So I just spent more than an hour trying to track down the best magazine articles about the great Muhammad Ali, only to find that the nice people over at Esquire magazine had already done it for me.

Granted, they’re all from Esquire, but that’s not a bad place to start. Like the piece that was Tom Wolfe’s debut in the magazine back in 1963, when Ali was still known as Cassius Clay. I love how this bit captures Ali’s ego, a touch of racial friction and even Wolfe’s dandyism:

Cassius has the grand view of what Cassius is going to do in life. It was Cassius who invented Cassius the Greatest. Cassius says he did and there is no reason to doubt it. Certainly nobody among his Louisville backers invented the role. Louisville is a fine old Southern town and all, but it is a town where a rich man with imagination is detected by the fact that this summer he is wearing a tan-and-white cord suit instead of the usual pale-blue-and-white or, at the very outside, one of those Glen-plaid seersuckers.

I was also knocked out by this 1989 piece by Mark Kram, written at a time of the twilight of the god. When Ali asks the question below, I can hear it, that slurring whisper of his later years.

Ali poses a question, his eyes closed, his lips parting as if he were sliding open manhole covers. “You die here… they take you home?” he asks. The nurses roll their eyes and smile, struck by his innocence; it has nothing to do, they know, with morbidity. He is not joking either. The practical aftermath of death seems to stimulate his curiosity these days; nothing urgent, mind you, just something that begins to get in your mind when you’re watching blood move in and out of your body for half the day.

And I’d like to close with a line from Ali himself, a man who had poetry in him.

I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.

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