One of the most iconic images of Muhammad Ali, if not THE most iconic: Standing over Sonny Liston after the “Phantom Punch” that knocked him out during their second fight in 1965. Photo courtesy of gosspionthis.com
HONORING NOT ONLY (one of the) GREATEST ATHLETES – AND CERTAINLY THE GREATEST BOXER – OF ALL TIME, BUT ALSO ONE OF THE GREATEST HUMAN BEINGS OF ALL TIME
Since Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd, much has been written and said about him and his legacy not only in sports,
But in the world in general for the stand he took against serving in the Vietnam War, plus the many humanitarian endeavors he partook of after his (obviously) illustrious boxing career ended.
While dealing with the Parkinson’s disease obtained from his epic battles with Joe Frazier and George Foreman in particular.
Much has also been said about Ali being an African-American that, through his personality and his outspokenness, did a lot to promote cultural pride among his fellow black people not only in America, but throughout the world.
He certainly helped to make me feel proud of being black.
Personally speaking, like countless millions of others Ali was a prominent memory of my childhood.
A video of Muhammad Ali’s speeches, interviews, and various trash talk that he engaged in over the years, showing just how funny he was. Courtesy of YouTube.com
My first real memory of Ali, besides knowing that he was the heavyweight champ and all, was watching him beat a guy named Ernie Shavers on TV in 1977. I was ten years old, and I recall Ali making fun of Shavers’ bald head beforehand, beating him in 15 rounds.
I remember feeling sad and not liking Leon Spinks when he beat Ali and took his crown a year later, then feeling that all is right with the world when he exacted revenge and won back his title a few months after that.
Being an elementary school kid at the time, Ali being featured in various Saturday morning cartoons and action figures, and making a guest appearance on “Diff’rent Strokes” when Gary Coleman got Ali to visit him by pretending he was sick (remember that episode?), were just as prominent in my memory bank as his fights were.
I remained an admirer of Ali’s throughout my teenage years and beyond, though like the rest of the world it became obvious to me and my peers that he had no business fighting Larry Holmes and Trevor Burbick, that he should have quit after beating Spinks as even I saw the shell of what he was.
Not that it mattered as Ali never left my “Favorite Athletes” list.
Which was why the thrill of my life – at least to this point – was meeting the man at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Santa Monica, where he was promoting a book of photographs detailing his career, in 1996.
Not only did I meet him, which was most fortunate as it was just before he was scheduled to leave, he – get this – pointed at me and waved me over to him!
Another iconic image of this great man: Lighting the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremonies in Atlanta in 1996, just a few months before I had the honor of meeting him. Photo courtesy of pressherald.com
All right, now that all the “Whoas!” have died down…
I think the reason why such a famous sports legend took such an interest to me was because I was (and still am) a big guy; he asked as he got up to leave if I “rumbled”, me holding my hands up and saying no, that my sports life was as a baseball and softball guy.
It was a great thrill, to state the obvious.
Besides everything else, the most prominent thing in my mind when I think about “The Greatest” was and is something that hasn’t been talked about as much…
His sense of humor, as in my very humble opinion he was the funniest athlete who ever lived.
Every time I see footage of Ali saying how he was “…young, strong, fast, pretty, and can’t possibly be beat!”, calling Sonny Liston a “big old ugly bear” and predicting that he would “knock him out in eight”, as well as crowing about how “… (Liston’s) too ugly to be champ!. The heavyweight champion should be pretty like me!”
Every time he called Frazier a “gorilla” and Foreman a “mummy”,
Every time he recited one of his many poems,
And every time he made cracks during his many interviews,
Induced much laughter in me, even as a kid, which was probably the main reason I liked him so much.
Heck, just yesterday I was laughing while remembering the various outlandish things he said over the years.
Indeed, I have always thought that Ali would have made a great stand-up comedian in the tradition of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy if boxing hadn’t worked out.
In fact, when I think of it Ali reminded me of my grandfather in that way, as like the champ my grandpa had a great sense of humor; and whose birthday coincidentally was the same week as his.
The evening of June 3rd was a sad one for me as I was following Ali’s health situation on Twitter while doing some work for my site’s page; it was fortunate that I was able to report his death on my social media pages as soon as it was announced.
A triumphant moment: Knocking out George Foreman in Zaire (now the Republic of Congo) in 1974. Photo courtesy of newslocker.com
When I remember Muhammad Ali, I’ll think of how funny he was along with everything else.
I won’t be sad, as more than anyone else his life deserves to be celebrated.
As sure as I’m writing this, with Ali being a Muslim I know the first thing Allah said to him when he arrived in Paradise was two words:
So rest in peace, Mr. Ali.
Give Nelson Mandela, Jackie Robinson and John Wooden my personal warm regards.
And if you see my Grandpa up there, tell him hello for me as well, and that he is loved and missed.