It’s hard to quantify what Muhammad Ali meant to the city of Louisville.
On one hand, you have the brash, slick-talking, greatest-of-all-time champion who predicted when he would knock out his opponents and turned press conferences into circuses. The Louisville Lip.
On the other, the humanitarian and social activist who was called a draft dodger, a Muslim extremist and an agitator. The former Cassius Clay. The man who converted to Islam, changed his name and marched for justice in several realms outside the ring.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. I should’ve respected this sooner.
It was a surreal feeling to get the news Friday night – a man that almost felt too big to be bothered with something like death. The same man who took on both George Foreman and the United States government. And won.
We knew you were ours. This was your city. You were Louisville’s native son. We’ve seen you accomplish so much, anything more these days seemed trivial. The same man whose name adorns a museum, a street and countless other monuments within the city limits got the Presidential Medal of Freedom? Cool. What else happened today.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. Your best should’ve always been recognized.
He was a man that, no matter the constraints of his time, always appreciated where he came from. He gave credit to Louisville when he could. Notably shouting the city out after beating Foreman in Zaire when the world was watching. Yet from all I’ve heard and seen, some from older generations didn’t reciprocate. And some of those from younger generations didn’t study your history enough appreciate it.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. You deserved better.
Men like Ali come around once in a lifetime. He was lucky enough to be the best during boxing’s heyday and also thrown in the mix during a period in United States history when the country was in turmoil. The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were ripe for a champion to speak up and be heard when he was the voice for millions. Muhammad Ali was that voice.
Whether you chose to hear it usually determined how you feel – and how those that came after you feel – about him now.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. Your voice was powerful.
On the way home from work last night, I drove my usual stretch of Muhammad Ali Boulevard, this time with the final moments of the call from the Rumble in the Jungle blasting. It’s one of the top calls in sports history, made possible by Ali again defying the odds in front of millions.
“Ali has won. Ali has won by a knockdown. By an knockdown. The thing they said was impossible, he’s done it.”
Impossible. Ali did it. It became second nature. Foreman. Frazier. A federal conviction. Boxing exile. Parkinson’s Disease. He beat it all by how he lived with the situation he was dealt.
But now, that’s all we have. The epic memories of a man who impacted billions around the world with his kindness, bravado and an unwillingness to bend to you or anyone else’s beliefs.
At his very core, Ali was a man who stood for what he believed in in front of the entire world. And he made sure you knew he wasn’t backing down.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. There should be more like you.
You shook up the world, Champ. You’re a bad man.
RIP The Greatest.