“I am the greatest.”
– Muhammad Ali
Very few of us could utter these words without appearing either delusional, egomaniacal or BOTH but Muhammad Ali was certainly neither delusional nor egomaniacal. Don’t let the many seemingly egomaniacal quotes from Ali (usually at the expense of his boxing opponents) fool you…the man was definitely NOT all about himself!
Instead he was a man who understood the power of a “personal brand” long before such an idea entered the public zeitgeist (the term was coined around 1997 while Ali began building his personal brand in the 60’s); he walked his talk both in the ring and out as his decision to be a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War illustrated…his decision brought down on him not only the ire of the US Government but also the disdain of much of white America as well.
But the thing that I will remember the most about Ali is not his personal brand nor even his great boxing matches (which we can all now watch through the magic of YouTube)…instead what I will remember most about him was his ability to entertain. Yes, he was a great boxer (perhaps the GREATEST boxer ever) but he was an even GREATER entertainer! If you doubt this for a second, then you need to watch his many interviews with Howard Cosell…who knowingly played the “straight man” to many of Ali’s greatest zingers and one-liners…these two men were incredibly funny together!
Ali knew his mission in life first and foremost was to entertain the public…to give them a show whenever he could…he was man of drive and focus which, in turn, led to a very successful life. All this despite the fact that he grappled with Parkinson’s disease for many decades prior to succumbing to sepsis just a few days ago.
Ali was not perfect (take a look at the ill-conceived “fight” between Ali and Lyle Alzado in 1979 where you will see a rather “gelatinous” and older – by 7 years – Ali versus a juiced up on steroids Alzado) but I’ll take “great” over “perfect” any day.
You will be missed, Muhammad Ali!