On Muhammad Ali
The New York Knicks teams between 1969 and 1973 had all the magical teamwork of the bands fronted by Parker and Gillespie, and I loved them as deeply as a kid can love a ball team, but my singular hero was Muhammad Ali. (So much so that I ended up writing a book about him.) There’s no need to rehearse all the political and racial clichés about Ali—he really did, for all his mistakes, play an unlikely and galvanizing role in the Black Power and antiwar movements—but what’s gotten lost somewhere under the sociological ruminations and the film clips of his playing of the dozens is the purely athletic. Here was an athlete who married velocity to power as never before; like a mythological creature who combines species, he married the hummingbird speed of Sugar Ray Robinson to the rhino power of the best heavyweights. It wasn’t until Magic Johnson—a 6-foot-9 point guard—came along that there was anyone who so completely altered our understanding of a sport and its possibilities. And so while I don’t care much about boxing anymore (it’s a morally untenable spectacle, in the end), I’ll never forget the electrifying presence, in all ways, of Muhammad Ali.