It's a sorry state of affairs when the only two posts I have made this year to date concern the deaths of two people who were outstanding in their particular chosen fields and who were also an inspiration for generations. Of course between Bowie and Ali I could have also posted about Glenn Frey, Prince and a whole other host of luminaries from the worlds of sport, entertainment and beyond.
Muhammad Ali was obviously a big inspiration to black people everywhere but it shouldn't be forgotten that his rise in the boxing world came at a time when we only had two television channels, later three for most of his boxing career, and our exposure to international boxing was once every four years at the Olympics and on a Wednesday night with Harry Carpenter, courtesy of Sportsnight with David Coleman.
When Harry Carpenter died back in 2010 I posted on a BBC board that he should be remembered for one quote above all others, the end of the 'rumble in the jungle' when Ali beat Foreman in Kinshasa in 1974, "Oh my God, he’s won the title back at 32!’ It was one of those hairs on the back of the neck moments, accompanying the fuzzy images of a legend winning the title I think everybody outside of George Foreman's entourage hoped he would win.
Ali was not only one of the greatest sportsmen who has ever lived but he was being the poster boy for civil rights and pricked consciousness in America during the Vietnam War. His comments on not wanting to fight in one of America's many pointless foreign meddling forays were a wake up call to many: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end".
Like all people he was a bundle of contradictions and his comments about Joe Frazier do not look any better in retrospect then they did at the time but they were all part of what is now regarded as simple 'trash talk' the thing that has you reaching for the mute button whenever their is a weigh-in or press conference for any of the 200 different weight divisions that seem to exist today.
The 'float like a butterfly' and 'I am the greatest' quotes kept us amused for hours during those long winters of the 1970's as along with George Best he seemed to be the only person in sport who featured at the front of the daily papers as much as the back pages.
Legend? Well in an era where you can be called world class if you score from thirty yards against Andorra it is difficult, without sounding like one of the Four Yorkshiremen, to convey what a special sportsman, personality and inspiration he was. In boxing terms in won 56 of the 61 fights he fought, 37 of those were knockouts, and three of the five defeats he suffered came in his last four fights between the ages of 36 and 3, but to people of all ages from all backgrounds spread far and wide across the world he was simply a wonderful human being who touched the hearts of so many and gave us so many special memories.