Wednesday, July 6, 2016


“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
                                                                                          Muhammad Ali

He was “the greatest”, no question. Self-motivated, prideful, consistent in his self-confidence; this man of conviction challenged the hypocrisy of America’s sense of patriotism. He was a force in and outside the ring amid the turbulent transition from the human stain of slavery to the civil rights movement of the 60s. There was Martin and Malcolm, Stokely, Leroi Jones (Amari Baraka) and then there was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. (his birth name, after the Kentucky abolitionist) aka Muhammad Ali. 

Ali proclaimed his right to his belief system and never faltered, willing to risk everything for his truth. He was a true hero in the black community, a leader, role model and man of conviction. He dared to vocalize the anxieties of a people whose ancestors built America through free labor, yet were denied the true perks of American citizenship.

The Greatest with Sam Cooke in 1963

He was the first to start a Black Lives Matter movement just through his commentary.  The first to publish his own version of how "bad" he was in 1974 when  Michael Jackson was just 16 and barely realized the pinnacle of his success. Ali was the first self promoting heavyweight boxer. He was a rapper of the real school who promoted himself through his rap. What to some may have appeared to be an over inflated ego was nothing more than unadulterated self-confidence:

"Last night I had a dream, When I got to Africa,
I had one hell of a rumble.
I had to beat Tarzan’s behind first,
For claiming to be King of the Jungle.
For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators,
I’ve tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning
And throw thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad.
just last week, I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, Hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.
I’m so fast, man,
I can run through a hurricane and don't get wet.
When George Foreman meets me,
He’ll pay his debt.
I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree.
Wait till you see Muhammad Ali."

During those times, Muhammad Ali was an enigma and a force to be reckoned with. He was poetry, pretty and passionate in his belief system; a self-made man. He was the stand-up guy that many of us thought never existed. But in looking back through my memories of him and the many hours of footage, he was truly larger than life and held to the kind of role modeling that generations to come would honor with the ultimate in respect. The first biggest fight of his life was his objection to being drafted. His win was a huge victory with a total knock out bell that tolled throughout the country.

Muhammad Ali was a legend in and outside the ring. There has not been a fighter since who held his astute magnetism. He took on America and blasted her for her hypocrisy, in and outside of the military, which was riddled with racism. He had integrity and polish, though he may appear to have been raucous and raw. He wasn’t. He was real. He was undeniably, a man of peace, love and truth. A champion in the ring and a champion of the people.

Ali lived extraordinary. His first introduction to the ring came when his red and white Schwinn was stolen and the young, furious Cassius Clay at age 12 vowed to deliver a serious can of whip ass to the thief who stole the bike that his dad had given him for Christmas. Police officer Joe Elsby Martin, also a boxing trainer encouraged Clay to re-channel  his anger in the ring and train to fight. Ali recalled in his autobiography:

With Joe Elsby Martin
''I ran downstairs, crying, but the sights and sounds and the smell of the boxing gym excited me so much that I almost forgot about the bike,'' Ali wrote. ''There were about 10 boxers in the gym, some hitting the speed bag, some in the ring, sparring, some jumping rope. I stood there, smelling the sweat and rubbing alcohol, and a feeling of awe came over me. One slim boy shadowboxing in the ring was throwing punches almost too fast for my eyes to follow.''

Six weeks later, Clay won his first bout in a split decision. 

Ali defeats Liston
Muhammad Ali's story and history are fascinating. The day after I turned 8 years old in 1964, Clay's new  name was Cassius X,  he was a confirmed follower of the Nation of Islam. He had stunned the world at age 22 by defeating Sonny Liston just a little over a week earlier. Almost 50 years to the day after Ali won his first  heavyweight championship,  an anonymous buyer purchased the gloves he wore to defeat Liston in the seventh-round technical knockout for $836,000. Ali only earned $630,000 for the victory itself.

1960 Summer Olympics

After his high school graduation in 1960, Ali went to Rome and won the light heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics. In his 1975 autobiography he wrote that he threw his gold medal off of a bridge into the Ohio River to protest the racism he still encountered in his hometown in Kentucky. There have been disputes with regard to this account. During the 1966 Summer Olympics where he lit the cauldron at Opening ceremonies, he received a replacement. 

Ali's refusal to submit to the draft in 1967 resulted in him losing his title and  he was blacklisted from boxing for three years. Hw was sentenced to five years in prison but remained free on appeal.   None of the roadblocks he encountered because of his belief system would deter him.

He opened on Broadway in Buck White and performed an excerpt on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. Though the production's run on Broadway was brief in New York's John Abbot Theatre (only 7 days), Ali would receive decent reviews.

 He also did a spoken word album in which he covered Ben E. King's Stand By me.

In 1971, he would lose a fight to Joe Frazier. Called "The Fight of The Century" the defeat never hindered Ali's drive. He would fight Frazier and defeat him two more times, one match known as "The Thrilla In Manila". He defeated Joe Frasier (1974) in the iconic "Rumble in The Jungle." He regained his title from Leon Spinks in 1978 and made history as the fist World Heavywight champion to the title 3 times. But 1980, Ali had come out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes. Sadly, his defeat to Holmes showed evidence of the last fight of his life with the beginning of Parkinson's Disease.

Still, a man of purpose and humanity, Ali saved a distraught veteran  ready to jump to his death in 1981 in Los Angeles, was saved by Ali. When Ali's PR manager asked police if Ali could be of help, he was told no. But the PR manager alerted Ali anyway and he was able to persuade the vet from jumping to his death.

November 1990, Ali met with Saddam Hussein  to negotiate for the release of Americans held hostage in Iraq and Kuwait. By December, Ali would accompany fifteen freed U.S. hostages out of Iraq.

Ali was the first boxer to grace a box of Wheaties in 1999.

On his visit to Ireland back in 1972, he was not aware of his Irish roots. His great-grandfather, Abe O'Grady, a white Irishman who immigrated to the US in 1862  married a freed slave, (the daughter of Lewis and Mandy Walker of Todd County, Kentucky)  shortly after the civil war. The son of this union, John Lewis O'Grady  was Ali's maternal grandfather. Ali's mother was born in 1917.  In 2009, Ali would return to his great grandfather's ancestral home of Ennis Ireland and meet members of the O'Grady clan.

The 2009 return to his mother's roots in Ireland.


Billy Crystal gave a moving and heartfelt eulogy.
Here's a toast to a most remarkable human being. A most remarkable legend. Never to be forgotten. Father, grandfather, husband, brother, hero. Muhammad Ali created such a walk down memory lane for so many of us. We saw the irony of his life and his steadfast determination as he moved forward, an true undefeated champion and here.  He talked the talk and walked the walk. What an incredible life story, a real legacy among legacies. He was a treasure to the real school. We were fortunate enough to grow up with such a hero. 


Video memories


Thanks for sharing the journey...

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