I write with great sadness because one of my idols, Muhammad Ali, has died [“Why Muhammad Ali still matters,” Opinion, June 9]. Those of us who witnessed this boxer perform in and out of the ring saw a poet and a boxer.
He had two careers. The first was in the 1960s: Ali graceful, poetic, young, brash and most of all “pretty.” He could say that and not blush. He was a consummate performer. He was also eloquent. His statement that the Viet Cong never called him the N-word or lynched him was telling. Then his career was stalled in the late-1960s by his refusal to serve. He put his career on the line because of his beliefs.
I saw him speak at Howard University in 1967, when I was a law student. Four years passed before his refusal to be drafted for the Vietnam War was vindicated in court. But in that period, America reclaimed Ali. As our views on the Vietnam War changed, so did our attitudes about this man.
Joe Fritz, Brentwood
In 1992, a friend and I were walking out of a matinee in Manhattan, having just seen “X,” the Spike Lee biography of Malcolm X.
At the curb stood a tall man. My friend said, “Look, it’s Muhammad Ali.”
Sure enough, standing there by himself in broad daylight was Ali, just minding his own business.
I walked up, and he looked down at me with no expression. For a couple of uncomfortable seconds I was tongue-tied. I then pointed my finger at him and said, “You’re still the greatest.” He laughed.
By then, more people noticed him and a crowd gathered. Moments later, a white limousine drove up, and a couple of no-nonsense men ushered him into the car. That was my encounter with a man who was truly larger than life.
Nicholas Santora, Roslyn Heights