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My memories begin when he was still Cassius Clay, the Louisville Lip who was taking the sporting world by storm. At that time, the adults around me wanted this uppity Negro to just shut up. On the contrary, we kids couldn’t get enough of his poetic braggadocio. Even cooler, he beat everyone — just as he predicted he would!

But Ali’s greatest challenges were outside the ring, with the military and in the court of public opinion. He disobeyed the former when he refused to be drafted because “I ain’t got nothing against them Viet Cong.” He was then vilified, viciously criticized and compared to many of the country’s traitors in the latter. Every boxing commission on the planet wrenched his heavyweight title from him without a whiff of due process. But he refused to yield, a position the Supreme Court ratified three and half years later when it reversed and vacated his conviction. Sadly “Patriotic ineptness” cost Ali and the world the opportunity to witness the prime years for the greatest pugilist of all time!!!

Fortunately, I got to see Ali fairly up close and in person. He was visiting relatives of my next door neighbors, the Rowe family. The Rowe’s were of the Muslim faith.Though Ali didn’t come to their house (wow, would I have bragged!), he visited their relatives two blocks away in the 1100 block of Staples Street NE. My best friend lived directly across the street. Though we didn’t have his mom’s permission to go over there, as did many other kids, we still had a bird’s eye view of The Champ. He was larger than life, yet he was more kid than killer.

There really was no way that this man who was courageous and fearless enough to stand up to the United States Army was going to go kill strangers for someone else’s cause. He was a man of conviction and principle. Yes, he beat everybody by floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. But the man was more intelligent than he was athletic. That’s what made him a champion in the ring.

And what made him the people’s champion outside the ropes? He would not back down. When the courts and the commissions and the government couldn’t break him personally, they took away his title and took back his physical crown. But they couldn’t take away HIM. That’s why he remains The Greatest!!!!