My earliest memories of Muhammad Ali are that of he and ABC network sportscaster Howard Cosell engaged in "verbal" boxing during interviews. Ali was articulate, self confident and normally wearing a suit and tie during the interviews. I was about 10 years old and Ali had just begun his legal battle with the government by refusing to report for induction into the Army during the period of the Vietnam War. It was a bold and courageous action on his part. His beliefs as a Muslim were not consistent with joining the Army to be trained to kill people he had no arguments with. Ali at that time was in his prime as a boxer. He would go on to lose 3 years out of his career because he was banned from boxing because of his refusal to report for induction.
During those years of the late 1960's and early 1970's Ali was one of the public role models black youth had in the United States. He spoke his mind and always tried to present himself as a professional. As a 13 year old in California I recall all the hype leading to his fight with Joe Frazier. Everyone was talking about the event. Ali lost the fight but didn't lose his appeal. He continued his career and eventually reclaimed the title from George Foreman.
While in college I recall his losing to the young upstart, Leon Spinks, and then returning to defeat Spinks months later. I only recall seeing Ali in person once, that being as he walked into an event at Black Expo with his entourage in Indianapolis one summer. When I think of Ali, I think of courage, class, athleticism, and humor. Yes, his health may have suffered from his occupation of boxing. But, he gave his all and did not keep social and legal barriers from blocking him from achieving his goals.
74 years of greatness. Now the legend continues.