Muham­mad Ali, 74

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

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

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