As the boxer aged, the irascible sports journalist Howard Cossell would chide Muhammad Ali about his diminishing boxing skills, and ask how he could possibly continue to stave off younger contenders.
Finally, Ali retorted at a pre-fight press conference:
“And you’re always talking about, ‘Muhammad, you’re not the same man you were 10 years ago.’ Well, I asked your wife, and she told me you’re not the same man you (were) two years ago.’“
The exchange helps explain why Ali is indeed the GOAT, or Greatest of All Time, both in the ring and as an iconic brand whose imprimatur raised the profile, and burnished the reputation, of any product he endorsed.
In his heyday in the 1970s neither marketing or the brand had reached the exalted heights of today and Ali, rather famously, shied away from commercials, typically doing them only when he needed money. But Ali’s brand is arguably the most iconic in history, not just for an athlete but any public figure worldwide.
The Louisville Lip’s brand checked all the boxes: he was tall and handsome, a poetic speaker, had a comic sense of timing like Peyton Manning that was the envy of working comedians, but a rebelliousness and a thoughtfulness redolent of Colin Kaepernick, inspiring people to be better. Scores of athletes have parroted his style with some success–Deion Sanders is the first to come to mind–but no athlete has managed to capture the popular imagination like the Greatest.