DETROIT (AP) — Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward was celebrated by boxing royalty and the Queen of Soul at a star-studded memorial service Tuesday in the Motor City.
Steward, the man who made the Kronk Gym famous, died of colon cancer last month at the age of 68.
His family took its time to plan a memorial befitting a beloved public figure — and it was a hit.
Champions he trained — including Thomas Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Evander Holyfield — one he worked out only briefly — Sugar Ray Leonard — and another he didn't train at all — Roy Jones Jr. — all paid their respects.
"What a spectacular turnout of support," HBO Sports commentator Jim Lampley said. "Over here, you have a section that I would call the Hall of Fame section. You would have to go to Canastota (N.Y.) in midsummer to the Hall of Fame to see anything even remotely approaching this group.
"There are five legitimate heavyweight champions sitting in the first two rows and the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world."
And if that wasn't impressive enough, Aretha Franklin sang a stirring rendition of "I'll Fly Away" in front of a few thousand witnesses at Greater Grace Temple. Franklin, a friend of Steward's in Detroit for decades, said she wouldn't have missed the memorial for anything.
"He had a million-dollar smile you couldn't deny," Franklin told The Associated Press from her front-row seat. "I'm so glad he made the Kronk Gym what it was, helping countless young boys become men and many amateurs become champions."
The city closed the original Kronk Recreation Center — a hot, sweaty basement gym — after vandals stole its copper piping in 2006. It was allowed to remain open, but it put Steward in a difficult financial situation and he later rented space at a gym in Dearborn so his young fighters could train.
Now, there isn't a Kronk Gym anywhere — and his family is hoping to change that.
"We close it after he passed, but we're going to restructure it and we want it done correctly," Sylvia Steward-Williams told The AP, sitting in her father's second-floor office at his brick home on Detroit's west side. "We want to get a good foundation, like it was in the beginning, and build it back up."
Steward, who was born in West Virginia in 1944 and moved 11 years later to the Motor City, trained boxers born and raised in Detroit such as Hearns. He was hired by boxers from all over the globe.
Lewis was trained by Steward from 1994 to 2004, a period that included victories over Holyfield and Mike Tyson.
"I've been interviewed by a lot of TV stations around the world, they have put Emanuel Steward a league of great trainers," Lewis said. "And I say, he is the greatest trainer that ever lived."