Denzel Washington, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron honored at Pump Foundation gala
"I love actors," honoree Denzel Washington told the crowd at the 10th annual Harold Pump Foundation Gala on Thursday, "but athletes, I just get stupid."
Earlier in the evening, Washington's eyes widened when a framed collection of autographs by 19 superfamous boxers went on the block during the live auction. "Oh, boy," he said. Then he raised his hand. $20,000 going once, going twice, sold to Denzel.
"I got a copy of the [Muhammad] Ali one already," he told the people at his table. "But that has Joe Louis' autograph, and he ain't signing no more."
If he'd wanted to, Washington could have snagged a fresh one from the three-time world heavyweight champ himself anyway. Because the evening's other honorees included two of the greatest athletes of all time – Ali and Hank Aaron, a 24-time Major League Baseball all-star. And the presenters – who included sports stars such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar de la Hoya, Julius "Dr. J." Erving, Mark Spitz, Dave Winfield, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson and Rayford Johnson -- weren't so shabby themselves.
Indeed, the dinner could have been dubbed Denzel Washington Heaven. The actor and his wife, Pauletta, stuck around to greet well-wishers in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza's ballroom even as it was emptying out.
Jamie Foxx, Cedric the Entertainer, Snoop Dogg and Morgan Freeman -- who got a standing ovation himself -- turned out in force to present Denzel with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Freeman briefly traced Washington's life story from his childhood in Mount Vernon, N.Y., to his schooling at Fordham University, where the young sports fan spent just one year on the basketball team.
"That could have been for his newly discovered passion for acting," Freeman mused out loud, "or maybe he just sucked at basketball."
Hey, there was a lot of love in the room. Said Freeman: "I haven't seen him do anything that didn't leave me panting with admiration."
Also honored was Kansas City medical products businessman and philanthropist Joseph Brandmeyer. The Harold Pump Foundation, founded by twins Dana and David Pump in the memory of their late father, helps fund cancer care at Northridge Hospital Medical Center.
-- Irene Lacher
Photo: Denzel Washington, left, and Muhammad Ali at the Pump Foundation Gala in Century City on Thursday. Credit: Tiffany Rose / WireImage