But it wasn’t just Ali, and it wasn’t just boxing. Also striding the narrow world like a colossus were (to name just a few) Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas in football, Johnny Bench and Henry Aaron in baseball, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt “Clyde” Frazier in basketball.
Even horse racing demanded our attention back then, when in all three epic 1978 Triple Crown races, Affirmed just wouldn’t allow Alydar to beat him to the finish line.
Shuffled off this mortal coil are Frazier (who nearly drowned in a 25-meter swimming pool during a filming of the “Superstars” television show in 1973), Unitas, Liston, Cosell and Red Smith.
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984, probably the result of the beatings he took in a ring career that lasted far too long. The disease has stilled the voice that thrilled and infuriated us.
But as the reaction of those University of Miami basketball players proves, while Ali’s body is frail, the athletic glory of his time outshines anything going on now.
Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at email@example.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/sampollak.