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The Greatest – Ali & Jordan
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Muhammad Ali was a American former professional boxer, generally considered among the greatest heavyweights in the sport’s history.
A controversial and polarizing figure during his early career, Ali is today widely regarded for the skills he displayed in the ring plus the values he exemplified outside of it: religious freedom, racial justice and the triumph of principle over expedience. He is one of the most recognized sports figures of the past 100 years, crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC. At the age of 22 he won the world heavyweight championship in 1964 from Sonny Liston in a stunning upset. Shortly after that bout, Ali joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name. He converted to Sunni Islam in 1975.
In 1967, three years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. The U.S. government declined to recognize him as a conscientious objector, however, because Ali declared that he would fight in a war if directed to do so by Allah or his messenger (Elijah Muhammad). He was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing title. He did not fight again for nearly four years—losing a time of peak performance in an athlete’s career. Ali’s appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 1971 his conviction was overturned on a technicality. The Supreme Court held that, since the appeals board gave no reason for the denial of a conscientious objector exemption to petitioner, it was impossible to determine on which of the three grounds offered in the Justice Department’s letter that board had relied. Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation.
Ali remains the only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion; he won the title in 1964, 1974, and 1978. Nicknamed “The Greatest”, Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were the first Liston fight, three with rival Joe Frazier, and one with George Foreman, where he regained titles he had been stripped of seven years earlier. Ali revolutionized the sport of boxing by sheer power and magnetism of his personality At a time when most fighters let their managers do the talking, Ali thrived in — and indeed craved — the spotlight, where he was sometimes provocative, frequently outlandish and almost always entertaining. He controlled most press conferences and interviews, and spoke freely about issues unrelated to boxing. He transformed the role and image of the African American athlete in America by his embrace of racial pride and his willingness to antagonize the white establishment in doing so. In the words of writer Joyce Carol Oates, he was one of the few athletes in any sport to completely “define the terms of his public reputation.”
Michael Jeffrey Jordan is an American former professional basketball player, entrepreneur, and majority owner and chairman of the Charlotte Bobcats.
His biography on the National Basketball Association (NBA) website states, “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.” Jordan was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and was considered instrumental in popularizing the NBA around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. After a three-season career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a member of the Tar Heels’ national championship team in 1982, Jordan joined the NBA’s Chicago Bulls in 1984. He quickly emerged as a league star, entertaining crowds with his prolific scoring. His leaping ability, illustrated by performing slam dunks from the free throw line in slam dunk contests, earned him the nicknames “Air Jordan” and “His Airness”. He also gained a reputation for being one of the best defensive players in basketball.
In 1991, he won his first NBA championship with the Bulls, and followed that achievement with titles in 1992 and 1993, securing a “three-peat”. Although Jordan abruptly retired from basketball before the beginning of the 1993–94 NBA season to pursue a career in baseball, he rejoined the Bulls in 1995 and led them to three additional championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998, as well as an NBA-record 72 regular-season wins in the 1995–96 NBA season. Jordan retired for a second time in 1999, but returned for two more NBA seasons from 2001 to 2003 as a member of the Washington Wizards. Jordan’s individual accolades and accomplishments include five Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, fourteen NBA All-Star Game appearances, three All-Star Game MVP Awards, ten scoring titles, three steals titles, six NBA Finals MVP Awards, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Among his numerous accomplishments, Jordan holds the NBA records for highest career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game).
In 1999, he was named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, and was second to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press’s list of athletes of the century. He is a two-time inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame – in 2009 for his individual career, and in 2010 as a member of the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team (“The Dream Team”). Jordan is also known for his product endorsements. He fueled the success of Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers, which were introduced in 1985 and remain popular today. Jordan also starred in the 1996 feature film Space Jam as himself. He is the majority owner and head of basketball operations for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, having won a bidding war to buy controlling interest in the team from founding owner Robert L. Johnson.