Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA great, said Ali’s willingness to “stand tall and fight for what he believed was right” came during an era where many African Americans who spoke about injustice “were labelled uppity and often arrested under one pretext or another.” Ali’s stand, he said, “made all Americans, black and white, stand taller.”
“I may be 7ft 2in,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote on Facebook, “but I never felt taller than when standing in his shadow.”
The tributes from the world of boxing reflected the status of the man dubbed The Greatest of All Time.
Floyd Mayweather, the current five-division boxing champion, said on Instagram:
And Mayweather’s rival, Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino boxer, said: “We lost a giant today. Boxing benefitted from Muhammad Ali’s talents but not nearly as much as mankind benefitted from his humanity.”
Mike Tyson, who dominated the sport a decade after Ali, wrote:
And George Foreman, Ali’s rival in the Rumble in the Jungle said he, Joe Frazier, and Ali “were 1 guy. A part of me slipped away. The greatest piece.”
Don King, the boxing promoter behind some of Ali’s biggest fights, including the “Rumble in the Jungle” and the “Thrilla in Manila,” told Fox News: “Ali will never die. He was a fighter for the people and to become a champion of the people he demonstrated the type of character he was.”
The stars of the NBA, NFL, soccer, and entertainment paid their tributes, as well—as did those from the world of politics. President Obama reiterated what Ali himself knew: that the champ was the greatest. But the president added:
In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him – the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston. I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was – still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.
“I am America,” he once declared. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”
That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.
Here’s the statement from Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee:
Former President Clinton in a statement said he and his wife, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, “are saddened by the passing of Muhammad Ali.”