Muhammad Ali was
indeed the greatest,
By Barack Obama

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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