*A week ago, when a notification popped up on my iPhone trumpeting Muhammad Ali‘s death at 74, I froze. I literally could not move. I was uncharacteristically speechless.
It took me a few days to figure out why.
Ali didn’t just call himself The Greatest. He was the greatest boxer we’ve known. For this 70s kid, he was a modern day Joe Louis who had battled the ghosts of a challenging childhood on his way to winning the heavyweight champ title in 1964.
Muhammad Ali was one of my earliest childhood heroes. More than a boxer, he was a real life Superman who, I dreamed, was the one person alive who could have helped me battle my own childhood demons, including an alcoholic, abusive father.
As much as I admired Ali as a boxer, I joined the world in being enthralled by his bravado. He wasn’t just the greatest fighter, he told us: he was also pretty! As a young kid, I copied that persona, first talking myself out of the negative messages that I’d begun to internalize, then taking that bravado to school with me. I later learned that Ali was self-conscious as well, and that his bravado was his method for talking himself into the victories he sought in the ring.