I did not know a death of someone whom I never met could affect me so much.
I sat glued to Sportscenter for 2 hours watching them cover the death of Ali.
Growing up, I was particularly obsessed with 3 athletes: Michael Jordan, Bruce Lee, and Muhammed Ali.
I discovered Lee and Ali when I was like 10 or 12.
I was obsessed with Bruce Lee because he looked like me. In a place where I was the only Asian in my class, Bruce Lee was a genuinely welcomed person in my life — a familiar face that I’ve never seen before. And it helped that many of my white friends knew who he was. They’d often call me “Bruce Lee” in a derogatory way because they didn’t bother knowing my name and because they were ignorant, stupid, and racist — but I always took that as a compliment. Especially when I had to kick their ass. “Who’s Bruce Lee now, punk?” My trash talk needed work.
Which is where Muhammad Ali came in.
My first introduction to him was his fight with George Foreman. I can’t remember if my dad showed it to me or if I saw it at the library or if it was on TV for some reason.
How could you not like Ali?
Here he was, taking every shot that Foreman threw — not shying away from his rope-a-dope tactic to his Ali Bomaye! chants…
The way he talked; the way he fought — I wanted to know more.
From when he first beat Liston with his “I must be the greatest” and “I shook up the world” and pointing at the crowd shouting, “I fooled you!”
To his antagonizing of Frazier —
To his lighting of the Olympic torch in ATL. I was 15. I vividly remember both my dad’s and my reaction as we exclaimed at the same time, “OH! ALI!!” (he with a more Korean accent) — he captured my heart and imagination as a young, formative child.
I didn’t even really knew what “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” meant. But that didn’t stop me from quoting it — often at random times.
As I have gotten older, my appreciation of Muhammad Ali had changed.
Yes, he was the GOAT (greatest of all time) boxer.
He wasn’t just a champion boxer, but a champion in life.
He was not perfect. He had his flaws. As we humans all do.
But he stood up for his beliefs and his people.
Kareem Abdul Jabar recently criticized Michael Jordan by saying, “You can’t be afraid of losing shoe sales if you’re worried about your civil and human rights. He took commerce over conscience. It’s unfortunate for him, but he’s gotta live with it.”
Something tells me Jordan’s okay with it.
But Ali, he couldn’t stay silent.
When I was 12, his willingness to stand up for his belief didn’t mean much.
I just wanted to see him talk and fight.
But at the age of 35, I can only hope that I have such courage and conviction.
Last year, during one of my web surfing sessions, I ran across this video of Ali:
I honestly do not know if I could take such a stand with so much to lose.
It’s easy to risk everything you got when you got nothing at all.
He lost millions.
He spent 3 years of his prime behind bars — not because he committed a crime against another human being — but because he refused to fight in a war he did not believe in.
He was criticized. He was hated by the people in power; by the majority.
Jim Brown says Ali didn’t go from America’s most hated athlete to its most beloved until he lost the ability to speak.
Whether it’s true or not — there is truth in that people in power get very edgy and uncomfortable when the oppressed find a voice; when the status quo is challenged.
And challenge the status quo, Ali did and history proved Ali was right.
After he beat Liston, he exclaimed that he “shook up the world.”
Oh yea, Ali most definitely shook up the world.