Well ok, I agree with that. I think when we have these discussions, we often talk at cross purposes. We both can usually (albeit eventually) agree with the other's main point, but we seem to stress different things. The question to me is, which tends to be more important, practice or talent? Of course it somewhat depends on the activity, but believe it or not, there are people who research this very question, and for the most part, they are overwhelmingly in the camp of practice. I was just reading about this in Skeptic magazine the other day in fact. I'll have to dig it up, but it was written by someone who is considered the foremost reseracher in this realm.
I'll allow this much: it appears to me, based on my own observations (and hence I'm not trying to say it's science) that when you're at the outer edges of ability, both positive and negative, that environment and practice tend to matter less. For the few people at the extreme ends of the spectrum, practice doesn't affect them nearly as much as the rest of the vast majority of people. I think you probably agree with this.
But for the vast majority of people, practice and experience are king.
But what to do with this information is where we differ markedly. To me, understanding how people in general work is much more interesting than how a select few work. Understanding how to improve myself or people I care about is a much more enriching experience, especially if I can put it into practice. I think focusing on what makes Muhammad Ali naturally talented is a waste of time, as if you could possibly know anyway. Note that I would still maintain that what made Muhammad Ali so great is more due to how hard he trained than whatever extra natural skill he had. To turn your own phrase around on you, all the natural talent in the world by itself won't make you into Muhammad Ali, not even close.
The fact of the matter is, in the vast majority of cases, your natural talent at something is not nearly as good a determinant of how well you can perform at it relative to others as your level of experience with it. This isn't my opinion. This is backed up by copious research.
I also think it bears making a distinction between being "the best" at something, like Muhammad Ali was, and being an expert at something. I seems that, to you, Bells, "the best" is what you prefer to focus on, whereas I do find that interesting but apparently less so. I prefer to focus on what it takes to be really good at something - an expert.
So I know how many people on Jackassery inexplicably seem to disdain linking to supporting documentation, but I'll leave it with this one article, and this particularly germane snippet:
And I stretched just a little... there is some thought that to
be, literally, THE best in the world at chess, or the violin, or math,
or programming, or golf, etc. you might indeed need that genetic
special something. But... that's to be THE best. The research
does suggest that whatever that special sauce is, it accounts for only
that last little 1% that pushes someone into the world champion status.
The rest of us--even without the special sauce--could still become
world (or at least national) class experts, if we do the time, and do
it the right way.
I also believe that the researcher, K. Anders Ericsson, is the guy to whom I was referring above.