The greatest of all time was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year on this day in 1974. Far from humble, he is indeed the unanimous choice for greatest boxer ever, although some may argue with their personal favorites. Even if you don’t recognize his boxing prowess as unmatched, it is hard to look away from the impact he had on boxing over the years. The money that boxers made during and after Ali’s reign is similar to what Tiger Woods did for the PGA. But this particular award was not given to him in 1974 for just being the best boxer, it was a combination of his character in and out of the ring that made the AP recognize him.
Did you know that in the same year of 1974 Chris Evert won for the best female athlete? The parallels between the two are interesting, as they both excelled at winning. But just like Evert, Ali was a media darling that loved the camera and knew how to work it. Beyond the wins, you have to look at sports for what it is-entertainment. And over the years, there has never been anyone more entertaining than Ali. It should also be mentioned that there was also no other athlete that backed up what he said as well as Ali did. If Ali said it, chances are it was going to happen!
But beyond the ring and even the media, there was another side of Ali that sometimes went unnoticed, and that was his dedication to philanthropy and his work as a social activist. His beliefs were not allowed to be questioned, even if it meant jail time. He famously refused to get drafted into the U.S. military and had his belt stripped. With four years out of the ring, his fight to clear his name went all the way up to the Supreme Court and was eventually overturned due to a technicality. This is an important part of his legacy, and one of the many reasons he is an icon inside and outside of the ring.
So when it came time to give Ali Athlete of the Year in 1974, it had already been a no-brainer by that point. He is very much a legend and has been honored more after retirement than he had when he was active. They don’t make athletes like Ali anymore, and probably won’t for a very long time.