Muhammad Ali spoke truth to power, as the saying goes.
He backed up his "bad man" braggadocio by becoming The Greatest. He was 22 and still then known as Cassius Clay when he told the world that he was, and/or that he was going to be. Practically at the beginning. Before becoming Ali.
Before losing three years in his prime for being perhaps the most outspoken and notable conscientious objector to the U.S.' involvement in the Vietnam War.
He beat Liston. Beat Frazier. Beat Foreman.
Beat barriers. And on a summer night in Atlanta in 1996, made it look like he was beating back Parkinson's.
I'm too young, from the wrong generation to have a true appreciation for Ali in the ring or in the moment. Back in the day was before me. And I'm not enough of a student of the "sweet science" to be able to speak with the proper poetry or appropriate erudition about his skill as a boxer.
Ali said, "Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion.
"Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."
Impossible was overcome in Zaire in 1974.
Impossible was defeated in Manila in 1975.
Impossible was laughed at in Atlanta in 1996.
Game recognizes game. When an all-time Great like Ali passes away, current-day greats offer up their thoughts and words of praise on the recently deceased's impact and influence on their lives.
Ali had few peers. But, one man who was equally idealized and whose impact on and efforts toward peace and equality were on par with and arguably outshone Ali's was Nelson Mandela.
About Ali, Mandela said "Ali was not just my hero, but the hero of millions of young, black South Africans because he brought dignity to boxing." He "respected Ali's decision not to go to Vietnam. [Because] He made a principled statement about why such a war was unjust and incorrect and [I] admired him for refusing to go."
Upon meeting Mandela for the first time, Mandela was apprehensive because he "wanted to say so many things to him. He was an inspiration to Mandela "even in prison, because [I] thought of his courage and his commitment to his sport." Mandela was "overwhelmed by his gentleness and his expressive eyes. He seemed to understand what [I] could not say and actually we conversed very little."
Part pugilist, part principled provocateur of the upmost profundity, being "The People's Champion" solidified what became the grandest of self-fulfilling prophecies.
Ali became who he told the world he was early on, and all along — The Greatest.