It's been a couple of days now since we learned of the passing of Muhammad Ali, so the Internet has been deluged with thoughtful pieces, millions of tweets and Instagram posts, pictures, videos and so forth — basically your standard outpouring of emotion in 2016.
This post will not be your standard obituary for Ali, mostly because people way more qualified than I am to do that have done so, and Ali is clearly a figure about whom, if you're going to write about his entire career arc (which was so much more than a few dozen boxing matches), you need to do it properly. For what it's worth, the best obit that I read on Ali this weekend came from SI.com's Richard Hoffer. If you're a longtime Ali fan looking for all the important chapters recapped, or a youngster looking for a history lesson, Hoffer gives it to you.
My personal thoughts on Ali:
* Any hardcore sports fan remembers the first time he or she turned on the television and it was on "sports" — could be basketball, football, baseball, boxing, whatever. It was on television, it was something other than Sesame Street and you knew you were intrigued. My first sports "moment" as a kid was on a Sunday watching Wide World of Sports with my dad on a black-and-white television, and they were showing highlights of an Ali fight (it was the mid-'70s, so could have been one of the Frazier bouts). It wasn't the fight that drew me in as much as it was an interview with Ali afterwards. We'd been told in school to use our manners and be respectful, and here was a guy calling people ugly, spouting poems and screaming. Naturally, I thought he was awesome. If you want a taste of some great "early Ali" trash talk, here he is before he won his first title in 1964:
* Ali is one of the three most famous American athletes in my sports watching history, and frankly, the drop-off after these three is precipitous — it's Ali, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Where Ali separates from these two is that a) he obviously wasn't afraid to express (and possibly be imprisoned for) his politics, b) his brand building was never done to actually move massive amounts of Nike product, and c) the title of "greatest to play" within their own sports is more arguable for Jordan and Woods than it is for Ali. Ali was truly The Greatest.
* In a world where basically 100 percent of us have some sort of self-esteem issue, Ali spoke a common language of unbridled confidence that attracted us all like mosquitoes to a bug zapper. Not just that, but the fact that he got knocked down, both in and out of the ring, and the persona was unwavering, only made him more compelling, and over time, more endearing. That the last few decades of his life were spent with a disease that robbed him of his ability to really express himself is the cruelest irony of all. It's mind-blowing to think of how much money was left on the table in the form of a motivational speaking career because of Ali's Parkinson's disease. I need a financial forensics expert to calculate this, because I think he'd have demanded six figures for speeches by the time he passed away.
* For many of us born in the late '60s or early '70s, our formative years were spent consuming Ali post-retirement from the ring, and his crossover appeal was legendary. Here are some of the more famous Ali pop culture crossovers:
ALI and MICHAEL JACKSON
The overall "fame" rating of this tweet just broke the Internet.
MUHAMMAD ALI interrupts SYLVESTER STALLONE at the Oscars
The "fame" rating of this moment was pretty high up the charts as well.
MUHAMMAD ALI "I Am The Greatest" CARTOON
You're not truly immortalized until you've been animated and plunked down on NBC on a Saturday morning. The best part about this is there's almost no mention of boxing. They've got Ali like really fighting crimes and stuff.
MUHAMMAD ALI "This Is Your Life"
If someone had told America that Ali would be feted like this while he was awaiting trial on dodging the draft, well...and the end with Joe Frazier is AWESOME.
MUHAMMAD ALI on "Diff'rent Strokes"
It's scary to think Ali, with Parkinson's, outlived two of the three child actors in this scene. Also, an amazing mid-'80s sighting of famous character actor James Cromwell!
MUHAMMAD ALI in (W)WWF
Ali was a huge wrestling fan, and is probably best known for three "moments" crossing over in professional wrestling. First, there was the taunting of Gorilla Monsoon at a then-WWWF event (yes, it was once called the World WIDE Wrestling Federation)...
...and the precursor to today's MMA, only far less entertaining, Ali versus Inoki in Tokyo...
And eventually, Ali with a role in one of the most historically important cards of all time, as the referee in the main event at the first Wrestlemania...
TWITTER REACTION TO ALI'S DEATH
There will never be another one like him. Rest in peace, Champ....
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