2016- Losing three of the greatest sports figures ever

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Looking back on 2016, it is impossible to forget those we lost. Every year we lose iconic stars that graced us with their talents, but this year took our giants, our unicorns, the legends. Music, literature, film & television, politics, and even outer space lost pioneers too many to name. The sports world was no exception, and in the blink of an eye -- three of the greatest athletes of all time are gone. It was easy to think they were immortal. 

Arnold Palmer: “The King”

His impressive winning of seven majors and 62 PGA tournaments don’t even do justice to his greatness and what he did for the sport of golf. He is measured by the hearts he won by playing with his heart on his sleeve. His magnetism, gambling playing style, and boyish good looks helped attract many new fans. With his charisma and the arrival of television coverage, he was supported by a massive fan base in the U.S. and the U.K. known as “Arnie’s Army.” Palmer and his humble Pennsylvania roots took a private, stuffy sport and gave it to the masses. He not only changed his game, he changed the way all sports stars make money -- becoming the first to earn $1 million playing golf, and using his personal brand to set up an empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Gordie Howe: “Mr. Hockey”

"When Gordie came into the NHL, hockey was a Canadian game. He converted it into a North American game,” said former NHL President Clarence Campbell in 1971. Some hockey players can skate, some can score, some fight, some endure, some lead, but Mr. Hockey did it all. Gordie Howe amassed 801 goals and 1,049 points as he played regular NHL shifts until the age of 51. He skated through the presidencies of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. He has the coolest stat in hockey named after him, the Gordie Howe hat trick -- meaning a player has to score a goal, an assist, and get in a fight, all in the same game. Howe was the epitome of toughness. Broken bones, concussions, over 500 stitches to his face, and emergency brain surgery. "You’ve got to love what you’re doing," Howe once said. "If you love it, you can overcome any handicap or the soreness or all the aches and pains, and continue to play for a long, long time." He made 29 All-Star appearances, won six Hart Trophies, and led the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup Championships in 1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955. His impact is still evident in the organization and the game today, and will forever be hockey royalty.

Muhammad Ali: “The Greatest of All Time”

From a purely boxing standpoint, Ali had a right to boast being “The Greatest of All Time”, but his personality and convictions are what transcends. His wit was as quick as his feet, his tongue sharper than his jab, and his truth more powerful than an uppercut. Muhammad Ali didn’t just change boxing, he didn’t just change sports -- he changed America. He took on the civil rights movement when he dropped his “slave name” of Cassius Clay and converted to Islam. He stood up to the United States Government as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. He was convicted of draft evasion, branded a traitor and coward, and banned from boxing for three and a half years. That strength in his convictions effectively stripped him of the prime of his career. At the top of his game, Ali dazzled with footwork in the ring. Throughout his career however, his feet were planted firmly -- knowing what was right and what was wrong.  

Ali passed away at the age of 74, after a 32 year battle with Parkinson’s. In a poignant, unforgettable moment at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, he was given the honor of lighting the torch at the Opening Ceremonies-- 36 years after his gold medal win in 1960.

Watch the video farewell to other greats we lost in 2016.

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