Growing up in NYC, I remember seeing him on TV getting interviewed, shooting verbal challenges that were equal parts poetry, smack talk, performance art, humor and a laser-sharp wit.
Muhammad Ali was bigger than life.
As a teenager, it was his use of words that left an impression on me: they were as lethal a weapon as his fists and speed.
A Voice for the Rest of Us
The difference about Ali was immediate: no matter what he said, he spoke for us, the viewers. It seemed as though he connected to our inner champions.
In short, Ali was about us, each of us who were lucky enough to hear his spontaneous moments.
And it was on June 3, 2016 that we all said goodbye to “the greatest.”
The Power of Words in the Hands of a Champion
It’s as though his words were designed to make us all rejoice in the belief that the impossible could occur.
And that you should never waver once you stated your goal.
And if the goal was to win, you let the world know. In no uncertain terms.
That was the power of Ali. That authentic power of believing one could win.
It was that authenticity that drew us in.
It’s that power of honest, undiluted communication, that was simultaneously authentic that was also sprinkled with humor and sense of play— a power we find in the best movies, books, and music. And in life. And in the greatest brands.
And in the hands of Ali, just like the outcome of a fight was not left to chance, neither did Ali leave his reputation or what he stood for to chance. Something every business and brand must learn from.
The Power of Words in the Hands of “The Greatest”
Over the past few years, I created a series entitled “The Power of Words” that clients and colleagues have embraced. The entire series of 14 posts can be found here.
Many of these examples literally knocked me out from reading, viewing or hearing these examples of language taken to its extreme.
So, after hearing of Ali’s passing, I felt the responsibility to share what I loved about Ali’s use of language as a weapon for empowerment.
For those too young to have witnessed Ali’s energy and focus, here is a video that captures some moments of The Greatest in action:
And now, a collection of some of Ali’s quotes that have left their impression upon me.
Here, he shows his view of being bigger than the world and as an instrument to help the world:
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.”
His humor was infinite:
“If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.”
“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”
“If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.”
“Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.”
His most famous quote is mostly only partially known. Here it is in full:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.”
And his view of commanding one’s fate is a constant reminder of what made him great:
“Impossible is just a big 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 not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Ali’s Greatest Legacy and His Lesson to the Rest of Us
Muhammad Ali’s legacy was:
- A world that witnessed what was possible
- And to be bold
- And joyous
- And compassionate
- And to never be tentative
- And to be, first and foremost, an inspiration.
Something we can all strive for professionally and personally.
But it was his words, his love of a message, that penetrated with the power of a one-two punch that knocked us out, now and forever. Something that came from a true conviction, and the brand of one unmatched champion who lit up the world.
Photo credit: spatuletail / Shutterstock.com