The names just came out without giving much thought. In fact, I later thought over it again, but I couldn't find anyone else who fits in this league.
When I and those in my generation (who were born in seventies and began appreciating sports in the 1980s), these three sports stars were already icons for decades. We grew up with elders talking about them and reading about their heroics.
For the sports crazy, it's an exhilarating thought, something not easy to explain, that one just feels happy with the thought we have lived in this era and have the honour to see the sports persons. All of them are now septuagenarians.
Icons--they are in an altogether different league, those who are simply incomparable with other players or sports stars. In other sports, like Tennis, you may have Rod Laver, Bill Tilden, Don Budge or the Jordans and Johnsons, in Basketball, but none of them come close to my idea of an icon.
You may personally love a McEnroe or Roger Federer or more, but icons are different. An icon is an sportsperson who not only enthralls the world but inspires entire generations with their actions, both on and off the field, and the mention of whose name evokes respect.
While Pele and Ali are great sportsmen, for the cricket crazy Gary Sobers evokes similar respect and passion.
But it was Sobers, who was almost an equal legend, in the second half of the 20th century.
Garfield St Auburn Sobers excelled in every sphere of the game. He amassed over 8,000 runs in his test cricket with more than 200 wickets, apart from nearly 100 catches, and his impact on cricket world was tremendous. For ages, his 365* was the highest individual innings of a batsman.
And, in the twilight of his career, it was he alone who could score 254 and demolish Dennis Lille, who was in his prime. Boxing legend Ali had the guts to speak up and take a strong [and highly controversial in those days] stand on the Vietnam war.
It is a strange coincidence that all these three icons are black. In the era when Apartheid existed [till late 80s in South Africa], they were role models and heroes for youths and sports lovers across the world. Ali is now 72, Pele is 74, and Sobers, 78.
Like Ali, Sobers and Pele also played an important role in confronting the racial prejudices and the idea of White supremacy. Great men, inspirational figures and statesmen, there is no one close to them in the world of sports.
Long Live, Pele, Ali and Sobers, my heroes.