It's almost one in the morning and news has just come through that Muhammad Ali, "The Greatest," has died.
So closes the epic story of one of the more prominent figures of the 20th Century -- no word of exaggeration. Ali stood up against the Vietnam War and defied the draft. That cost him his title, a long court battle, and four of his prime years in the ring. But Ali had integrity. He told one and all that he didn't believe in fighting a white man's war and killing other people with darker skin.
He was a polarizing figure, but most people who turn the pages of history are. At least until history and commonsense catch up. He was pilloried by the boxing establishment when, in the mid-Sixties, he chose the Muslim name Muhammad Ali (he was born Cassius Clay). Racist epithets were thrown at him from all sides, including from members of the press. Such were the times.
But he was too big for all of them. Too big by a long shot. And time proved him right. We must always remember the courage of trailblazers like Ali. It's easy to idolize them but harder to pause and really empathize with them; what they went through.
As a schoolboy, Muhammad Ali was my hero. When I pummeled the makeshift heavy bag in our garage, I'd dance around it like I too was floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Just like kids all around the world did. I think kids often see things clearer than their elders. There's a lesson in that as well.
I hope, with all my heart that, as the whirlwind of revisionist adulation swirls about us in the next few days, the world will stop to truly examine this great man's life. I don't mean the counterfeit eulogizing of presidents and other "dignitaries" who wouldn't know a left hook from meat hook but are happy to make grand speeches that, really, are just the hollow echoes of hollow men. I mean, us, looking and thinking for ourselves, and seeing that here was a man, a real man, who stood up for what he believed, no matter the cost.
And just as a sidelight, he also found time to become the greatest heavyweight boxer who ever lived.