Sports Illustrated announced Friday that it will dedicate the franchise's Sportsman Legacy Award in the name of boxing legend, civil rights leader, humanitarian and icon Muhammad Ali. It will now be known as the Sports Illustrated's Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.
The Legacy Award was created in 2008 to honor former athletes and sports figures who embody the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy as vehicles for changing the world. Ali will be recognized at a dedication ceremony taking place at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday, which also marks the 40th anniversary of the legendary “Thrilla in Manila” bout in which Ali defeated Joe Frazier. It is arguably the greatest heavyweight championship fight ever.
“When I was featured on my first Sports Illustrated cover in 1963, it was a huge turning point in my career,” Muhammad Ali said. “Ever since, Sports Illustrated has been there documenting the great moments of my life, a relationship that has been integral to both my boxing career and now, the mission and legacy of the Muhammad Ali Center. It’s a relationship for which I will always be grateful. To have an award named in my honor by Sports Illustrated is something I could have never expected as a young man back in 1963 when I posed for that first cover. I am truly touched. I know there will be a great tradition of champions to receive this award in the future and I look forward to celebrating their spirit and accomplishments.”
Muhammad Ali has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated 38 times, was named Sportsman of the Year in 1974 and received the singular distinction of being named SI's Sportsman of the 20th Century.
Only two individuals have been selected by the SI editorial team to receive the Legacy Award. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder and driving force behind the Special Olympics, was the inaugural honoree, with her son Bobby accepting the award in her honor during the annual Sportsman of the Year ceremony. In 2014, Earvin (Magic) Johnson was honored for his two decades as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and social and political activist.
"It is very exciting to have this prestigious award, which I was honored to have received last year, associated with Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest athletes and cultural figures of our time," said Earvin (Magic) Johnson. "I grew up reading Sports Illustrated and have long followed the career of and looked up to 'The Greatest,' and am humbled to now forever have my name linked with both Ali and a true inspiration in Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was the first to be very deservedly recognized with the tribute."
"Every time we sat in a room to discuss the Legacy Award honoree we found ourselves measuring the candidates up against the collective work of Muhammad Ali, who is the most transcendent figure in sports history," said Sports Illustrated Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum. "It's only fitting that we pay our highest tribute to him by renaming the award in his honor."
Some of the most iconic images of sport in the last century - including famed SI photographer Neil Leifer's shot of Ali standing over former champ Sonny Liston and his dozens of other images of the man inside and outside the ring – feature Ali and first appeared to the public on the pages of SI. Over the years some of SI's most esteemed journalists -- Mark Kram, Gary Smith, Pat Putnam and William Nack -- have documented the Ali story.
Ali is an Olympic gold medalist, Golden Gloves champion and three-time world heavyweight champion boxer with an all-time record of 56 wins (37 KOs) and five losses. Outside of the ring Ali became an international media phenomenon after his early successes in the sport and used that platform to voice his views on everything from the civil rights movement in the U.S. to his public conversion to Islam and his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War and fight for peace, to his public battle with Parkinson's disease. Other awards and accolades for Ali over his lifetime include being named a United Nations Messenger of Peace, receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Constitution Center Liberty Medal and Amnesty International's Lifetime Achievement Award. He has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered medical supplies to an embargoed Cuba; traveled to Iraq and secured the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War; and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison. In addition to co-founding The Muhammad Ali Center with his wife, Lonnie, Ali hosts the annual Celebrity Fight Night in Phoenix and contributes substantially to the awareness of and research efforts for Parkinson’s disease. The Muhammad Ali Center, in the Alis' home of Louisville, Ky., is a cultural center that promotes the six core principles of Muhammad Ali ("Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality") to achieve personal and global greatness, and provides programming and events around these principles.