The world of sports suffered a huge loss as Muhammad Ali, also known as Cassius Clay, died on June 3. Ali was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984 as a result of head trauma from his time as a boxer. Although diagnosed back in ‘84, Ali fought the disease for years and although his health was slowly declining, his fight never died. Ali will forever be remembered for being one of the greatest boxers of all time and his dedication to being a civil rights activist.
Ali first burst onto the scene at the age of 18 after winning the light heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Four years later, Ali would make a name for himself at the age of 22 after upsetting Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
Shortly after becoming champion, Ali joined the Nation of Islam and decided to change his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, as he believed the name given to him at birth was his slave name. Ali continued to succeed by winning 29 fights in six and a half years, an extraordinary run in the heavyweight division.
Ali would be forced to miss three years of boxing due to his refusal to be drafted to army service as it went against his religious belief. Not only was he stripped of his title, but he was also sentenced to five years in prison. Ali’s refusal showed the world what he was really about; Ali stuck to his morals and stood for what he believed in and as a result, became a public speaker preaching for equality and social justice in the United States.
In 1970, Ali won his appeal in the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction and allowed Ali to get back in the ring. In 1974, Ali would face off against George Foreman in front of a crowd of about 60,000 for the heavyweight championship in what would go on to be known as the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali would go on to defeat Foreman and would become the heavyweight champion for the second time in his career at the age of 32.
In 1978, Ali lost his title, but won it back later that year to become a three time heavyweight champion. His championship reign came to an end in 1980 when he lost his championship to Larry Holmes. Just a short year later, Ali decided to retire at the age of 39. Shortly after his retirement, Ali began to show signs of Parkinson’s disease as he was slurring his words and appearing publicly less as the years went on.
As news broke of Ali’s death, athletes from different sports paid their respects to one of the best. In a statement to ESPN, Cleveland Cavaliers star forward LeBron James spoke of Ali’s legacy saying, “The reason why he’s the GOAT [greatest of all time] is not because of what he did in the ring, which was unbelievable. It’s what he did outside of the ring, what he believed in, what he stood for — along with Jim Brown and Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor, obviously, who became Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], Bill Russell, Jackie Robinson. Those guys stood for something. He’s part of the reason why African-Americans today can do what we do in the sports world.”