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Remembering Muhammad Ali by Gary Johnson



By Gary A. Johnson, Black Men In

Posted June 4, 2016

He was a 3 time World Heavyweight boxing champion.  He was also a world citizen and a principled and courageous man known by the world as The Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.) and to be honest, given his total body of work, I’m not sure if the word “greatest” is good enough.  I can make an argument that that word is not big enough.  The “GREATEST” compared to what?  I’m not sure if I can come up with the appropriate word, so I guess for now, the “GREATEST” will have to do.

Ali died Friday, June 3, 2016, at a Phoenix-area hospital, where he had spent the past few days being treated for respiratory complications.  He was 74.

“After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition that slowly robbed him of both his legendary verbal grace and his physical dexterity.  A funeral service is planned in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Ali and Lonnie

Muhammad Ali was more than a boxer or athlete.  Ali converted to Islam and refused to serve in the Vietnam War and was vilified by both black and white America for not supporting the war, a war that he believed to be unjust.  Ali was stripped of his boxing title during the prime of his career and was unable to earn a living.  Year later, Ali became an emblem of strength, eloquence, conscience and courage. Ali was an anti-establishment showman who transcended borders and barriers, race and religion.

Ali and Frazier

Much has and will be written about Muhammad Ali.  He was far from perfect and at times, even cruel.  For example, I did not like the way he talked about and treated Joe Frazier during the build up to their first fight in 1971.  Unable to earn a living as a boxer, Ali earned a living by going on the lecture circuit and accepting money from people.  One of those people who gave Ali money was Joe Frazier.  Years later, Ali apologized for his behavior toward Frazier.  Together, those two made boxing history with their paydays and for participating in 3 of the most memorable fights in history, particularly their third bout known as “The Thrilla in Manila.”  In that fight, Joe Frazier was not allowed to answer the bell rendering the fight to Ali.  Later, Ali said, that fight was as close to death as he had ever been.

Ali Thrilla in Manila

Several years ago I had the pleasure of flying to Phoenix, Arizona to conduct a workshop.  I was seated in the First Class section of the plane and took a seat next to Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s 4th white.  It was a long flight from Washington, DC to Phoenix.  Fortunately for me, Lonnie Ali did not mind talking about her iconic husband.  It was a great

There are dozens of documentaries about his life and career.  You don’t need me to tell you about his life and accomplishments.  For you younger people or those who don’t know much about Muhammad Ali, go to YouTube and watch Muhammad Ali on the “Dick Cavett Show,” or Ali on the “Mike Douglas” show or Ali with giving our own Harold Bell the first exclusive interview when he returned to the country after winning the championship in Zaire by defeating George Foreman.  I simply wanted to take time to pay respect to a man who inspired me as a young boy to speak up for what was right.  Muhammad Ali used his platform as the most recognized figure in the world, to make the world better by urging people to practice peace and love.  Muhammad Ali became one of the most influential and cultural figures of the 20th Century.  To me he was a symbol of peace and courage.  I define courage as “the willingness to act on what you believe to be true.”

I don’t want to hear about any of today’s athlete being on par with Muhammad Ali.  Get the hell outta here.  Today’s athlete is not talking about anything that matters on a level of what Muhammad Ali was talking about.  Ali was talking about the impact of war, civil rights, freedom speech in the segregated 1960’s when this country was divided.  Ali spoke the truth and was completely unafraid to take on the United States government.

Harold Bell and Muhammad Ali

Harold Bell and Muhammad Ali

Feel free to leave your comments about Muhammad Ali and what he meant to you in the “Comments” section below.

Ali Count

Click on the link below to watch the documentary “Muhammad Ali:  The Greatest of All Time”

USA Today compiled a list of 30 quotes (in no particular order) by Muhammad Ali.  These quotes are give you a small glimpse into the Muhammad Ali, “The Man.”


1. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.

2. “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

3. “I’m young; I’m handsome; I’m fast. I can’t possibly be beat.”

4. “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”

5. “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.”

Muhammad Ali Greatest Poster

6. “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”

7. “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

8. “If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”

9. “Braggin’ is when a person says something and can’t do it. I do what I say.”

10. “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

11. “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”

12. “I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”

14. “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

15. “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

16. “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

17. “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.”

18. “I shook up the world. Me! Whee!”

20. “At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”

21. “A man who has no imagination has no wings.”

22. “He’s (Sonny Liston) too ugly to be the world champ. The world champ should be pretty like me!”

23. “I am the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I’m in a world of my own.”

24. “I’ve wrestled with alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning. And throw thunder in jail.”

25. “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”

Ali and Elvis

Ali and Elvis

26. “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

27. “I’m the most recognized and loved man that ever lived cuz there weren’t no satellites when Jesus and Moses were around, so people far away in the villages didn’t know about them.”

28. “It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

29. “I’m not the greatest, I’m the double greatest.”

30. “Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Statement from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on the Passing of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was The Greatest.  Period.  If you just asked him, he’d tell you.  He’d tell you he was the double greatest; that he’d “handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail.”

But what made The Champ the greatest – what truly separated him from everyone else – is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing.

Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing.  But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.

In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him – the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston.  I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was – still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.

“I am America,” he once declared. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”

That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right.  A man who fought for us.  He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.  His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing.  It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail.  But Ali stood his ground.  And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.

He wasn’t perfect, of course.  For all his magic in the ring, he could be careless with his words, and full of contradictions as his faith evolved.  But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes – maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves.  Later, as his physical powers ebbed, he became an even more powerful force for peace and reconciliation around the world.  We saw a man who said he was so mean he’d make medicine sick reveal a soft spot, visiting children with illness and disability around the world, telling them they, too, could become the greatest.  We watched a hero light a torch, and fight his greatest fight of all on the world stage once again; a battle against the disease that ravaged his body, but couldn’t take the spark from his eyes.

Muhammad Ali shook up the world.  And the world is better for it.  We are all better for it.  Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family, and we pray that the greatest fighter of them all finally rests in peace.

President Barack Obama and Muhammad Ali

President Barack Obama and Muhammad Ali

You can also learn more about Muhammad Ali by visiting his website

Gary J. Head Shot

Gary A. Johnson is the Founder of Gary A. Johnson Company & Associates, LLC, a management training and consulting company. The company manages a variety of Internet and digital media enterprises including Black Men In, one of the most popular web sites on the Internet, Black Men In Dating and the Black Men In Syndicated Blog. In addition, the company manages Homework Help, an educational resource site for children, college students and parents.

To learn more about Gary click here.


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