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We all like our heroes bigger than life. Muhammad Ali looms large not only because of his incredible boxing skills but also because of how outspoken he was. Most people loved it: the stealthy puncher, the quick feet, the facial expressions that animated the ring, and the mouth that never seemed to stop moving. Most delightful was the way he played off the bloviating Howard Cosell, with whom he shared a friendship that lasted decades. The clowning and television antics became great entertainment.
But behind the bravado and made-for-TV rhymes was a man who cared deeply about others. On Jan. 19, 1981, Ali got a call from his longtime friend and biographer, Howard Bingham. Just a few blocks from Ali’s residence, Binham had happened on the scene of a man perched precariously on a ledge, threatening to jump. A crowd had gathered beneath the man, waiting to see what would happen. Within minutes, Ali was racing toward the building. He ran up the stairs, stuck his head out the window next to the man and called to him: “You’re my brother! I love you, and I couldn’t lie to you.”
“Joe,” the man on the ledge, was taken aback by the celebrity boxer talking to him. “Why do you care about me? I’m a nobody,” he said.
Ali talked to him for 20 minutes, gaining his trust where others had not succeeded. Finally, Joe opened the emergency door he had locked and let Ali in. As Ali embraced the man like a child, the crowd below chanted “Ali! Ali!”
Ali personally drove the man to a psychiatric hospital and promised him that when he got out, he would go home with him and show the man’s neighborhood that he was a friend of the greatest boxer of all time. What is perhaps most remarkable is that three months earlier, Ali had suffered the worst loss of his career, a beating by Larry Holmes. Yet Ali didn’t wallow in self-pity. He saw another human in need, a stranger, and he went to his aid.
Sometimes in our lives, we may feel like we have lost more than we can stand. But there is always somebody who has lost more and needs a little help from us. We need to be ready to make a difference. As Ali said: “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”
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