|A bout I remember|
I didn't figure out what made Ali great until later on. He was tough and talkative, but what separated him from everyone else was simple -- he was the most intelligent athlete of his era, and one of the most intelligent athletes of all time. He understood what boxing needed when he came on the scene -- Sonny Liston was a sullen, angry man and the rumors about organized crime connections were rampant. Ali seemed apart from all that, at least initially. Yes, he was a follower of Elijah Muhammad and yes, Don King was around, too. In the end, Ali transcended them, too.
Ali's fight against Parkinson's Disease defines Ali even more than his career in the ring. One by one, he had his talents taken away from him, yet he remained a revered figure and a dignified presence. Even when we was no longer able to speak, you could hear him.
The figures of our past have been disappearing in a hurry this year, especially in the popular culture. We don't know what's coming next, but it doesn't look like a particularly promising future awaits. I'm thinking it's going to be better than we can now imagine. We have a lot of Sonny Listons in our midst, but we have Alis as well. They will emerge.