This one gets personal for me, because Muhammad Ali wasn’t just a hero of mine. He was a hero of my father’s too.
In my mind, it looks like this, a weekend afternoon, a Lay’s potato chips in an ugly salad bowl, my dad on the couch, me on the floor next to him, the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat is playing.
I didn’t really get boxing, but I got bombast, and Ali was the most dynamic, bombastic person on the television. He floated like a butterfly. He stung like a bee. And he won a lot.
Muhammad Ali isn’t here because he was a great boxer, although he was a great boxer. He’s here because he invented the sports superstar, because he was unsurpassably brave in standing up for himself and for black Americans and for Muslims. He stared racism in the eye, and he was honest.
By the time I understood boxing, I also understood all the rest of this. That Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, just like my father, only completed a picture of two men I admired and saw in a similar light, although my father was, at least outwardly, the opposite of bombastic.