I don't think Muhammad Ali was "the greatest" boxer ever, but certainly one of the best for a heavyweight. I'm seldom impressed by a converted believer to some organized religion who now claims to "know the truth." I'm also not impressed by people, like Thomas Merton and Muhammad Ali, who claim to adhere to a pacifist religion when their military draft notice comes. All that aside, Muhammad Ali was, like millions of Americans and people all around the world, against the war in Vietnam; and, I admired him for speaking out for that position. I am a ambivalent about the Nation of Islam, but compared to the violent racism of WASPs in America, they seem quite tame and mostly community improvement orientated. Muhammad Ali's voice rebuking segregation in the Southern U.S., racism everywhere, and the need for better understanding and peace among people around the world were very influential and widely respected.
Unfortunately, his ability to continue to positively influence and change the world was greatly hampered by his Parkinson's disease. Fame and athleticism and fortune mean nothing to diseases. We all felt sorry for the man in that respect, as we do for all people subjected to chronic suffering and disability.
His smart-ass fighter's bravado was at times humorous, but mostly annoying to me; and, taunting is not now favored by many elite athletes.
A few statements attributed to the late Muhammad Ali (1940-2016):
"The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life."
"Don't count the days. Make the day's count."
"No Viet Cong ever called me 'nigger.' "
"When I feel pain, that's when I start counting, because that's when it really counts."
"I know where I'm going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want."