Those who remember the night Cassius Clay shook up the world are still in awe.
A vibrant Cassius Clay strolled into the boxing wilderness to slay the biggest, baddest lion in Sonny Liston fifty years ago. Liston at the time was the most feared man in sports. His menacing countenance was aggressively matched by brutal pugilistic skills and rumored association with organized crime.
Clay not only dispelled the myth of boxing’s bogeyman, he ushered in an era of audacity, consciousness and pride for a people in desperate need of hope.
Fifty years later we still feel the aftershocks, a topic so nuclear it has been repeatedly admired, critiqued, evaluated and mimicked in every corner of the world. The Black athlete in America was viewed as nothing more than a novelty who was eventually shown its place in American society with no resistance before February 25, 1964.
What originated through Cassius Clay was perfected by Muhammad Ali — whose spiritual rebirth was emblematic of a new black athlete and awareness by black people in America. Ali didn’t endure the racial torment which literally drove Jack Johnson to his death. He declined to take a passive approach to abuse and humiliation for the so-called “greater good” the way Jackie Robinson did. When placed in the throes of injustice, Ali relied on the faith placed in his creator and faced the punishments of man with an unwavering stare.
Though sometimes conflicting and contradictory behavior, Ali’s pursuit of righteousness could not be questioned.
Fifty years later, the earth still reverberates from that night in Miami. Tremors produced by Reggie Jackson, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Michael Vick, Isaiah Thomas, Ray Lewis, the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, The Fab Five, The Starting Five, LeBron James and most recently Richard Sherman.
Cassius Clay’s coronation and conversion to Islam were a desperation haymaker to a nation pummeling away on a helpless opponent. Even in his darkest hours, we leaned on Muhammad Ali to shake up the world one more time.
Thank God he never let us down.