MUHAMMAD ALI: MUCH GREATER THAN “THE GREATEST.”
“HE WAS A CREDIT TO HIS RACE…THE HUMAN RACE.” Harry Belafonte
“I Am The Greatest.”
“I Must Be The Greatest.”
“I’m A Bad Man.”
“I’m The King Of The World.”
“Who’s The Heavyweight Champion Of The World?”
“There’s Not A Man Alive Who Can Whup Me.”
“I Should Be A Postage Stamp. That’s The Only Way I’ll Ever Get Licked.”
“Experience Is Why I Knew I’d Win.” “I Told Ya, I’m The Champion Of The World.”
“I Said I’m Gonna Be A Man. I’m Gonna Fight It Legally. If I Lose It, I’m Just Goin’ To Jail.”
“Float Like a Butterfly; Sting Like a Bee.”
“Ali! Ali! Ali!”
01/17/1942–06/03/2016. “The Greatest Of All Time.”
I have been playing and watching sports from the time of my first memory.
For nearly sixty years.
And I had my idols, my heroes.
Local, national and world-wide.
So please, do indulge me when I say with certitude and great conviction that there was nobody like Muhammad Ali.
Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Ky., he was made in God’s image in so many ways.
Sure he was a loudmouth — “The Louisville Lip.”
He was a braggart, although to him, “it’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
And never mind that the phrase ‘tall, dark and handsome’ was created for him.
Or that he was the greatest boxer who ever lived or will ever live.
He was so much more than that.
He was a transformist.
He was a revolutionary.
He was a global icon.
As he promised, he shocked the world.
In fact, he changed the world.
By his actions, by his being and not just by his words.
How many people can say that?
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?…I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet-Cong.”
In spite of the fact that many of the baseball demigods of my youth had no problem with donning fatigues, etc. in defense of our country and willingly sacrificing chunks of their professional primes in so doing, I agreed with Ali’s position.
“Muhammad Ali was a man made of love, kindness and faith.”
His supernatural boxing talent and prodigious ring achievements aside, love, kindness and faith were the personal virtues by which he wanted to be remembered.
He wasn’t perfect by any means but he was a true visionary, light-years ahead of his time.
He longed for peace, equality and respect. And at 74, he went down swinging in their dogged pursuit.
How else to describe this man who responded thusly to David Frost’s 1974 interview query as to how Ali would like people to remember him?
“I’d like for them to say:
He took a few cups of love,
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness.
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern.
And then, he mixed willingness with happiness.
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”
This came out of the mouth of the self-proclaimed (and rightfully so I might add) “baddest man on the planet.”
Idolized and vilified, loved by millions; hated by many.
The man was simply bigger than life.
His seemingly cruel mockeries — of Frazier particularly, but also of the state of affairs in the USA — his alleged (well-documented?) infidelities, his foibles and his legal travails merely highlighted his imperfections…or his humanness.
The most charismatic and recognized person on earth may have been the greatest person on earth.
I wonder if that’s what he really thought, when with his mouth opened wide he exclaimed again and again, “I AM THE GREATEST!”
That’s certainly what I thought.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in June 2016.]