Muhammad Ali was a global figure, even before the word was widely used.
He was loved by people of almost every nation. Remember, he came onto the scene at a time when there was hardly any larger than life non-Caucasian or Muslim role model on the word stage. With his skills, confidence, fine looks and, and most of all, his insistence that he was accepted for who he was, Ali ignited and inspired the imagination of millions.
I would also argue that many countries at that time were still in the post-colonial, newly independent years, and Ali’s unvarnished bravery and success subconsciously represented the possibilities that black and brown people could aspire to.
The name Muhammad Ali become the most well-known name in the world.
Like everywhere else, he was very well-loved in Singapore and Malaysia. Because of the time difference between the region and the United States, Ali’s boxing matches would be telecast live in this part of the world during the day.
People skipped school and work whenever his matches would be telecast live. Members of our family too skipped school so that we could huddle in front of the TV to see Ali defeat his opponent.
I remember this episode clearly. At that time, our neighborhood had a provision shop/small grocery shop that made home deliveries. We would telephone the owner with our order. The shop assistant would then cycle to our house with the groceries.
About a week or so before one of Ali’s matches, the shop assistant came to our house to make a delivery. He lingered, made small talk, then he whispered to us that he needed a favour. He wanted us, on the day of the match, to call the shop about 10 minutes before the live telecast would start, and to make an order for a delivery. In that way, he could come and watch the match with us.
After he left, we laughed at his cunning. But we did it. We called the shop at the requested time, and he joined our family as we all sat enthralled watching and cheering Muhammad Ali with the rest of the world.
Exceptional; with a charisma that would be hard to duplicate. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
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