The great boxer,
On the cover, the late Ali, is captured shirtless, wearing only a pair of white shorts by brand, Everlast, paired with white socks and lace up boxing shoes. However, what’s most interesting about the photo is the arrows that are attached to the boxer’s body.
Apparently, Aliinitially didn’t want to take the iconic photo, according to what George Lois, former Esquire art director at the time the photo was taken, said to Rolling Stone magazine:
“Back in those days, there was no Wikipedia or Google, so I did some research on Saint Sebastian," Lois tells Rolling Stone. However, an symbolic third-century Christian martyr who was slain with arrows for his faith, Sebastian was a famous reference for artists. As Lois recalls, "There were many, many paintings of him, and I was trying to find one where his body was solid and strong, but his arms were behind his back and he was in pain.”
Rolling Stone reported that when Ali got to the studio for the shoot, Lois showed him a postcard of a painting of Sebastian rendered by 15th-century artist Francesco Botticini. Ali loved the connection between Sebastian's persecution and his own until he recognized a major problem, telling Lois, "I can't pose as a Christian. It's against my religion."
"I said, 'Oh, shit,'" Lois remembers. "I've got a studio full of people — they can see I'm gonna lose the shot." As a last-ditch measure to save his idea, Lois asked to speak to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam and Ali's spiritual guide. "Elijah Muhammad and I had a phone call, maybe it was three minutes, but it felt like 20 minutes," says Lois. "He wanted to know who I was, how old I was, am I religious. We talked about symbolism and martyrdom. He knew full well why I was doing it. Finally, he said, 'I think it would be a very good image.'"