As two presidents, a king, numerous Muslim leaders, a Protestant minister, two Rabbis, a Mormon, several government officials and foreign dignitaries and a cadre of celebrities and actors gather Friday with tens of thousands of others to pay their final respects to a man who meant so much to the global community, all of humanity is reminded that Muhammad Ali was more than a boxer; he was King of the World.
In retrospect, Ali is painted as a global hero, a man who transcended race. But many either forget or don’t acknowledge how the loud-mouthed, bodacious, unapologetically Black and Muslim fighter would be persecuted in today’s climate.
To paraphrase his own words, Ali represented the part of America the country refused to recognize in the 1960s: the “Black, confident, cocky” athlete, but more importantly the empowered Black man. He knew where he was going and he knew the truth, and he didn’t have to be what you want him to be — not even your “safe,” uncontroversial, transcendent hero. He was free to be who and what he wanted: His name, not yours; his religion, not yours; his goals, his own.
He shook up the world. He was the greatest. He was King of the World and a baaaaaad man. And he made America get used to it, rather than conforming to what America wanted him to be.
In a 2013 interview, daughter Laila Ali said the greatest lesson she learned from her father was having compassion towards people. “My father loved people. No matter what their race, no matter what their position in life, he treated everyone with kindness, love and respect.”
“He stood for so much. … He made such a difference in this world and I’m so proud of him,” she said.
Muhammad Ali told the world how he was to be remembered on multiple occassions. In a 1974 interview with journalist David Frost, and again in his memoirs in 1975: