Word this morning that Mohammed Ali has died brought a flood of memories for me.
I believe I was in the 6th grade when he burst onto the scene with his fight against Sonny Liston. I can still remember two of the boys in my class at school arguing about who was going to win that epic battle. Boxing was not something we watched at our house so I had no idea who they were talking about, but soon enough it was impossible not to. He was in the headlines constantly with his brash statements and bombastic personality.
Then he converted to Islam and all the headlines were about the fact that he was changing his name from Cassius Clay to Mohammed Ali. This was puzzling to me. First of all, I thought that his birth name was fabulous-it was made for headlines. I loved the way it rolled off the tongue and the alliteration was magic. But even more puzzling to me was that he would change his name for a religious reason. I knew nothing is Islam, or Malcolm X, in those days so this was a new education for me. I was an avid reader of the newspaper every day, not to mention Look and Life magazines, and this story was everywhere.
I learned to appreciate Ali over the course of my lifetime. Brash and bombastic he was,but also a family man, a man of conviction, and someone with a great sense of humor. He was difficult not to like. Now that he's gone, in a way, another little piece of my history goes with him.