There’s nothing I can write about Muhammad Ali that won’t be said better elsewhere by those with far more insight and personal experience. The GOAT, who died Friday evening at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, deserves a far better eulogy than what some 33-year-old middle class white guy who wasn’t even alive during Ali’s final fight (an ill-advised bout against Trevor Berbick) can cobble together on a Saturday morning.
So I’ll leave with you with two thoughts and let the masters do the rest:
1. If I had a time machine in my garage, one that would only work five times before exhausting its abilities forever, I wouldn’t give a second thought to using one of the trips on jumping back to October 30, 1974 to watch Ali fight Foreman in Zaire.
2. Had Ali lived in the social media age, half the country would call him a domestic terrorist and the other half our greatest hero (spoiler: the second group would be correct). Also, he’d have been every single Pajibian’s favorite athlete.
Below are the best Ali remembrances circulating the Internet. You’ll recognize a few bylines (some guy named Barack Obama chimed in; The Champ himself). Many pieces have existed for years. A few were written just last night. Do yourself a favor: read them all. Even in death, Ali’s ability to astound remains unparalleled.
Muhammad Ali: Why they called him ‘The Greatest’ and why I called him my friend
By Jerry Izenberg, NJ.com
The proof of their belief came in the numbers-don’t-lie form of the betting line. Holmes opened and held firm as a 3-1 favorite, but as the fight drew closer, a strange thing began to take shape. Holmes’ advantage in the betting line began to erode.
This wasn’t the smart money. It was the heart money. It came from the bellhops and desk clerks, the blackjack dealers and craps table stickmen, the bartenders and waitresses, the car parkers and chambermaids. By fight time, the odds were almost even. In the town that invented legal fight bets, the least-powerful economic group in Vegas moved the odds. It never happened before. It hasn’t happened since.
On fight night, the glitter crowd, the high rollers and the people who scraped together a week’s pay for the cheap seats came together to will him through one more big fight.
In the weeks before the fight, the huge sign in front of Caesars Palace was changed to blare, “MUHAMMAD ALI vs. LARRY HOLMES.”
Below, it said, “Frank Sinatra.”
Watching Rocky II With Muhammad Ali
By Roger Ebert
On the screen, a moment of crisis had appeared in Rocky Balboa’s life. After giving birth to Rocky Jr., his wife had slipped into a coma. Rocky had just left the bedside and was praying in the hospital chapel.
“Now he don’t feel like fighting because his wife is sick,” Ali said. “That’s absolutely the truth. The same thing happened to me when I was in training camp during one of my divorces. You can’t keep your mind on fighting when you’re thinking about a woman. You can’t keep your concentration. You feel like sleeping all the time. But now at this point, I’m gonna make a prediction. I haven’t seen the movie, but I predict she’s gonna get well, and then Rocky’s gonna beat the hell out of Apollo Creed.”
Back in the hospital room, Rocky’s wife opened her eyes. Ali nodded. “My first prediction is proven right,” he said.
Rocky’s wife turned to him and said, “There’s one thing I want you to do for me. Win.”
“Yeah!” said Ali. “Beat that ni**er’s ass!”
Growing Up Ali
by Stephen Brunt
Outside, he takes his boxing stance, flicks a few jabs, and invites me to flick a few in return. Then a woman appears from behind the house, holding Ali’s recently adopted son, Asaad, who is four-and-half-months old and bears a striking resemblance to his new father. It is his eighth child and the only one who lives at home.
He holds the baby, kisses him, then hands him gently, gingerly, to my wife. Stepping back, Ali stumbles over a sleeping dog and nearly falls, as stiff as the tin woodsman after a hard rain. Even as he appears about to crash, only his eyes have expression.
Regaining his balance, Ali walks ahead a few steps and glances back over his shoulder at my elder son and me. “Watch my feet,” he says. Ali turns his back, stands with his feet slightly apart and steadies himself. Then for an instant he seems to rise from the ground, levitating. My son stares in wonder.
I stare, too, and during the moments before reason kicks in, before the rational ties that bind the rest of us to earth expose the fakir’s trick, I believe with all my heart that Muhammad Ali has ascended.
“How did that man fly?” my son asks and asks and asks for days afterwards.
“It was magic,” I tell him. “It must be magic.”
Muhammad Ali was, and always will be, The Champ
By Barack Obama
We admire the man with a soft spot for children, who, while visiting a hospital in Philadelphia many years ago, picked up a boy with no legs. Gazing into the child’s eyes, Ali said, “Don’t give up. They’re sending men into space. You will walk someday and do this,” and proceeded to do the famous Ali Shuffle with the giggling boy in his arms.
We admire the man who has never stopped using his celebrity for good — the man who helped secure the release of 14 American hostages from Iraq in 1990; who journeyed to South Africa upon Nelson Mandela’s release from prison; who has traveled to Afghanistan to help struggling schools as a United Nations Messenger of Peace; and who routinely visits sick children and children with disabilities around the world, giving them the pleasure of his presence and the inspiration of his example.
Asked why he is so universally beloved, he holds up a shaking hand, fingers spread wide, and says, “It’s because of this. I’m more human now. It’s the God in people that connects them to me.”
And this is from Barack and Michelle’s statement released early Saturday morning:
Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period. If you just asked him, he’d tell you. He’d tell you he was the double greatest; that he’d “handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail.”
But what made The Champ the greatest - what truly separated him from everyone else - is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing.
Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing. But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.
In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him - the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston. I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was - still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.
“I am America,” he once declared. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me - black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”
It’s almost impossible to a remember time when we could keep secrets from a prying world. But who would light the Olympic flame at the 100th anniversary of the summer Olympics in 1996 managed to stay quiet right up until the moment Ali emerged from an Atlanta hallway. It remains one of the most moving moments in sports history.
How Muhammad Ali secured the release of 15 US hostages in Iraq
By Maureen Callahan
Ali’s meeting with Saddam on Nov. 29, 1990, was open to the media. Ali sat patiently while Saddam praised himself for treating the hostages so well. Once he sensed an opening, Ali promised Saddam that he’d bring America “an honest account” of Iraq. “I’m not going to let Muhammad Ali return to the US,” Saddam replied, “without having a number of the American citizens accompanying him.”
Ali got all 15. Once released, the men were filmed going into Ali’s modest hotel room, where an exhausted Ali sat on the foot of his bed. One by one, the former hostages thanked him. An emaciated older man named George Charchalis lightly touched Ali’s shoulder and said, “He’s our guy.”
“You know, I thanked him,” said former hostage Bobby Anderson. “And he said, ‘Go home,’ be with my family … what a great guy.”
“I was just lucky enough, for some reason, to be on Muhammad Ali’s list,” said Harry Brill-Edwards.
“He’s a marvelous individual,” said Sergio Coletta. “Marvelous man.”
Ali was humbled. “They don’t owe me nothin’,” he said in Baghdad. “They don’t owe me nothin’.”
In our time, will we see another comet that burns so long and streaks so fast, and whose tail has room for so many riders? ”The entourage” some called the unusual collection of passengers who took the ride; the traveling circus, the hangers-on, others called it. ”These people are like a little town for Ali,” his manager, Herbert Muhammad, once said. ”He is the sheriff, the judge, the mayor and the treasurer.” Most were street people, thrown together on a lonely mountaintop in Pennsylvania where Ali built his training camp, until they burst upon the big cities for his fights. They bickered with each other over who would do what task for Ali, fist-fought with each other at his instigation — two of them once even drew guns. And they hugged and danced with each other, sat for hours talking around the long wooden dinner table, played cards and made midnight raids on the refrigerator together. ”That’s right,” said Herbert Muhammad. ”A family.”
Because they were there for Ali, he never had to worry about dirty underwear or water bills or grocery shopping; he could remain an innocent. Because Ali was there for them, they could be mothers and fathers to the earth’s most extraordinary child.
How I Would Like to be Remembered
By Muhammad Ali
“I would like to be remembered as the man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous, who treated everyone right. A man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, and who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. As a man who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love. And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”