What a great man and boxer!
He was fast, strong and precise, the very definition of a boxer. He died Friday at 74 in a Phoenix hospital due to a respiratory ailment, but his impact on the world will never be forgotten.
He was a hero to others because of his stand on the Vietnam War. He was a conscientious objector and gave up virtually everything – his career, his title, most of his income – to stand up for what he believed in.
Many called him a draft dodger. Others thought he was crazy. But his beliefs were so deeply held that none of it mattered. Not long after Ali was convicted of draft evasion in 1967, public support for the war began to erode.
Originally a pariah, Ali suddenly became the face, the voice, the very heart of the anti-war movement that would shape a generation.
To others, he was a hero for his quick wit and clever ways. He is in many ways the man that introduced trash talk to sports. He and a cornerman/friend, came up with a poem that many young people today know word for word, more than half a century since they first uttered them before his 1964 heavyweight title bout with Sonny Liston.
"I'm going to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can't hit what his eyes can't see."
[Slideshow: Muhammad Ali's life in photos]
He was a kind and charitable man who for most of his life gave away his fortune. His close friend of more than 50 years, Gene Kilroy, told of the time Ali went to visit a child in a leper colony in Kuala Lumpur in 1975.
"This lady came up to me in the lobby because she had seen me with Ali, and she told me her son was very sick and that he loved Ali," Kilroy said. "I said, 'Well, come on up to the room and let's tell him.' She was a poor woman who didn't have much. She tells Ali, 'My son is very sick and he loves you so much. Do you think you can visit him?' Ali said, 'Well, I do road work tomorrow at 4:30 in the morning. Can you be in the lobby at 7?'
"The next morning, she takes us to him and it's a leper colony. The people were giving them the food and sliding it under and getting away. Ali said, 'Where is he?' and he walks right up to him. He hugged him and sat with him and talked with him and he didn't care anything about the leprosy. He just wanted to make this sick kid happy."
Many people loved Ali for many reasons. I fell in love with boxing in the mid-1960s as a young boy just as Ali was blooming into "The Greatest." He was a larger-than-life figure who infiltrated so many aspects of society.
But I loved Ali for many of those reasons, all of them and more. He made you laugh. He awed you. He inspired you. He motivated you.
I didn't start covering boxing until after he'd retired. The first time I met him, Kilroy introduced us. By that point, he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In those days, he would only occasionally speak.
On this day, he spoke more in a low murmur. He was seated when Kilroy introduced us. I leaned in to hear him, so he reached for my head and pulled it toward his mouth.
"I hear you're the greatest, because you've been nice to my friend here," he said, beaming.
But I think the reason Ali was a hero to me is because of his answer to a little boy's question. He was appearing on a television show in England in the 1970s, and the boy asked, "I'd like to know what you're going to do when you retire from boxing."
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