On Tuesday, January 17, Muhammad Ali turns 70. For a boxing writer of my generation, this is a huge event.
Ali is the mythic figure who ignited my own love affair with the sweet science. His career was reaching its conclusion in the late '70s, just as I was learning to read and was developing into an obsessive sports fan.
But Ali has been so much bigger than sports. Aside from perhaps Jackie Robinson, no athlete has ever had close to Ali's impact on society. The story of Ali's career is the story of American society from the 1960s to the present, from the era of Jim Crow to the era of an African-American president.
In today's hyper PC world, it is impossible to imagine an athlete taking the kind of stands Ali took or making the kind of statements he made. It was a different time then. But whereas it is common to say that the "times make the man," I think it is only fair to view Ali as a man who helped make the times.
Ali was also among the earliest professional athletes to realize that sports were also another branch of entertainment. He has spoken several times and wrote in his autobiography about being consciously influenced by the professional wrestler Gorgeous George. So while many of Ali's most memorable moments resonate with the big moments of 20th century American history, others are merely entertaining.
For this list I have included more non-boxing moments than actual in-ring events, though I have weighted the boxing events ultimately higher in importance.