In a 1975 interview with Playboy magazine, Muhammad Ali, then 33 years old, was asked if he thought he’d be remembered as the greatest boxer of all time. Ali was at the tail end of his career at the time and the interview was done in the lead-up to his third and final bout with Joe Frazier known as the “Thrilla in Manila.” Ali’s answer to the question, much like the life he lived, was far more expansive than a mere reflection on his place in boxing history.
… I’ll tell you how I’d like to be remembered: as a black man who won the heavyweight title and who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could–financially and also in their fight for freedom, justice and equality. As a man who wouldn’t hurt his people’s dignity by doing anything that would embarrass them. As a man who tried to unite his people through the faith of Islam that he found when he listened to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And if all that’s asking too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxing champion who became a preacher and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.