A Footnote On “The Greatest”

“And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was”. – Muhammad Ali


It was in the United Airlines Club in Seattle toward the start of my consulting career. It had been a long day of intense meetings, and here I was waiting for a red eye flight to the east coast, followed by no sleep and more intense meetings. I’m sure I showed the fatigue.

As I looked around the club I thought to myself, “Do you know who that looks like?”  At this point I should probably mention that flying around the country so much, the airlines will give you free upgrades, which meant you meet a lot of interesting people.

Back to our story: He sort of looked like him, but heavier and older,  but there were bodyguards, so I became convinced it was him. Next my thought was whether I should bother him or not, but I finally walked across the club room and said, “Mister Ali, you don’t know me, but you’ve been an inspiration for me and millions of others with your ability to keep coming back to win.” He smiled and said, “thanks”, and I turned to walk away, but he reached out and touched my arm and in a soft voice said, “Never give up, you can always keep fighting.”
I’ll never know if I looked like I felt and needed a boost, or if it was something he said to people, but I’d been given advice from the greatest fighter alive!  Those words drift back to me from time to time. You always have to fight to stay in a positive frame of mind, to stay true to yourself and God, and yet, like Ali, with humor.

Muhammad Ali who was a winning boxer, a controversial figure, a great showman, someone with a great sense of humor, a man of history, a father, and true to the best of his faith, died last Friday.

When he had been asked a while ago how he wanted to be remembered he said:

“I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him…who stood up for his beliefs…who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.

And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”

That’s true Ali, proud of his achievements, unwavering in beliefs, and always with humor. An American champion.