I was eight years old when Ali retired; my memories of him (during my childhood) are those that were forged through my relatives - and unfortunately, many of my relatives did not like Ali. In reflection, I realize a lot of their dislike is based mostly on Ali's personality - he was a giant; a person far ahead of his time who did things that many from the 1960's and 1970's were not used to.
Ali's "exhibitionist" style was one that boxing (and the world) had never seen. Yet, despite the exhibitionism and despite his flamboyance, he was brilliant and very often misunderstood. His courage to stand up against the war in Vietnam, to become a member of the state of Islam, and simply stand for what he believed was right and just.
My 11th grade US History teacher, when speaking of Ali, said that he was the greatest ever. The most perfect athlete - a combination of speed and strength that the world had never seen. Ali also was very human, having unsuccessful marriages and other challenges in his life - Parkinson's disease being one of them.
Billy Crystal's eulogy during Ali's funeral was brilliant - a must see. I watched it three times and each time I have enjoyed it more. It has inspired me to watch more and learn more. Who was this man that took the sports world by storm, was willing to forfeit his title due to his objection of the Vietnam War, and promote peace? My conclusion: Ali was like no other - a person who saw things through a different light. His understanding of the challenges with race, religion, and culture is phenomenal, especially when considering his upbringing in a very rural Louisville. Ali taught us to stand up for what was/is right; to treat each other with equality and compassion.
When Apple launched its "Think Different" campaign, Ali was one of the select individuals featured. Steve Jobs understood the difference Ali made, putting him in the company of Jackie Robinson, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and John Lennon.
It saddens me that we often wait until a person has left us until we realize just how special they were or the impact they made on so many lives. Love him or hate him, Muhammed Ali was a change agent - a messenger for world peace. A man far ahead of his time.