One of the greatest and most charismatic athletes I’ve ever seen, boxer Muhammad Ali, diedd late Friday at a hospital in Phoenix at age 74.
If you’re a millennial, it’s hard to explain what a big deal boxing was when I was a kid in the 1970s and into the early 1980s. The sport has degenerated so much in recent years, but there was a time when a heavyweight fight between Ali and Joe Frazier, or Frazier and George Foreman, was a spectacle not to be missed.
But the greatest of them all was Ali, who combined unparalleled pugilistic skills in the ring with the showmanship and bravado that was at the time a groundbreaking thing. Today, with social media and other outlets, even marginal athletes have a “presence,” but nobody did it like Ali. He was a sports pioneer who transcended sports in so many ways, making a mark on issues of race, politics and culture.
And his legend only grew as his body and his personality tragically deteriorated from the ravages of Parkinson’s, leaving him a hollow shell of the man he once had been. We’re not likely to see another sports figure play as significant a role in the world anytime soon, if ever.