Muhammad Ali really did float like a butterfly.
He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville, KY in 1942. He trained as a boxer from an early age, won the gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics and then the Heavyweight Championship crown in 1964. In the process, he became a world-wide icon.
He was beloved by millions. Despite the downturns in his life (his opposition to the Vietnam War led to his conviction for draft evasion and four year boxing ban) he rose again.
I was a student at the State University of New York at Buffalo in the late 1960s. Buffalo was 373 miles from the New York City metropolitan area where I lived with my family. The weather was ….Siberian. For the first time I understood real cold, the kind of cold that seeps into your jacket though the knit wrist cuffs and creeps up your arms.
Buffalo was also a hot bed of anti-Vietnam war activism.
Enter Muhammad Ali.
His speaking event was scheduled to be in a room holding about 100 people.
It was an overflow crowd. People sat on the floors and stood along the walls.
Suddenly, there was a rustling noise and heads turned toward the door.
Ali wore a well-tailored suit that silhouetted his broad shoulders and tapered waist.
He climbed the steps to the podium and began to speak about the lack of moral justification for the Vietnam war.
He was eloquent.
It was mystifying.
The mainstream press had described Muhammad Ali as being of modest intelligence.
The individual addressing the restless, irritated crowd was a thoughtful speaker.
Though engaged in a brutal sport, his personality was that of an intuitive and clever man.
And he was beautiful.
He had, in his younger days, humorously referred to himself as “pretty” but in fact, he truly was beautiful.
He didn’t attempt to pander to the crowd.
Just by speaking calmly, reasonably, he controlled them.
And delivered his powerful speech.
Like a bee.