After a 32 year fight with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali's final battle came to an end on June 3, 2016 in Phoenix, AZ. Although his legendary fights, like "the Thrilla in Manila" in 1975, were a generation ago, Ali has been viewed as one of the GOAT (if there is even a debate) in boxing and a pioneer for all African-American athletes (and frankly any minority athlete). Thoughts poured in from around the NBA to remember the legend.
As LeBron James put it:
The reason why he's the GOAT is not because of what he did in the ring, which was unbelievable, it's what he did outside of the ring, what he believed in, what he stood for, along with Jim Brown and Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor - obviously who became Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] - Bill Russel, Jackie Robinson. Those guys stood for something. He's part of the reason why African-Americans today can do what we do in the sports world. We're free. They allow us to have access to anything we want. It's because of what they stood for, and Muhammad Ali was definitely the pioneer for that."
The Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul also reflected a bit on the impact that Ali left on him
While Jackie Robinson helped break color barriers in sports, Muhammad Ali helped break cultural barriers. He refused to conform and stayed himself, even when that meant being potentially stripped of his heavyweight title and being thrown into jail for not fighting in the Vietnam War. In fact, Ali took his fight over the draft all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and won an unanimous verdict (8-0) in Clay v. United States (1971) that overturned his 1967 conviction for draft-dodging (on the grounds that the conviction gave no reason for denying Ali's claim for being a conscientious objector...which was a technicality....brokered by and among the Justices of the Supreme Court). Today the NBA reaps the benefits of Ali's work as a pioneer. Plenty of players consider themselves the best in the NBA and channel it into self-marketing and promotions as a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Players like Russel Westbrook and Nick Young enjoy the freedom to wear whatever "clothes" that they want to wear to press conferences. How dull it may have been without Ali.
And with that, a lasting momento of how absurdly good Ali was:
If Floyd Mayweather did this in his defensive fight against Pacquiao, that would have made that fight more bearable.