Ali: a national, international and Olympic treasure who carried the torch for us all

It was and may always be the most indelible moment in U.S. Summer Olympic history, and it had nothing to do with competition.

It was so much bigger than that, befitting the image of the man at its center.

It was about the transformation of this country's attitude toward an Olympic champion and global icon, whose willingness to speak his mind had made him a pariah rather than a prophet in many precincts of his own land. It was a confession of and atonement for our past sins.

It was, as I described it in the Chicago Tribune, the moment at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Centennial Olympics in Atlanta when Muhammad Ali lit the cauldron: