I'm a couple days late in writing this, but the passing of Muhammad Ali came as kind of a shock on Saturday. It's not that it was a big surprise--he had been quite ill for decades as I'm sure you knew. But still, there is never a really good time to hear that someone has died.
For a few years, I had a poster like of the picture above hanging in my classroom. It was too large to laminate, so it decomposed after being taken down, moved, and put back up a few times. One of the kids brought it in to me shortly after I started doing karate.
Muhammad Ali is still known in karate circles for his footwork. If you go back and watch the film footage of his fights (as I have been subject to many times), he meant it when he said "float like a butterfly". He is known for what he was able to do with his fists, but I don't think everyone realizes that he was only able to do that because he was amazing with his feet.
Garrison Keillor once referred to basketball as "a beautiful sport, played with the legs and the tips of the fingers, asking you to be a horse and also a bird." Looking back on Muhammad Ali's skill set, he was the Greatest There Ever Was because he understood that boxing was the exact opposite of that, played with the tips of your feet and your arms, asking you to be a butterfly and also a bee.
I was at the Civil Rights Game down in Cincinnati back in the summer of 2009. Muhammad Ali was brought out to say a few words, and he had a really hard time speaking. I would even say that it was painfully difficult to watch. He had been in pain for a considerable amount of time. And while I don't agree with everything he did or said, his death is no less a loss for the cause of human rights.
Off the top of my head, this year we have had the deaths of David Bowie, Glen Frey, Prince, Garry Shandling, and I know more famous people have died this year alone. Google the name Darwyn Cooke and you will know why that "celebrity" death is especially potent to me. But Muhammad Ali...man. That one stings.