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Simply ‘The Greatest’

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Those words are direct and something you might find on the back of a Wheaties box one day, but these words are even more powerful and resounding considering that they came from boxing great Muhammad Ali. With his passing on June 3, the legend begins for the man who captivated the world for so many years, and it makes me ask, “How can I feel so deeply about someone I never knew?”

I never witnessed a match in person – just his skill and charisma replayed through my computer and television screens.

I try to envision the turbulence and chaos of the 1960s. While Martin Luther King was crafting his dream and Malcolm X was striving for equality by any means necessary, a young Ali donned his own fighting gloves. With unparalleled talent, he stood on the brink of shocking the world with his classic wins and powerful wisdom.

“You lose nothing when fighting for a cause… In my mind, the losers are those who don’t have a cause they care about.” – Muhammad Ali

As the years progressed, Ali defined his purpose and became the embodiment of what a human should strive to be. Never has a man with so much skill, a soul-piercing glance and a heart of gold lived the way he wanted – with grace and courage.

He was controversial. All great figures that transcended the formalities of the world were controversial, but he backed up his words and bravado with action.

He took his blows, some more gruesome out of the ring. He rope-a-doped George Foreman to win the heavyweight title back. I think he rope-a-doped the critics too. No matter the numerous criticizing remarks about his actions, faith and beliefs, he stood his course.

What makes him the greatest is he transcended boxing and the world outside of it. Sure he had quick feet and hands that coupled with the personality, he had the looks to be the face of the sport, but he was also a people person.

He loved people, and people loved him. He showed that being a professional athlete extended beyond physical prowess. He tackled social matters like race and politics, which are still taboo to talk about in today’s society, especially for a public figure. He was a polarizing figure of Black pride and a rock star of sports.

After publicly announcing in 1984 he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, he was active in creating and raising funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center in Phoenix, Ariz.

“The more we help others, the more we help ourselves,” -Muhammad Ali

Even when the disease took its toll on him, people of all backgrounds still flocked to just get a picture with the champ.

“I must be the greatest,” Ali exclaimed in 1964 after knocking out Sonny Liston to win the heavy weight title at age 22.

Ali was the greatest then, still today and even tomorrow, and I’m not just talking about boxing.