You may recognize the last 3 words, hijacked for a Nike slogan, but there’s more to Ali than sportsmanship. The Greatest has a singular strength of character, a love of self, and freedom of mind seldom embodied in one human being. The greatness of Muhammad Ali is manifest in nearly every one of his endeavors, from fighting and poetry to public speaking and political activism. Throughout his life, he has acted on principle, no matter what the consequences. Ali has always been clear about this. It was his primary motivation for achieving international fame. He wanted a platform to advocate on behalf of his downtrodden, marginalized human brethren, and created it by becoming The Champ.
“I always waned to do something to help my people and their cause. And I always wanted to be famous, where when I talk, I say something, they would listen. I would get attention. Not for greedy, selfish reasons, but to help my people.” (Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson Interview, 1974)
Muhammad Ali started boxing when he was 12, and liked it so much he dropped schooling to excel at boxing. He won fight after fight, including two Golden Gloves, an Olympic Gold Medal, and the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Muhammad Ali conjectured that if he’d gone to school and become educated, he may have been a lawyer, or a political man like Martin Luther King, Jr. Regardless, he wanted to stay connected to the huge masses of poor, ground down, invisible, disenfranchised black Americans. Ali desired to represent his socio-economic origins, unaltered by the traps and convenient amoral injustices of affluence.
He did not covet his fame or his riches. They were a means for his voice to be heard in an unjust and jaded world which needed a figure like him. But he took it deeper. He said materialism was actually central to his message. Ali said that good and evil reside in the material world, in our actions and the way we treat each other right here on earth, not in some hereafter. The quality of human life nowis of the greatest consequence for establishing any kind of harmony with eternity.