattoo placed on his shoulder that read: GOAT, as in "Greatest Of All Time." Greene was speaking at a meet in New York after a 100-meter race against a field that included
Out of nowhere, Greene would sneak up on people to talk football, never missing an opportunity to tease his coach,
"Yo, still picking St. Louis?" he said.
"Mo, you're not even competing here," I told him.
"Ha, and I still got you."
Before athletes started showing up on
Greene always seemed intent on appreciating life, ever since bursting onto the sprint scene in the mid-90s. After flunking his SATs, he drove with his father,