If you Google "greatest of all time," only one name will appear: Muhammed Ali. But why? I want to propose to you that what made Ali so great is something you yourself can do.
Greatness is "an amount, ability or intensity considerably above the norm or average." Pointing to Ali's considerable accomplishments, one has to acknowledge that they're considerably above the norm or average.
Ali received more than 20 awards over his lifetime, including eight world heavyweight championship titles, and wowed us all with his epic battles including Thrilla in Manila, viewed by some as one of the greatest fights ever.
Of that fight with Joe Frazier, Ali said, "it was the closest thing to dying that I know."
There was also the Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman, and he fought Ken Norton for twelve rounds with a broken jaw. And even though he lost by split decision, Ali beat him in both of their following bouts.
However, his accomplishments in the ring were not what made him the "greatest of all time" (GOAT). It was what he did outside the ring. It was not what he accomplished but what he surrendered.
In the prime of his career, he gave up his heavyweight title in protest of the Vietnam War, claiming "I ain't got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Viet Cong never called me 'n' word."
Refusing to enlist in the draft, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, and though he never served the time, he was stripped of his title and boxing licenses, and he did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970 — from ages 25 to almost 29 — arguably the prime of his career. For the three years while his case was on appeal, he gave presentations, and challenged the conventional thought of the day. He continued to openly defy the racist culture in which he lived. The very system that stripped him of everything he had worked for.
Ali was an African American man, bold and committed enough to surrender it all by standing up for what he believed.
As a young boy who knew first hand what it meant to live in a culture where you were considered "second class" for being black, it was empowering to see someone willing to surrendered it all for the "little person."
Ali was the GOAT because of what he surrendered, not what he accomplished.
Self-sacrifice is an absolute moral code that has international and cross-cultural appeal. As the world watched the heavyweight champion, a black man in a society that told him he was second, loudly and boldly proclaim that he was the greatest and pretty, they were in awe of his commitment to his principles. He truly put his money where his mouth was.
This is something all of us can do. We are so trained to think of self first, with our "get mine" and "I'm trying to get paid" mentality, that we lose sight of the power of living a self-sacrificial life.
After a three-year ministry healing the blind, giving hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute, and raising the dead, Jesus gave it all up to die that we could be free. After proving that He was indeed the Son of God, He died on the cross at the hands of sinners and why? For you and me. Then he told me to do the same.
Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." [John 15:13]
Even though Ali inspired me to believe that I could overcome any cultural obstacle as a young African-American boy, Jesus gave me so much more. He gave me the courage to believe I could not only overcome the obstacles of this world, but death itself.
If you want to share a piece of the GOAT, live a self-sacrificial life. Use your God given talents and gifts to help and benefit of those who are in need.
Make an extraordinary sacrifice for someone else.