June 30, 1970 - Muhammad Ali fights Ed Brook in his first appearance since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction of draft evasion.
Muhammad Ali was not one of the greatest athletes or boxers of all time. As George Foreman recently said, that would be too small a box to put him in. Rather, Ali was one of the greatest human beings of all time.
What made Ali great was not his boxing skills, chiseled looks or mercurial eloquence. What made him great was the nobility of his character; his courage to speak truth to power and stand up for what he believed in. No matter the cost.
Many forget that when Ali refused the draft in 1967 he was the undisputed heavy weight champion of the world. Undefeated and having successfully defended his title seven times that year, Ali had attained a level of notoriety commensurate with Elvis Presley and the Pope. On the eve of his conscription to the army at age 25, the best years of his life lay before him. Ali was poised to increase his fortunes from the boxing world to his bank account and beyond. All he had to do was accept a cushy army job (much like other athletes did at the time) and keep his nose to the grindstone.
But Ali wouldn't. He could not stand the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom against people half a world away, when in his own backyard African Americans were denied their basic freedoms. A fierce advocate of civil rights, Ali was willing to give up everything he had sacrificed, trained and toiled for, at the peak of his power, to uphold the principles he believed in. He was willing to contest the laws of the land he loved, to obey a higher law and his own moral conscience.
"We become heroes when we stand up for what we believe in," Ali once said. His words were prophetic.
Now ask yourself: How many politicians and CEOs, or athletes and celebrities, would give up their star on the Hollywood walk of fame or a smidgen of their inflated salaries to defend their values? How many would put their reputation and bank account on the line and accept jail time for social justice?
Ali's legacy therefore reminds us what true heroism and greatness is all about; not celebrity and power, but the willingness to give it all up for principles. Let his legacy help us reflect on our own lives and times, and inform the decisions we make and the people we choose to elect and elevate.
With that said, I've listed below six great but lesser-known quotes from Ali that speak volumes of his character and spirit. Some may even surprise you.
1) Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
2) When I feel pain, that's when I start counting, because that's when it really counts.
3) If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.
4) Make progress, not excuses.
5) To be able to give away riches is mandatory if you wish to possess them.
6) He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. Be among those who dare to dare.
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Sonny Liston lies out for the count after being KO'd in the first round of his return title fight by world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, Lewiston, Maine, May 25, 1965. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Photo of Muhammed Ali circa 1970. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)
In this 1954 file photo, boxer Cassius Clay is shown. Long before his dazzling footwork and punching prowess made him a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion known as Muhammad Ali, a young Cassius Clay honed his skills by sparring with neighborhood friends and running alongside the bus on the way to school. Ali turns 70 on Jan. 17, 2012. (AP)
In this Feb. 8, 1962 file photo, a young Muhammad Ali is seen with his trainer Angelo Dundee at City Parks Gym in New York. The three-time heavyweight boxing champion will celebrate a milestone birthday Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, when he turns 70. Ali will be surrounded by friends who are gathering Saturday evening, Jan. 14, for a birthday party at the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville. (Dan Grossi, AP)
In this Nov. 15, 1962, file photo, young heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, points to a sign he wrote on a chalk board in his dressing room before his fight against Archie Moore in Los Angeles, predicting he'd knock Moore out in the fourth round, which he went on to do. The sign also predicts Clay will be the next champ via a knockout over Sonny Liston in eight rounds. He did it in seven rounds. Ali turns 70 on Jan. 17, 2012. (Harold P. Matosian, AP)
US boxer Muhammad Ali in training for a match against Brian London, Aug. 1966. (R. McPhedran, Express / Getty Images
American heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, circa 1970. The man in front of him is wearing a t-shirt printed with Ali's motto 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee'. (Chris Smith, Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
In this Sept. 3, 1960, file photo, Cassius Clay, right, 18-year-old from Louisville, Ky., throws a right at Tony Madigan of Australia, during the light heavyweight boxing semifinals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. Cassius Clay later changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ali turns 70 on Jan. 17, 2012. (AP)
British pop group The Beatles, (L-R) Paul McCartney, John Lennon (1940 - 1980), Ringo Starr and George Harrison (1943 - 2001), pose for a photo with Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali), contender for the World Heavyweight Boxing title, at his training camp in Miami. Original Publication: People Disc - HU0064 (Keystone / Getty Images)
In this April 4, 1963 file photo, heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay is seen with his mother, Odessa Grady Clay, in a car outside their home in Louisville, Ky. The man who became the world's most recognizable athlete was a baby sitter, a jokester and a dreamer in the predominantly black West End neighborhood of Louisville where he grew up and forged lasting friendships while beginning his ascent toward greatness. Now, as the iconic boxer slowed by Parkinson's disease prepares to turn 70 next week, he's coming home for a birthday bash at the downtown cultural center and museum that bears his name. (H.B. Littel, AP)
Heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali with his daughters Laila (9 months) and Hanna (2 years 5 months) at Grosvenor House, Dec. 19 1978. (Frank Tewkesbury, Evening Standard / Getty Images)
In this Jan. 17, 1967 file photo, Muhammad Ali blows out the candles on a cake baked for his 25th birthday, in Houston. Ali's wife says the boxing great is still a "big kid" who enjoys his birthday parties. The three-time heavyweight champion turns 70 Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. He will be surrounded by friends Saturday night for a birthday party at the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown. (Ed Kolenovsky, AP)
Muhammad Ali lights the first Olympic torch for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Dec. 4, 2001. The Olympic flame arrived in the US for the first time in six years, kicking off the Olympic Torch Relay, the ceremonial passing of the Olympic flame, throughout the United States. (Curtis Compton, AFP / Getty Images)
Laila Ali poses with her father, Muhammad Ali, after her 10 round WBC/WIBA Super Middleweight title bout with Erin Toughill at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. Ali won the fight via 3rd round TKO. (Ed Mulholland, WireImage)
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