the greatest

want to know how iconic muhammad ali was?

last night, my work shift was going as it usually does. we knew ali’s health was in dire condition, and we had a plan in place for the worst, but with about 30 minutes remaining until I was scheduled to leave, it seemed i wouldn’t be a part of that scenario. it was almost 12:30 am and i started typing up my shift report, prepared to go home at the top of the hour. that’s when we seen it cross on our news wires. a collective breath left the room. muhammad ali died.

everything that everyone was doing at that moment became irrelevant. no other sports news mattered. we went into full-on ali coverage. this was the biggest death conceivable in our world, the sports world. and it was treated as such. i won’t delve into what the game plan was or how we broke up coverage, but it was obvious very quickly that i was at work on a night i would never forget. i didn’t leave until about 4 am.

any other time you stay almost three hours past your scheduled shift, it’s usually some anger involved. instead, i was selfishly honored to be able to help cover the death of such an icon. in my interview for espn, i was asked what sports moment before my lifetime would i most want to go back and witness. my response was, “any of muhammad ali’s fights, or even a press conference.” i admired ali’s charisma, passion, and activism. outside of youtube, i was too young to have watched him become one of the greatest in the boxing ring and a revered man outside of it, but his story was told and passed down like old folklore. like so many other kids, i wasn’t a fighter and didn’t box, but i wanted to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. and i wanted to be able to talk about my beliefs as freely as he did and back it up. ali was a giant of a human being. he dwarfed the people who thought their skin tone made them better. he cared about all of us.

ali suffered from parkinson’s disease for more than three decades, but some how the images of his young and outspoken self outlived the one of him as a frail, older man. even for someone like myself, who hasn’t lived as long as ali had the disease that caused him to tremble, i remember him as the young man with the short fro and loud, yet eloquent words, who changed his name from cassius clay, refused to fight a war he didn’t believe in, and refused to be treated like less of a man. and he refused to stand by and watch anyone else be treated less than. it’s been said time and time again, and i’ll say it once more: muhammad ali wasn’t the greatest because of what he did in the ring, he was the greatest because of what he stood for outside of it. he was an inspiration for me and millions of people, and will be remembered forever.

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Author: Prince J. Grimes

BottomLine Editor at ESPN. Former sports writer for Southern Maryland Newspapers and the Gazette newspapers. Graduate of North Carolina A&T State University. Hip-Hop was my first love.

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