Muhammad Ali, 74
On that last ride, the hearse windshield was covered with so many flowers, the driver could barely see the road, let alone the throngs lining the streets. Muhammad Ali was back where it all began, in Louisville, Ky., where he launched a career that would shake sports as has no athlete before him or after.
He was a three-time heavyweight champion, an audacious mix of speed, dazzle and brute force — the stark counterpoint years later to the shuffling man with a whisper slowed by Parkinson’s.
His fights with Joe Frazier were an epic trilogy. He proclaimed himself The Greatest. He did it with wit and guile, boasts and taunts, in prose and rhyme, and always with a wink. He understood the marketplace and the showmanship that go with ticket sales. Ali fought everywhere and said they would know him in an Asian rice paddy.
He lost prime years, refusing military induction. He spoke up when that was not in fashion. He changed his religion and his name.
He became a flashpoint for a country on edge.
Time softened the rancor. By the end, he was a national monument. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he stood, shakily, with torch in hand at the cauldron.
“The man who has no imagination,” he once said, “has no wings.”
Muhammad Ali, in 1965 standing over Sonny Liston after the famous “phantom punch” in their second fight, was a three-time heavyweight champion, John Rooney, The Associated Press