Today marks the 73rd birthday of one of the most fascinating, charismatic, inspiring, and beloved figures in modern sports. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville on January 17, 1942.
As a boxer, Ali connected with legions of fans due not only to his amazing feats in the ring (he remains the only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion) but also his famous brand of self-promotion. He became known as The Louisville Lip due to enduring statements like "I am the Greatest" and "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Of course, his talent in the ring backed up his statements. Ali later said, "At home, I am a nice guy, but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”
Nobody ever mistook Ali for being humble. Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, he was known not only for his boxing successes and outlandish statements, but also for his political and cultural stances. His religious and social objections to the Vietnam War as well as his candor regarding race and political issues made him a counterculture icon. Ali wasn't just a boxer, he was the first true "Sports Personality", establishing the groundwork for modern sports culture. As the writer Joyce Carol Oates said in her work "On Boxing", Ali was one of the few athletes in any sport to "define the terms of his public reputation." Ali's reputation extended far beyond the realm of sports; he is a seminal figure in modern African-American culture, with popularity that has racial lines for decades.
Upon his retirement from boxing, Ali has devoted his time and resources to humanitarian causes and Parkinson's Disease research. He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor, Amnesty International's Lifetime Achievement Award, and the National Constitution Center Liberty Medal.
Louisville's Muhammad Ali Center, established by The Champ and his wife Lonnie, is an education center and museum devoted to the six principles established by Ali:
- Confidence: Belief in oneself, one's abilities, and one's future.
- Conviction: A firm belief that gives one the courage to stand behind that belief, despite pressure to do otherwise.
- Dedication: The act of devoting all of one's energy, effort, and abilities to a certain task.
- Giving: To present voluntarily without expecting something in return.
- Respect: Esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of, oneself and others.
- Spirituality: A sense of awe, reverence, and inner peace inspired by a connection to all of creation and/or that which is greater than oneself.
The Ali Center, StageOne, and the Kentucky Center for the Arts are celebrating Muhammad Ali's 73rd birthday on Saturday night with a gala that includes the world premiere of "And in this Corner... Cassius Clay", playwright Idris Goodwin's story of Ali's life.
From all of us at HerKentucky, Happy Birthday, Muhammad! You'll always be The Greatest to us!