By the time I became aware of boxing, Muhammad Ali was a mere shell of his former self, plodding through bouts with Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes and Trever Berbick. It would be much later when I truly understood the legend behind the man.
Now, as he celebrates his 70th birthday this Jan. 17, there has been somewhat of an effort to downplay his importance to the sport and as a pop culture icon, a sort of backlash to the waves of positive, feel-good press that Ali has enjoyed for the last several years.
But I remember the Ali who was not the poster boy for all things noble. I remember the fighter who drew the ire of fans and, in some circles, was a truly hated figure.
Among my circle of relatives and friends old enough to remember the prime Ali, you'd be hard-pressed to find a kind word about him.
It was in spite of this attitude that I came to admire Muhammad Ali, both as a man and a fighter.
Sure, the man had his defects and counted serial infidelity and some ugly political leanin...