Personal Tribute To The Greatest – Muhammad Ali
Then known as Cassius Clay, he competed in the 1960 Olympics and came home with a Gold Medal. However, I first remember paying him attention during his second fight with Sonny Liston. I lived in Chicago then, and there were stories about people who went to the theater to watch the fight live. It was an extra-long line waiting outside, and people were still waiting to buy tickets when the fight started.
People on the street started selling tickets to those in line so they could get inside. What the people outside did not know was that the people selling tickets had already seen the fight. Ali knocked Liston out in the first round.
The second time that I paid careful attention to Ali was when I was taken to a restaurant on the South Side of Chicago. Turned out it was owned and operated by Muslims. I enjoyed the food, and was given more of a surprise when Ali walked into the restaurant. I was so nervous meeting the Champ that my hands were shaking.
There was controversy. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, converted his religion to the Nation of Islam, and rejected the draft. He was stripped of his heavyweight title.
In 1977, we went to the drive-in to see the movie The Greatest. Ali played himself. The most powerful scene I remember from that movie is when Ali had returned home in Kentucky after winning the Olympic Gold Medal. He went to a restaurant and was denied service because of the color of his skin. The scene shows Ali standing on a bridge, taking his Gold Medal, and throwing it into the river. That scene spoke volumes. It was a wake-up call that in some places in America, no matter what a person of color accomplishes, even when making their country proud, they are still judged and treated like third-class citizens.
The song, “The Greatest Love of All” was written for that movie and song by George Benson.
“No matter what they take from me,
They can’t take away my dignity”
To me, Muhammad Ali was not a fighter — he was a boxer. Muhammad was the sport of boxing. I was saddened when it was announced that he had Parkinson’s disease. That didn’t stop Ali. He continued making appearances. In 1996, he lit the Olympic Torch. Also that year, his Gold Medal was replaced.
Motivating, humorous, encouraging, historical. Tonight, at the age of 74, Muhammad Ali made his transition. Our condolences to his family and friends.