The great­est

Re­flec­tions on the pass­ing of Muham­mad Ali

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By RI­CARDO ARDUENGO

SCOTTS­DALE, Ariz. (Reuters) – The death of Muham­mad Ali, the for­mer heavy­weight cham­pion known as much for his po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism as his box­ing bril­liance, trig­gered a world­wide out­pour­ing of af­fec­tion and ad­mi­ra­tion for one of the best-known fig­ures of the 20th cen­tury.

Ali, who had long suf­fered from Parkin­son’s syn­drome which im­paired his speech and made the once-grace­ful ath­lete al­most a pris­oner in his own body, died on Fri­day at age 74.

“He’ll be re­mem­bered as a man of the world who spoke his mind and wasn’t afraid to take a chance and went out of his way to be a kind, benev­o­lent in­di­vid­ual that re­ally changed the world,” the fam­ily spokesman, Bob Gun­nell, said at a news con­fer­ence in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona.

De­spite Ali’s fail­ing health, his youth­ful procla­ma­tion that he was “the great­est” rang true un­til the end for mil­lions of peo­ple around the world who re­spected him for his courage both in­side and out­side the ring.

Along with a fear­some rep­u­ta­tion as a fighter, Ali spoke out against racism, war and re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance, while pro­ject­ing an un­shak­able con­fi­dence that be­came a model for African-Amer­i­cans at the height of the civil rights era and be­yond.

Stripped of his world box­ing crown for re­fus­ing to join the US Army and fight in Viet­nam, Ali re­turned in tri­umph by re­cap­tur­ing the ti­tle and star­ring in some of the sport’s most un­for­get­table bouts.

“I think when you talk about Muham­mad Ali, as great an ath­lete, as great a boxer as he was, he was the great­est boxer of all time, he means so much more to the United States and the world,” said Ali’s long-time friend, box­ing pro­moter Bob Arum.

“He was a trans­for­ma­tive fig­ure in our so­ci­ety.”

Ali’s home­town of Louisville will honor the for­mer box­ing cham­pion on Fri­day with a pro­ces­sion through the Ken­tucky city and pub­lic fu­neral at a sports arena, a trib­ute be­fit­ting a lo­cal hero who achieved global stature as a hu­man­i­tar­ian.

The pub­lic ser­vice for Ali, one of the most cel­e­brated fig­ures of the 20th cen­tury whose death brought ac­co­lades from around the world, will fea­ture eu­lo­gies by for­mer pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, broad­caster Bryant Gum­bel and co­me­dian Billy Crys­tal, fam­ily spokesman Bob Gun­nell said on Satur­day.

The body of the for­mer prize fighter was ex­pected to be re­turned within the next two days to Louisville, where flags were low­ered at city hall in his honor.

Ali was born Cas­sius Mar­cel­lus Clay Jr in Louisville on Jan. 17, 1942, and was known as the “Louisville Lip” early in his box­ing ca­reer be­cause of his play­fully boast­ful na­ture.

Fans gath­ered on Satur­day at his mod­est child­hood home on Grand Av­enue, which has been con­verted to a mu­seum, and at the Muham­mad Ali Cen­ter, a cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional venue, to pay their re­spects.

“Our deep­est sym­pa­thies and heart­felt con­do­lences are with the Ali fam­ily and friends at this time. He will be for­ever be re­mem­bered as The Great­est,” the cen­ter said on its web­site.

Fri­day’s events were ex­pected to be­gin with a pri­vate prayer ser­vice for fam­ily mem­bers at a Louisville fu­neral home.

The pro­ces­sion will then pro­ceed along the city’s main streets, in­clud­ing Muham­mad Ali Boule­vard, to Cave Hill Ceme­tery, pass­ing lo­ca­tions that were sig­nif­i­cant to the for­mer cham­pion.

The fu­neral ser­vice at the KFC Yum Cen­ter, which seats more than 20,000 peo­ple, and will be live-streamed at the cen­ter’s web­site.

Burst­ing onto the box­ing scene in the 1960s with a brash­ness that threat­ened many whites, Ali would come to be em­braced by Amer­i­cans of all races for his grace, in­tegrity and dis­arm­ing sense of hu­mor.

“In the end, he went from be­ing re­viled to be­ing revered,” civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jack­son told CNN on Satur­day.

Pam Dor­rough, a tourist in New York’s Times Square, ad­mired Ali’s re­fusal to apol­o­gize for what he be­lieved.

“The con­fi­dence – and I know ev­ery­body thought it was an ar­ro­gance about him – he al­ways pro­jected a con­fi­dence,” she said. “And he stood by that.”

(Chuck Kennedy/MCT/TNS)

PRES­I­DENT GE­ORGE W. Bush presents Muham­mad Ali the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom dur­ing a cer­e­mony at the White House in Wash­ing­ton, DC in 2005.

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