Long Live the Greatest
or: Rumble, Young Man, Rumble
Muhammed Ali… What can be said about a man who started as one of the most reviled men in America and grew into, arguably, the most beloved man in all the world?
There's the grace and speed of his early fights vs the determination and grit of his later career. The despicable way he brutalized Joe Frazier in the press. His bravery and patriotism in staring down the US government and the Military Industrial Complex by refusing induction into the military ( "I ain't got no quarrel with the Viet Cong" stands right up there with "Give me Liberty," or "NUTS!") The stories are many and better told by people who were actually there.
Factoid of indeterminate interest: Ali and I can both trace our roots through the Emerald Isle. If there's one thing the Irish love, it's a good wake. There's blubbering to be sure but, the tears are more of joy and laughter than those of sadness. In that spirit, allow me to relate an Ali story that keeps coming to mind…
Return with me now to yesteryear, call it the late 80s, Ali is a guest on the Arsenio Hall show. The years, boxing and Parkinson's are starting to show their wear. Ali is slower, less steady. His voice is so soft you can barely hear him but, you can tell his mind is as fast, his wit as sharp, as ever they were in his youth. After a few minutes with the champ, Arsenio stands, walks to the back of the stage and asks someone to come out…
Enter Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson, giddy as schoolgirls, drunk with joy. Stories abound. Tyson looks at Ali, tells him he won't remember but, Ali came to Tyson's school when he was a teenager and changed his life. Ali's eye's light up and he says, "I… remember you… you… was the kid… in… the yellow jumpsuit." Tyson busts up and replies, "It was reform school! We all wore yellow jumpsuits!"
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The greatest is dead. Long live the greatest.