Like many of you, I spent most of the weekend reading and re-reading articles about Muhammad Ali. It was my dad who first told me about Ali. When Ali first defeated Sonny Liston in 1964 for the heavyweight title, my dad was a 16 year old poor boy growing up in Hong Kong who was considering becoming a Buddhist monk. That’s a long way from America. But that’s how far Muhammad Ali – the idea of him, his spirit, his magic – was able to travel, and farther still, so that even an awkward Chinese kid halfway around the planet was captivated by his force. That’s my personal association. And I’m sure you have yours. It’s impossible to overstate Ali’s importance and his impact.
For me then, it’s dad first and then it’s the words. Muhammad Ali loved words. His “I done handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail” came before Beyoncé’s “Tryna rain, tryna rain on the thunder, tell the storm I’m new”. His “I’m so mean I make medicine sick” is the godfather to her “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker”. As observed in Slate this weekend, “With quicksilver rhyming dexterity and the braggadocio of a Homeric hero, Ali spoke the language of Compton long before Kendrick Lamar resurrected his floating butterfly as a symbol of black creative expression”.
There has been and will be in the coming days no shortage of analysis about Muhammad Ali’s way with words, not only what he gave us but the words he inspired in others. Writing about him became a challenge to journalists – because that kind of once-in-a-lifetime charisma demanded the best, most high-quality work. Deadspin
posted a compilation last year that will shorten your commute home from work tonight. And I also recommend Robert Lipsyte’s recollections - he’s been covering Ali for The New York Times since the Liston fight and his are some of the most fascinating Ali anecdotes to shape a personality that, really, as Lipsyte notes, “the ring alone could not contain”.
That’s it. Muhammad Ali was more than sport. He was sport and history and politics and culture. Which is also what Joe Posnanski put together in his piece on Hamilton last week. Have you read it yet? I only read it for the first time yesterday, in between articles about Muhammad Ali. Joe took his daughter, Elizabeth, to see the show. When we’re lucky, our dads give us the greatest gifts.
Yours in gossip,