Muhammad Ali Died And Left The World A Prince Story

I’m not going to sit here and act like I have vivid memories of Muhammad Ali’s boxing career because I know next to nothing about it outside of being aware in my periphery that he was almost universally considered the greatest there ever was. However, I do know that he put his entire ass on the line – professionally, financially, and personally – protesting the Vietnam War and calling out the US government for ordering to him kill poor people in Vietnam while we disrespect our own here in America. Which is why even after his death you still have white people referring him to as Cassius Clay, a racist dog whistle if there ever was one, and busting out the tried and true “Why for no one talks about the troops?!” But Muhammad Ali prevailed, and some might even say he turned the tide on public perception of the war in Vietnam. Soon, he was back in the ring (and fighting goddamn Superman) as his career reached such a mythological status that even Prince fanboyed over him after being invited to a charity event. And if you’re starting to realize this post is an excuse for another Prince anecdote, you’re goddamn right it is. Via BBC News:

He had grown up idolising Ali, who had himself changed his name after converting to Islam and denouncing his previous name, Cassius Clay, as his “slave name”. “I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it,” he said.
“My friend called me a couple of days ago and asked me,” Prince told a press conference after arriving in Washington.
“He said, Muhammad wants you to – and I said ‘Yes’. I didn’t even let him finish. He could have said, ‘Mow the lawn,’ and I would have been down with it. Muhammad’s my hero. He has been since I was a child.”

Go ahead and take a couple minutes imagining Prince mowing Muhammad Ali’s lawn because soon it’s going to be replaced with this, and goddammit, this year killed everybody that’s cool.

“He saw Muhammad at the same time Muhammad saw him, and Muhammad said ‘Prince!’
“But his daughter, Hana, said ‘His name is The Artist, and you have to call him The Artist – or I will get him to call you Cassius Clay.’ Then Prince almost jumped into his arms.”
The two spent the whole day together, with photographs showing them being almost playful with one another – in one image, Ali is seen playing with Prince’s hair and ear as the singer grins.
“When Prince came in, they bonded over magic,” Mr Clark said.
“Muhammad told Prince he wanted to show him a special trick – Muhammad then got up and pretended to levitate. Prince said ‘That’s nothing’ and jumped up on the table and pretended to be doing the same trick.

And now for The White House’s official statement because The Champ would’ve loved seeing racist white people’s heads explode. He truly would.

Statement from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on the Passing of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period. If you just asked him, he’d tell you. He’d tell you he was the double greatest; that he’d “handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail.”

But what made The Champ the greatest – what truly separated him from everyone else – is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing.

Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing. But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.

In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him – the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston. I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was – still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.

“I am America,” he once declared. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”

That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.

He wasn’t perfect, of course. For all his magic in the ring, he could be careless with his words, and full of contradictions as his faith evolved. But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes – maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves. Later, as his physical powers ebbed, he became an even more powerful force for peace and reconciliation around the world. We saw a man who said he was so mean he’d make medicine sick reveal a soft spot, visiting children with illness and disability around the world, telling them they, too, could become the greatest. We watched a hero light a torch, and fight his greatest fight of all on the world stage once again; a battle against the disease that ravaged his body, but couldn’t take the spark from his eyes.

Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it. Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family, and we pray that the greatest fighter of them all finally rests in peace.

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Photo: Getty