Muhammad Ali Boxer for all Times by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.” Peter S. Beagle

When Muhammad Ali was young and seemingly immortal he often said he wasn’t afraid of death. Seeing Ali, one of the most beloved, recognized, and magical athletes in the world on the Olympic podium years later in 1996 seemed like a fairytale.

The Atlanta arena hosted 80,000 people for its opening ceremony and 3.5 billion people watched on TV. Floodlights swept the dark arena and came to rest on a single figure in white, holding a torch center stage.

Some people want me to talk like I used to. I’m the greatest! I’m the prettiest! I’m this, and I’m that! But I don’t do that no more. There’s bigger work I got to do. The whole world is in trouble.
— Muhammad Ali

It was Ali, the same boxer who seized the world’s attention at the Olympic Games 36 years earlier. Hands trembling due to Parkinson’s, Ali stretched out and lit the torch that would burn for the duration of the Olympic Games. The Games were open.

Speaking had become a problem for the three-time heavyweight champion but as he smiled his overwhelming emotion erupted. Ali was so much more than an aging sports hero that night.

The crowd rose to its feet and cheered. One of the most dynamic figures in sports still charmed them. His nobility was being recognized as he was welcomed back to the most honored athletic competition in the world.

“He’s half real, half folktale,” said Seth Abraham, the president of Time Warner at the time. “I know Paul Bunyan and the blue ox don’t exist, but it’s such a part of Americana. He’s almost Paul Bunyan. Muhammad Ali was there really such a character?”

With his brand of charisma Ali visited the athletes in the Olympic village and attended events around Atlanta.

What did that moment mean to him? He shared his thoughts in an interview in Reader’s Digest with Howard Bingham.

“It showed that people in the past didn’t hold it against me because here I am rejecting the Vietnam War, joining the Islamic religion, and then, of all people, raising the flag,” he said. “They were thinking of me to light the Olympic flame, so that was a good thing.”

The positive response he received seemed to give Ali courage his wife Lonnie said, “that people won’t slight his message because of his impairment.” His message is “love” she added. His life was devoted now to helping other people.

At this juncture talking about boxing bored Ali. He said what boxing did for him was introduce him to the world.

“Some people want me to talk like I used to. I’m the greatest! I’m the prettiest! I’m this, and I’m that! But I don’t do that no more. There’s bigger work I got to do. The whole world is in trouble,” he said.

On April 25, 2019, Julien’s Auctions featured a selection of Muhammad Ali memorabilia in its Sport Legends auction.

Here are some current values.

Muhammad Ali

Color print of a photograph; by Neil Leifer; number 83 of 100; 22 3/8 inches by 26 3/8 inches framed; $896.

Boxing Ticket; Ali vs. George Chuvalo; official and unused; 1972; $2,240.

Print; of color photograph; Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali and referee Arthur Mercante; in the ring; 1971; 36 inches by 31 inches; $3,200.

Boxing Glove; signed and inscribed by Cassius Clay; 1960s; Hutch brand left-hand glove; framed; $10,240.

Olympic Relay Used Torch; signed in black marker; marking the opening of the Games; 1996; 38 1/8 inches by 8 1/8 by 5 inches; $12,500.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

Abolitionist John Brown Revisited

Abolitionist John Brown Revisited

Martin Luther King Jr. Man on a Mission

Martin Luther King Jr. Man on a Mission