Nothing I write about Muhammad Ali will be earth-shaking or transcendental. Yet since his passing, I have had a strong urge to pay some tribute, however small, to The Greatest.
Everyone knows about the public Ali, and his illustrious career, that much is certain. But the thing that has astonished me, is the escalating number of people telling their own, “Ali Story”.
Having lived and worked in Louisville for so many years, it has always been clear that Muhammad Ali loved his hometown. Even when that hometown didn’t always love him. At some point during TV coverage of almost every one of his fights, he would mention he hailed from Louisville, and frequently mentioned Central High School in his post-fight interviews too. One thing I learned living in Louisville–EVERYONE there has an Ali Story. For the record, I met him twice, and I never forgot either time. I never will.
Muhammad Ali was great friends with local Louisville Radio Personality John Ramsey, and I don’t think I overstate things when I say John was like a son to The Champ. John has frequently shared his memories of Ali, and has been extremely generous with those on Facebook and other social media. He has heard and seen people meet Muhammad in nearly any circumstance you can imagine. He told me this morning in a Facebook message that no one he ever knew of, could connect with people like Muhammad Ali. I also want to thank John for sharing his friendship with The Champ for so many years.
To see him in his later years, was to witness a man coming full-circle, and knowing what this man had done–had been–had accomplished, just overwhelmed many people when they found themselves face-to-face with the actual man and not the image. From the brash, outspoken young athlete–to the boxing champion–to icon of the world, Ali had literally done it all. Some were cruel about his affliction, claiming it was payback for being such a ‘loudmouth’ when he was younger. I saw it differently.
I saw a man who–although somewhat trapped inside his body–bared his soul and allowed himself to show his weakened body–and continue to make others happy. It was evident when he lit the torch at the 98 Olympics in Atlanta. Even though those Olympics are now 20 years in the rearview mirror, that moment has become iconic, and will be forever remembered.
There are still those knee-jerk reactionaries who use the incorrect term, “Draft Dodger” to describe their feelings about Muhammad Ali. They are wrong of course, but I have detailed why it’s fallacious numerous other times, and will not do so here. What I will say is this. Open your minds and expand your world-view. What Ali did, helped this country, and his deeds need to be remembered for that. Look at the big picture folks. The bubbles we all live in can be sort of cozy, but can also warp our values, and worst–our tolerance.
Make no mistake. Muhammad Ali was one hellacious Boxer. Arguably the best ever. In fact go back and watch his fights, and you will see his brilliance, and skills. But when you do that, also remember that this man so touched the world in one-way-or-another, that he was literally known, and revered in every corner of the globe.
If that isn’t a life well-lived, then I don’t know what it is.