By Habiba Musa Abu
Written by Reggie Wade
It was the name bestowed upon Muhammad Ali. It was the name he bestowed upon himself. The phrase “His reputation precedes him” feels like it was tailored made for Ali.
Only a few people are known to be larger than their industry. Muhammad Ali was that and more. In many instances, he was larger than life. People who had never seen a boxing match knew exactly who he was.
On any game show the question or clue is almost always the same, “The Greatest of All Time” and nearly every contestant knows the answer: Ali.
He was loud, he was brash, he was… great. Many labeled Ali as cocky and for the times in which he fought, that may have been true. It is now commonplace for athletes to show out, but in the mid-1960’s being brash was not in.
Anyone who has followed the life and career of Ali knew that it was much more than cockiness, bravado, or ego. It was confidence.
Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay named after a white 19th-century farmer and abolitionist who freed the 40 slaves he was given as inheritance.
Despite the presumed nobleness of his namesake, Ali recognized its origins in slavery and so the heavyweight champion of the world accepted a new name.
Muhammad Ali, It was a symbol of his new life as a man of God and faith. Ali knew that many would be offended by his chosen name, and many were.
In the black community names have deeper roots, roots twisted and knotted and tracing back to moments in time where our self-determination was violently dismissed.
Ali knew that life was about living up to standards he set for himself, not anyone else’s. His name represents his history and his agency. He reminded us that our names are a part of our souls, our legacy, and our respect.
That was confidence. The name Muhammad Ali sent a message to the world. He had the courage to change into the man he knew he was destined to be.
Like many people, confidence has been something I have struggled with. Because of that — confidence is what I and many admired most about Muhammad Ali.
Every Time I was faced with a fear or a challenge I wish that I had thought enough of myself to exclaim “I am the greatest!” and not just say it, but mean it.
When Muhammad Ali said “I am the greatest” he meant it. It took confidence for a 22-year-old to predict a knockout victory over the reigning heavyweight champion. It took confidence to get back in the ring after more than 3 years in exile. It took confidence to refuse to go to war and stand up for his religious beliefs. Ali not only had confidence — he was the living embodiment of confidence.
Ali knew that “What you’re thinking is what you’re becoming.” Muhammad Ali has made people believe in themselves including me. He has inspired millions.
For most of his life, Ali would be admired for his physical prowess and strength, but it was later in his life that his true strength would show.
At the age of 42, the former heavyweight champion of the world would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, which often includes tremors.
The man who was known as the greatest now had trembling hands and slurred speech. Many would have gone into permanent seclusion after such a diagnosis, especially such a high-profile person like Ali and very few people would have blamed him.
Ali didn’t do that. He had confidence. He showed people even though most of his physical gifts were gone the gift of himself was still there.
He would lend his support and resources to charities supporting everything from Parkinson’s to the Special Olympics. Ali knew that by just being there, he could inspire people to do what he no longer could.
He carried a torch for people with disabilities figuratively and literally when he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta during the 1996 opening ceremonies.
In his Ted Talk on the subject of confidence Dr. Ivan Joseph quoted Ali. “I am the greatest.” “If I don’t tell myself that nobody will.” Muhammad Ali knew that charity starts at home. If he didn’t believe in himself why would anybody else believe in him?
He believed and because of that, we believed. Muhammad Ali was simply the greatest.