“What kind of place made him the greatest?” is the question asked when images of Louisville appear in the opening scenes. We see the house at 3302 Grand Avenue where young Cassius Clay, Jr. grew up, followed by his tomb covered in flowers from visitors. Her daughter, Rasheda Ali, tells the story of a recurring dream of her father. In it, all the locals came to see him run to Broadway for his daily training ritual. They support him with such fervor that he ends up running away from the power of their cheers. This same story is repeated at the end of the film. The dream itself seems selfish until its symbolism is realized – it is the wish of a local boy who “wants to do good”. The world is not on the sidewalks of Broadway, he was just born and raised in Louisville. Anyone who likes where they are from can relate to Ali’s vision.
“City of Ali” is divided into several chapters, or “towers,” each introduced with a drawing by LeRoy Neiman. The first round makes a good introduction to Ali’s life, even though it documents the day he died. There is a montage of news broadcasts from around the world on June 3, 2016, showing how widespread the fighter’s fame was. Throughout the reports, mention is made of the Parkinson’s disease that plagued Ali for 30 years, his tenure as a three-time heavyweight champion and his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, a move that reportedly cost him several years of his career. Each of these details is fleshed out in subsequent ’rounds’, providing the necessary information to the uninitiated.
The news clips are followed by comments from several of Ali’s children, each describing his last day at the Phoenix hospital where he was admitted. Sports journalists and experts also talk about June 3rd, with former talk show host Dick Cavett saying “it’s like Mount Rushmore has fallen” and Los Angeles Times sports journalist Bill Plaschke remembers how devastated he felt. In this segment, several of the people who will guide us through the film are featured, from childhood neighbor Lawrence Montgomery to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Natasha Mundkur, a student speaking at Ali’s funeral. Beginning with his death, the film gives a macro view of Ali’s global influence.