Monday, of course, was Martin Luther King Day; a day of remembrance of a great man, but also a day to look back at how far we’ve come as a society in embracing civil rights, and how far we still have to go.
Leading the charge towards further change are millions of King disciples, including many high-profile African American athletes and businessmen, who are following King’s lead, but also the lead of one of the most famous athletes and civil rights icons of all time, Muhammad Ali
For athletes looking to make a change, there’s no greater role model than Ali, a man who steadfastly defended his views and fought for them in the face of unprecedented criticism and potential career-ending consequences.
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, Ali would have turned 75.
In tribute to “the greatest,” LeBron James, Victor Cruz and Maverick Carter — three of the biggest names in the sports world — joined host Paul Rivera on Showtime Boxing’s On The Record podcast — housed on CBS Radio’s play.it podcast network — to discuss Ali’s powerful influence on their lives as prominent African American men, and what he meant to them personally.
“Just Ali’s presence,” James said. “This world, I don’t believe, would be the way it is without his presence and without what he stood for. What I always talk about it is, everybody knows Ali the champion — what he did in the ring. The quick feet, the jab, knocking people out, talking smack. But I think he was more than a champion, and the reason he’s the ‘people’s champ’ is because of what he represented outside of the ring.”
“What he stood for. Whatever Ali stood for, he stayed there, and he was very proud about it and he was going to stand there until he felt like there was some change that was going to be made. Just the simple fact of him giving up his belt to not go into the army like, ‘this is what I stand for. This is what I stand for and I’m going to stay here until change is made.’ Him just having that confidence like (Cruz) said. Having that confidence whether it was self-motivating, or if it was the simple fact of he has so many people looking up to him, and he knew he had so many people that need an inspiration, that in order for them to feel as confident as the other people that were following him, he knew he had to say it. The guy, his name is going to live forever.”
Giants’ star wide receiver Victor Cruz echoed James’ statements and also expounded on Ali’s ability to help shape social change and get people to listen.
“I do feel like athletes nowadays, whether they want it or not, they have that responsibility to be in the eye of social change,” Cruz said. “What we say, kids listen to, point blank. Period. What we say matters and I think Ali knew that from the very very early age, before anyone even thought about it.”
Maverick Carter — LeBron James’s longtime friend and business associate, who has become one of the most powerful businessmen in sports, discussed how Ali empowered him and gave him the courage he needed to become great.
“Ali meant so much to me,” Carter explained. “I think most importantly as I tell people, Ali as a man, what he meant to me as a man, with the confidence and the bravado that he carried that so many people told him he was wrong for at the beginning of his career is the thing that we celebrate. And I think that confidence and bravado is translated into now — when he was fighting, he was fighting oppression and he was fighting for civil rights — me, as a 35-year-old African-American man in the business world, I’m still fighting and helping against some of those same things.”
“But I’m also building a business. But that bravado, that confidence that he fought with and lived with every day is what I try and embody. And what he did then, he allowed me to be the person I am today and to walk into a business meeting, or into a board room and be confident because I can handle myself, and me as a young African-American man, I can be heard and I have an opinion that matters.”
Last summer, when Ali passed away at the age of 74, he left a gaping hole in the lives of millions who revered him, including James.
“We all know that death comes to all of us,” James said. “Even our loved ones and people we’ve looked up to for so long, but you’re never ready for it. For us to see that news, you just start thinking about everything that he did, and everything that he changed… The world that he changed, the sport that he changed, what he stood for. It was a moment of silence without even saying it. You know when you’re at the games and the PA announcer comes on and says ‘let’s have a moment of silence for such and such’? We already knew, it was just like, pay your respects right now. It was tough. It was tough to hear the passing of the G.O.A.T.”
You can listen to the entire podcast below, and also watch video from the podcast above.
Click here for more episodes of Showtime Boxing’s On The Record, with Paul Rivera.