The Greatest

Muhammad Ali has died. The Greatest is gone.

When I was a kid, I did not like Ali.

He scared me.

Ali was a brash and loud athlete. I was a quiet, shy kid-athlete. I didn’t understand him. Besides, he beat my boxing heroes Joe Frazier and the young George Foreman. Loud and boisterous beat stoic and quiet.

I’m sure there was also the religious aspect, Muslim. Which, as a young Catholic school kid, I had zero understanding of in the 1970’s. There was a political aspect, which, as a young, middle-class white kid on the fringe of a large, metropolitan area, I had very little understanding of.

It wasn’t until I saw an episode of my can’t-miss Saturday sports show hosted by Charlie Jones that my whole worldview on Muhammad Ali shifted. The majority of the show highlighted Ali’s training regimen. It was impressive. The amount of work and the intensity and focus on which he approached training converted me to a fan right there.

And of course, as the camera rolled so did Ali’s mouth. I barely noticed it.

For the first time, I saw Muhammad Ali for what he truly was—the greatest. The work it took on a daily basis to make his time in the ring appear completely effortless and natural as he floated  “like a butterfly and stung “like a bee”.

I saw a man doing 3000 sit-ups in a day before, during, and after sparring/running/speed bag/heavy bag work. About one-third of those being done on a trainer pounding on his torso with boxing gloves as he completed each rep. That image never left me.

Memories. Good and bad.

Memories of a day and a sport long gone.

Memories of Muhammad Ali.

The Greatest.

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