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Subject: Archive: June 3, 2016 ~ Muhammad Ali dies at 74

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Date Posted: Monday, June 03, 10:15:32am

Muhammad Ali—boxer, activist and provocateur—dead at 74

If Muhammad Ali was in his time the most famous person in the world, it was as much a tribute to his talent for provocation as to his boxing. He was a glorious athlete, of course, his white-tasseled feet a blur to match his whizzing fists. But his legacy as a global personality owes more to that glint in his eye, to his capacity for tomfoolery, to his playfulness. He was a born prankster, giddy in his eagerness to surprise, and the world won’t soon forget his insistence upon fun.

Fighting in the far corners of the earth, when that was still done, he was our most popular ambassador for a quarter of a century, advancing the American doctrine of self-satisfaction. His practiced malarkey—the doggerel of doom, the ritual belittlement—didn’t so much enliven his sport as it created a whole new form of entertainment. Really, there was boxing, and there was Ali—who died late Friday at the age of 74—and everybody knew the difference. In time his artful application of nonsense would be revealed as a facade, covering a deeper mission of empowerment. But watching him emerge in Zaire, Manila or even Cleveland was to witness a one-man comic relief effort. He was a traveling circus unto himself, the highest embodiment of self-confidence.

It must be said, first of all, that Ali was, just as he used to boast, the Greatest of All Time (which in later years became the typically playful acronym—GOAT—that branded his projects). He won the heavyweight title three times, in an era of ungodly competition. Neither Joe Louis nor Rocky Marciano faced so many dangerous fighters still in their primes. Ali’s trilogy with Joe Frazier provided enough drama in the first bout alone to be deemed mythic. Then there was the fight with George Foreman, when Ali, many thought, was being sent to his doom but instead invented an almost comical escape, the rope-a-dope. Not to mention bouts with Sonny Liston, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, killers all. In his heyday, at least, Ali fought not for survival but for his own entertainment. He presented his ring art as a kind of jazz, fully improvisational, performed to the whimsical score in his head.

His career stretched from the 1960 Rome Olympics, at which he won a gold medal, to a sad and unnecessary fight in 1981, an ugly loss to Trevor Berbick on an island outpost. It was a period of high achievement and sometimes sad surprise, played out across continents. Till then no athlete, certainly no black athlete, dared be so brazen, so bombastic, so certain in his appeal, so independent of tradition. Ali promoted himself unashamedly, scorning the pitiful opposition, predicting the exact round of their departure and generally elevating his own stature to that of god. And then he adorned his own grace in the ring—so big and so fast!—with unusual and maddening filigrees. Can you imagine, in such a deadly game, a fighter who pauses for a pugilistic break dance, a shuffle in which his white shoes skim the canvas? For that matter: white shoes?

It helped that Ali came of age in a time, and in a country, when such things as race, religion and politics were being explored more openly than ever. Although most of the tension he liked to create—whether through cruelty to opponents or just unspeakable flamboyance—could be cut with that puckishness, he did have a serious side. Switching religions at age 22, converting to the Nation of Islam just as he was coming to real prominence, was not the move to make if marketing was your game, not while the black man was still being advised to follow the get-along mode. And risking jail, suffering exile, for an antiwar stand in 1966 was not something done out of playfulness. He had his convictions and he stuck to them, even if it meant paying a tremendous price.

But it was just that strange mix of traits, courage and an equally adamant foolishness that turned him into an icon. Before a fight he might advise, “If Ali says a mosquito can pull a plow, don’t ask how. Hitch him up!” Then, as he dominated another opponent, he might lean over the ropes and affect an exaggerated yawn. Or, on very different nights, he might find himself teetering on the fighter’s abyss of surrender, what he once called “the near room,” where snakes screamed and alligators played trombones. He never once went in.

Later in his life, when the man who could float like a butterfly was palsied, when that once indomitable mouth was mostly silenced, he became not just famous but beloved. It was a horrible irony to see such physical elegance stiffened by Parkinson’s, but like everything else that came along for Ali, his impairment was one more opportunity to prove his greatness, perhaps even enlarge his already considerable constituency. For his last 20 years, the Ali shuffle was indeed his only form of locomotion, and it was painful to see his jazz become fugue. But he was uncomplaining, dignified, unmindful even of any infirmity, and he kept about his proselytizing, which, more than anything, meant sharing his peculiar mysticism. He’d still stoop to produce a quarter from behind a child’s ear, but now he’d explain the trickery. No need to hoodwink anybody anymore. Life was too short.

Read more at: https://www.si.com/boxing/2016/06/04/muhammad-ali-death-obit

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Do you remember? On the day he died, there wasn't even a single mention of it on this board!But, then again .....Monday, June 03, 01:19:04pm

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