As he goes to his final resting place, let’s look back. On what has been a week of a global outpour of tributes, memories, stories.

For the GoaT. Muhammad Ali.

Of course, we were all prepared for the day. As was the world’s media. The carefully thought out pieces, the well compiled picture books, the carefully curated list of people interviewed on TV, clearly showed that while this was a life to be cherished and celebrated, the moment and its aftermath had been long in the making.

It’s hard to identify how many people can make the world stop like that.

Last year in Singapore, and to some extent among the leaders of the world, we had a similar moment in Singapore, with the passing of Lee Kuan Yew. A nation known for precise execution, also showed its empathetic and human side to itself and the world.

But think before that. Who else did the world mourn so unitedly?

Nelson Mandela surely. Another passing that was long in the making.
Before that? Pope John Paul II.
And before that? Mother Teresa. Princess Diana.

Musicians are also universal, more so than actors. Some will argue that Michael Jackson was a legend. But the manner and controversy of the last years of his life over-shadowed everything great about his music and early life.

Perhaps if you go back in time, John Lennon. Global icon, but still a small one. Elvis. Possibly.

How about political leaders in their own countries? All are controversial, few universally liked. Mao. Reagan. Thatcher. Suharto. Deng.

Business leaders? Maybe one. Steve Jobs. Again controversial.

Let’s not even bring in the lesser known icons we celebrate with a massive outpouring of tweets and shares. Like Prince, Bowie, Cruyff, … Each of them no doubt an achiever. But a globally loved legend. No way.

I have already written about why Ali is different.

And for those who have seen the many videos (no tributes do justice to the man as his own videos do), you will recognise that here was someone who was born to be champion, knew it, wasn’t afraid to say it, and wasn’t afraid to use his enormous influence to fight for the right causes, even when they were unpopular.

He did this as a black man in an America where blacks did not have a voice, let alone a vote. And he did it from the tender age of 22, where most of us are still dreaming about foolish pleasantries.

He was better known than princes, political leaders, businessmen, musicians. He was a global legend before the age of social media.

And who is left for us to celebrate as a true global great.
Only one man comes to mind (no, not sneaker salesman Michael). But Pele. Luckily hale and hearty still, even if slow. Long may he live.

So it is time to close the book on greatness.
To retire the term ‘Greatest’.
To retire #1.
To accept that there might… will… never be another person like Muhammad Ali.
Till the next Ali.

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