The greatest is gone.
Muhammad Ali, arguably one of the world’s most talented boxers and one of America’s most groundbreaking athletes, died Friday in Scottsdale, AZ. He was 74.
Muhammad Ali’s death brought out floods of fans who remember him not only for this dominating athleticism but also his social activism that transcended sports.
Ali routinely used his status and fame to publicly and passionately speak out against racism and the treatment of black people in America while also making public his strong anti-Vietnam War opinions. He was even willing to take a stand at the risk of the boxing career.
Ali, born Cassius Clay, picked up boxing when he was only 12 years old. Ten years later he won his first professional title. Although most other boxers spoke up very little, Ali had a love for the spotlight. And thanks to his way with words and his sometimes over-the-top charisma, the spotlight loved him back.
Fans couldn’t get enough of watching him “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” as he dominated in countless fights including the iconic match-ups against Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.
But Ali’s motivational influence stretched far further than just boxing.
When segregation was still commonplace in American society, it was rare to see an athlete showcase the level of cultural pride Ali did. But he did it anyway, publicly calling Cassius Clay a “slave name” then changing his name to Ali while announcing that he had joined the Nation of Islam, a decision that almost ended his boxing career.
In fact, outrage over an article in the Miami Herald more than 60 years ago that announced Ali’s ties to Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam almost forced the cancelation of a historic fight between Ali and Sonny Liston in the Miami Beach Convention Center.
But the fight did go on. Although Liston was expected to win, Ali came out on top and became the heavyweight champion. Shortly after that fight, Ali formally announced his Islamic faith and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
As the Miami Herald put it, Cassius Clay may have been born in Louisville, but Muhammad Ali was born right here in Miami.
And that wouldn’t be the last time his career would be at risk because of his social activism.
Ali was arrested and his championship titles were stripped away for three years after he was accused of dodging being drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War.
“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” Ali said at the time. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”
After three years out of the ring, Ali’s name was eventually cleared and he was allowed to fight again.
As New York Daily News Sports Columnist Bob Raissman put it: “People say that people are bigger in death than they are in life. That won’t be the case with Muhammad Ali.”
Muhammad Ali’s legacy will live on forever.
We here at Miami-Attractions have Ali and his family in our thoughts. Farewell to the Greatest of All Time.