The basketball hall of famer and Ali’s friend writes that no one understood sports as entertainment or knew how to bring politics into it better than the heavyweight champion, who died Friday.
Professional sports today is as much show business as it is athletics. It is a form of grand entertainment, the same as a circus, a Beyonce concert or an Avengers movie. They are all in the putting-a-butt-in-a-seat business. Often luring those butts into seats requires something outrageous — over-the-top antics and shenanigans that would embarrass a booger-eating class clown.
No one understood this dynamic better than Muhammad Ali. It wasn’t enough for him to be a world-class athlete, he also wanted to monetize his years of discipline and skill as much as possible. He knew the career span of boxers was relatively short, filled with pain, and that the longer you held on, the greater the danger to your health and risk to your life.
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