Of course, the whole world knows that Muhammad Ali in his prime was an incandescent fighter — a poet in the ring blessed with extraordinary foot and hand speed, reflexes, artistry and an iron will.
Boxing is a physical dialogue between bodies and Ali was the master of that conversation. A heavyweight who fought like a lightweight.
I was privileged as a young sportswriter to spend nearly a decade covering and hanging out with Ali at his Deer Lake, PA training camp.
Heck, we even playfully sparred once. Rest assured, the few light punches I managed to land hardly contributed to the volume of punches that eventually did him in at age 74.
Ego was the fuel in his engine. He not only proclaimed again and again that he was The Greatest, he believed it. Until time and exile poached his skills, his enormous ego made him invincible in the ring.
The Ali who fought Frazier and Foreman was a shell of his former self and the Ali who was humbled by Holmes was already diminished by the onset of Parkinson’s and further depleted by popping thyroid pills like they were Tic Tacs.
Yes, Ali once had the magnificent body and the good looks of a movie star. In fact that beautiful face likely has been photographed more times than anybody’s. But what I will remember the most about Ali in his private moments was he was the eternal kid at heart, a devilish prankster.
That he could remain so amidst the tumult of being a culturally significant lightening rod always amazed me.
By the way, Ali was not the deep intellect or philosopher some have credited him with being. But he could articulate with the best of them, which gave the impression his words carried more weight than they did.
And he had a notorious sweet tooth. Nothing could make the most famous man in the world more happy than a piece of pie.
Finally, he was a pretty good magician.
Which punctuates the childish mischief and sense of wonder he never lost.
Rest in peace, champ.