Allen Park — Lions tight end Eric Ebron entered training camp sporting a new look — a hairdo he dubbed “chili bowl braids.”
For Saturday’s practice, he took it a step further with Muhammad Ali-inspired cleats.
“I pay tribute to ‘The Greatest,’ ” Ebron said. “This is why we play sports. This is why we do what we do. This is why our mind-set is what our mind-set is in sports is because of that guy. It was only right for my designer (DeJesus Customs) and I to come up with an idea to do Muhammad Ali cleats.”
The gray cleats feature boxing gloves on the front, a small photo of Ali and Ebron’s jersey number (85) on the heel, and Ali’s famous phrase “Float like a butterfly” written on the Nike swoosh on his right foot and “Sting like a bee” on the left.
Ebron said he came up with the idea after Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion boxer, died in June at 74 after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, the same illness Ebron’s late grandfather fought.
“That’s something that’s kind of like dear to my heart, man,” said Ebron, who also credited his grandfather as one of the reasons he plays football. “So I pay tribute to really both of them, to do something that I could relate to my profession with.”
Ebron said he never made it to that “state of popularity” to meet Ali, but the boxing legend’s mentality always resonated with him.
“He kind of reminds me of the attitude you should have through sports. To believe in yourself no matter what no one says, no matter what no one does you always just believe in yourself,” Ebron said.
“Muhammad Ali said he was ‘The Greatest’ before he was and that’s kind of like how you should look upon anything you’re going to do. You should be great at it even before you are great at it because then you’re talking it into existence.”
It’s an approach Ebron, 23, is emulating as he looks to take the next step in his third season. After totaling 248 yards receiving and one touchdown on 25 catches his rookie year, he doubled his offensive production with 537 yards receiving and five touchdowns on 47 receptions last season.
“I definitely believe that I am one of the greatest and I definitely believe that I’m going to try to be one of the greatest and give it everything I got to do it,” he said. “I’ve done it in college (at North Carolina) and I’m trying to do it at this level here.”