I’d like you to do me a favour.

Think of a sportsperson.

Now think of a politician.

Think of an entertainer.

And now, think of an equal rights activist.

Chances are, you’ve thought of four separate people.

Well, Muhammad Ali was all four wrapped up in one charismatic, intelligent and physically gifted package that transcended sport.

Muhammad Ali was a man of his time, but he was also a man his time needed.

The passing of Muhammad Ali will mean different things to different people, but we will all miss him for who he was and what he achieved.

After all, what he achieved inside the ring was incredible.

But what he achieved outside the ring was world changing.

God came for his champion. So long great one. @MuhammadAli#TheGreatest#RIPpic.twitter苏州美甲美睫培训学校/jhXyqOuabi

— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) June 4, 2016

Many, if not all of you, will know that Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr in Kentucky in 1942.

Just 18 years later, Clay would be the Olympic Gold Medallist in Boxing’s Light Heavyweight division.

Four years later in 1964, Clay would be jumping for joy, and in astonishment, after defeating World Heavyweight Champion, Sonny Liston.

If the world didn’t know about the brash, confident and obviously talented Clay after that fight, they knew all about him after Clay defended his new title against Liston in emphatic style a year later.

But Clay wasn’t known as Clay when the rematch came around.

Shortly after his first victory over Liston, Clay had become a member of the Nation of Islam and renounced his “slave name” Clay. Instead, he was known as Cassius X until he was given his “holy name.”

Muhammad Ali became part of our vernacular in March 1964.

After Liston, Ali defended his title against Floyd Patterson in November 1965.

The fight was awash with racial and religious overtones. Ali called Patterson an “Uncle Tom” for refusing to call him by his new name (Patterson continued to use the name Clay) and for his outspokenness against black Muslims.

As a result, Ali toyed with Patterson in the bout, eventually winning by technical knockout after 12 rounds.

It was around this time that things started to get very political for Ali.

In March 1966, Ali was scheduled to fight Ernie Terrell in Chicago. However, the Louisville Draft Board reclassified Ali’s status from 1-Y (Registrant available for military service, but qualified for military only in the event of war or national emergency) to 1-A (Available for military service).

This reclassification effectively put Ali in a position to be drafted straight into the Vietnam War.

Vietnam was widely considered a “White Man’s War” in the African American community, and Ali had no intention of going.

In a statement that was pure Muhammad Ali, off the cuff but full of fire, he blended the fight of African American Equal Rights campaigners and Vietnam War protestors with this:

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

ReadTopBetta Blog post HERE

Well, that’s exactly what the authorities tried to do.

On March 1967, Ali was stripped of his title and his boxing license was suspended for his refusal to join the United States Army and fight in Vietnam.

On 20 June 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison with a $10,000 fine.

Ali was able to pay a bond and remain a free man while his appeal went through the court system.

But even though he was a free man, he could not fight in the boxing ring.

He was 25 years old.

He would not fight again until he was almost 29.

For an athlete, these are the peak years. The money years.

But he continued to fight; it just wasn’t in the boxing ring.

From the time he was exiled in 1967 to his eventual return, Ali spoke at colleges across America and in the public domain, criticising the Vietnam War and fighting for African American equal rights.

It was during this time that opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow across the country, and Ali’s original stance gained some real traction.

Ali was given a professional lifeline in August 1970 when the Atlanta Athletic Commission gave him a license to box in their city.

The comeback fight, against Jerry Quarry in October, finished quickly in Ali’s favour after only three rounds.

Come 1971, the Supreme Court had overturned his conviction and a victory in the Federal Court forced the New York State Boxing Commission to reinstate Ali’s boxing license.

The Champ was back.

But to many non-sport followers, the Champ was only beginning his fight against racial inequality and that was much more important.

It still is.

Muhammad Ali went on to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World three times. Three times when the title actually meant something and it was one of the most prized accomplishments in world sport.

His fights against Joe Frazier are legendary, as is the victory nobody thought he could accomplish, his KO of the monster that was George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. (“Ali Bomaye! Ali Bomaye!”)

But as for his legacy, that stretches much further than the canvas of the boxing ring.

As a matter of fact, the man himself said it perfectly:

“A black man who won the heavyweight title and who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could–financially and also in their fight for freedom, justice and equality. As a man who wouldn’t hurt his people’s dignity by doing anything that would embarrass them.

And if all that’s asking too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxing champion who became a preacher and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”

Muhammad Ali was “The Greatest”.

And he was for many more reasons than what you’ve read and watched here.

But here is one moment that many will never forget. It will bring a smile to your face just as it did his…and if this is how you remember him, I don’t think he would mind that at all.

Rest In Peace.

This article first appeared on TopBetta HERE