On Muhammad Ali

On Muhammad Ali

It wasn’t until Magic Johnson came along that there was anyone who so completely altered our understanding of a sport and its possibilities more than 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.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy