In Louisville KY, the Greatest Boxer of All Time was laid to rest. Muhammad Ali will forever be one of the most amazing and courageous human beings the world has ever known. His bravery in the face of adversity of a type that would make most people crumble was all merely a temporary hindrance to Ali.
My earliest and deepest memories come courtesy of two other great men in my life. My brother and my father, Earnest Sr, and Earnie Redwine may have been Ali’s greatest fans. Growing up in Jersey City in the 70s and 80s boxing was the common touchstone for my brother and father. They often watched fights together. My father talking strategy and joking. My brother absorbing it all while spending time with Pop. Though this was the tail end of his career, Ali held a god-like position in the world of sports.
I wasn’t yet a boxing fan then. But, I knew of Muhammad Ali through the eyes of my big brother and the stories of my father. Tales of skill, tenacity, courage and bravado. He said of Sonny Liston, Ali’s opponent in his first title bout, “When he hit you, if your knees didn’t buckle, your neck would break.” You see my Pop is a world class sh*t talker. A skill often overlooked when people speak of the Champ. Ali was a master of psychological warfare. He could get under any opponent’s skin, making them predictable. He would then quickly unveil a strategy based on that predictability. Genius. He always knew just which buttons to push. He pushed them. Hard. This skill also extended to the press. My Pop is a kind soul. His skill was mostly used in poking fun at friends and family. But, don’t get it twisted – his hands were like lightning and packed a wallop.
Earnie’s view of Muhammad hinged on the Champ’s skill in the ring and the forthrightness of his manhood. He was a true flesh-and-blood hero for young Black men. Someone that strode through his life with the courage to be kind and truthful, much like the man my brother has become. The first person I contacted upon hearing of Ali’s passing was Earnie. I had to know he was OK. Logically, I knew he would be. I knew it would be an emotionally blow to my usually stoic sibling.
I soon became an Ali fan, despite my contrary nature. I would view old fights when they came on. Watching a human being in the space that they have come to master is a great joy. For all the brutality of a fighting sport, there is a beauty in one-on-one competition. Learning the true opponent is yourself. Even a loss is an opportunity to improve. Life lessons that we all should learn.
The Greatest is gone. Leaving a legacy of courage, kindness and honesty. An imperfect human we should admire.
Rest in Power, Champ!