The Greatest

Home at last.


It’s an unlikely story, but so many of the most memorable are once we pause to look back.

Could anyone have predicted Mother Teresa? Mahatma Gandhi?

Part of the miracle of Jesus Christ is the sheer improbability of his impact two thousand years after his death.

No one could have predicted that a kid from the poor side of Louisville, Kentucky would grow up to become the most recognizable face on earth.

Of course, it all starts with talent and drive.

If he had not been a world champion, 3 separate times, we would not know him now.

It was his raw talent and his dedication to preparation and training that made everything that came afterwards possible.

But that’s not what I want us to think about today.

It’s easy, if you weren’t alive when it happened, to underestimate the courage it took to refuse induction into the US Army.

Ali received death threats, and he had already witnessed the assassinations of other prominent black leaders, so he knew that threat was real.

It’s easy to discount the effect this stand had on his career, to gloss over it because of what he achieved after that almost-four-year banishment.

Those would have been the most productive — and lucrative — years of his professional life. His livelihood was taken from him.

Would any of us risk that today?

We live in an age when billionaires buy drug companies so they can raise the cost of life-saving drugs over 5000% and become even richer.

We are part of a culture that measures success by the square footage of one’s house, the cost of one’s car, the location of one’s vacation home, the model of iPhone one carries.

Ali risked it all: his own personal freedom, because he was arrested upon that refusal to be inducted; his very life, because he was black in a white world that wanted to beat down any black voice that dared to speak loudly; his reputation, because he was branded a coward; his legacy, because he was stripped of the world title he had earned and was not allowed to try to regain it for almost 4 years at the peak of his career.

When he became a Muslim and changed his name, he couldn’t predict how America would react.

When he refused to support the war in Vietnam, he didn’t know what that would cost him.

Yet he did what his faith and his heart told him was the right thing to do.

He was willing to give it all up, everything he had worked for since childhood, everyone who had supported him in his career, his very identity, for his beliefs.

For his faith.

He couldn’t have known where that principled stand would take him.

Muhammad Ali, out of the ring, is what inspired the world.

His greatness came from his actions outside his job.

He used the platform his World Heavyweight Championship gave him to try to make a real difference in real lives.

And he was willing to risk every advantage that gave him to do so.

You, too, have a platform. You, too, are heard by thousands every time you speak.

Your story is no more unlikely than his, no matter how your life began.

How will you use it?

Will you settle for a few laughs at double entendres or another banal liner?

Or will you use the attention focused on you to try to make even one life better?

You will need courage.

You will need preparation and dedication and resolve.

You may have to risk loss as well.

But you can’t approach greatness without it.

The Greatest is proof of that.