As far back as I can remember, I always enjoyed watching basketball, football, baseball, golf, tennis, and track and field. But one day in the 1960’s I started watching boxing because of one person and one person only.
Back then, Ali was known by his birth name – Cassius Clay. He was brash, intelligent, talented, charismatic, and, dare I say, handsome.
Growing up in the 1960’s, to see a black athlete like Ali boldly take on the establishment and speak his mind and stand by his beliefs and his convictions, which was a rarity.
Ali charmed us with his wit and made us laugh with his poems aimed at denigrating his opponents. He also mesmerized us by the way he would predict what round he would win a fight, and then go out and – like a prophet – would win the fight in that predicted round.
As far as my peers and I were concerned, Ali was the first athlete who became a media darling. His banter with sportscaster Howard Cosell was legendary, and were moments we all anticipated.
It was must-see TV.
More than anything, the impression I got from Ali was that he wasn’t going to be political correct and wasn’t going to let anyone tell him that he to had to appease the powers that be in order to survive on this planet. He became a symbol of black pride, and he inspired millions.
At age 25 in 1967, during the prime of his boxing career, Ali chose to have his boxing license revoked rather than sign up to fight in the war in Vietnam. His legendary quote was: "I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.’’
But folks – millions of them – had a quarrel with Ali following his stance against the Vietnam War. He was vilified by mainstream America, and thus became a divisive and polarizing figure.
I remember going to school and having classmates talk about being surprised at Ali for giving up his boxing career because he didn’t have "no quarrel with them Vietcong.’’
For Ali, that meant his brand was tarnished, and millions of dollars in fights and endorsements were lost. But it also spoke to the courage this man had in sticking to his convictions.
In addition to being a three-time heavyweight boxing champion, the outspoken Ali was a social activist, a humanitarian, and a global icon that experienced the pitfalls of racial segregation.
After winning the Olympic gold medal in Rome in 1960, Ali later tossed his gold medal in the Ohio River because he was still treated like a second-class citizen when he returned home.
Over time, the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s Vietnam War conviction after three years, and he later retained his heavyweight title with a victory over George Foreman.
Over time, Ali, in his own words, ‘’shook up the world’’ and was eventually rubbing shoulders with world leaders from United States Presidents to the Pope to the Dalia Lama.
As a kid, I remember Ali being the first athlete who would trash-talk before a fight. But he also was a humble man who fought -- outside of the ring -- for everyone, regardless of their race, color or creed.
No athlete from Ruth to Robinson to Russell to Jordan to Tiger to Kobe to LeBron to Curry could come anywhere close to matching Ali’s global impact. Ali was a graceful universal ambassador who had the power to light up a room without anyone turning on the light switch in that room.
Sports Illustrated named Ali the Sportsman of the Century, and President George W. Bush presented Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Enough said.
From winning the Olympic gold medal to capturing the Thrilla in Manilia, Ali was truly the greatest of all time. And he truly will be missed.
Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on dfwiradio.com.