Muhammad Ali's Stolen Bicycle Led to His Remarkable Career

KARLA KContributor IApril 23, 2009

PHOENIX - MARCH 28: Muhammad Ali and NFL player Kurt Warner pose during Muhammad Ali's Celebrity Fight Night XV held at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa on March 28, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night)

He's still the most recognizable man on earth over 40 years after he burst onto the scene as a gold-medal winner at the 1960 Rome Olympics.  Muhammad Ali remains a magical figure, known throughout the world.

His success as a boxer is widely respected, but his greatest triumph lies in his legacy as a leader, humanitarian, and artist. His work both inside and outside the ring have made him "The Greatest Of All Time." 

Who would have ever thought that a scrawny 12-year-old boy from Louisville, Ky., would become heavyweight champion of the world?

Cassius Marcellus Clay was furious when his bicycle got stolen and swore that he would "whup" whoever stole it.  Joe Martin, a cop who was in the gym, told Clay, "You better learn how to box first."

Taking his advice, within weeks Clay, a mere 89 pounds, had his first bout and his first win.  In the following 27 years, Clay would make his childhood dreams come true.

It was a struggle but well worth it. In 1964, despite 7-1 odds, Clay upset Sonny Liston and became heavyweight champion of the world.

The next day he announced his name was Cassius X—the X reflecting the unknown name taken from him by slave owners centuries before. The national response was negative and intense, so the Nation of Islam founder gave him the name Muhammad Ali.

March 1967 was his last fight for 3 1/2 years in which he lost his title, passport, and all his boxing licenses were cancelled. He spoke at colleges against the war in Vietnam. 

Ali provides 232 million meals to the world's hungry and he is also active with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Special Olympics.

President Jimmy Carter said it best when he cited Muhammad as "Mr. International Friendship."