As realization settled in over the weekend that Muhammad Ali had passed away, word of his passing overtook the media — social and traditional – eliciting tributes, condolences and remembrances from leaders ranging from athletes and actors to boxers and politicians.
Memorials to the champ, who died Friday at age 74 after fighting Parkinson’s disease for three decades, sprung up from the New York City gym where he trained to his hometown of Louisville where two public services are planned there this week: one a faith gathering on Thursday and his funeral on Friday. But the most poignant tributes to Ali came from those who knew him.
Sugar Ray Leonard, in a statement from his representatives, told EBONY.com: “I woke up this morning with a tear coming down my cheek, an ache in my chest along with an appreciation of a man, fighter and friend that I truly admired, idolized and loved in Muhammad Ali.
“My true feelings have not totally surfaced yet because No One beats Muhammad Ali. So to continue his journey I will thank God for bringing this incredible man into my life! RIP Champ.”
Ali was not just “the” lead story for many newspapers over the weekend, he was the front page for many news organizations throughout the country. Some broadcasts outlets replayed movies featuring Ali or carried running commentary about the man we came to know simply as “The Greatest.”
Floyd Mayweather Jr., currently one of the most well-known boxing champions in the world told ESPN: “Words cannot explain what Muhammad Ali has done for the sport of boxing. He’s one of the guys that paved the way for me to be where I’m at today. We lost a legend, a hero and a great man.”
George Foreman, who was the fallen rival the second time Ali “shocked the world” – with a stunning 1974 knockout in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” told the BBC:
“Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. No doubt he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age.”
The legendary Aretha Franklin called Ali a “shining example,” and a “true original like Rembrandt, Van Gogh or Degas.”
“I’m glad he came along in my lifetime and (was) thrilled to find I was one of his favorites,” said Franklin in a statement. “He was a beautiful blend of fun, magic and a warrior He was all of that, a sports icon and statesman.”
Sports tributes poured in from LeBron James and Stephen Curry, currently battling it out in the NBA Finals.
Actor Michael Warren told EBONY.com that Ali was “the Pied Piper of life.”
“Wherever he went, people came out and followed him,” said Warren, a former star basketball player at UCLA. “He was a man of substance; a man of enormous courage, and a man of great spirituality.
“Often the word ‘Great’ is a misnomer, and its significance is watered down because of its misusage, but there was never any denying that the word was always appropriately used to describe the Champ. He was a great fighter inside the ring, but his life shows that he was an even greater fighter outside the ring.
Gone but never forgotten
Activist April Reign, who started the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite,” which spawned its own movement, told EBONY.com that Ali was an early inspiration for her.
“Muhammad Ali has been a hero of mine since childhood,” Reign said. “I remember his dominance in the boxing ring and how self-assured he was.
“It wasn’t until later that I understood how important he was outside of the ring and how much he did for Black people. Ali spoke truth to power and allowed his beautiful Blackness to inform everything he said and did. For that, he will always be The Greatest.
New York Times bestselling author Omar Tyree related to EBONY.com what Ali meant to him as a Black man “The sport of boxing remains one of my favorite sports, with Muhammad Ali as one of the most important figures, not only in sports history, but in world history,” said Tyree, whose novel “FlyyGirl” is currently planned for the big screen starring Sanaa Lathan.
“No man, outside of Malcolm X, made me more proud to be Black than Ali,” Tyree added. “Ironically, the two iconic Black men became great friends. And their influence alone is the reason why my name is now Omar Rashad Tyree — instead of my birth name of Antyne Eric McLaurin.”
Famed boxing writer and commentator Tim Smith, formerly of the New York Times and New York Daily News, told EBONY.com that Ali was “a cultural and athletic icon the likes of which we’ll never see again.”
Smith first met Ali in 1987 as a young sports reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, where he was assigned to interview Ali at a sports memorabilia show. But Ali was busy signing autographs at the sponsored event, so he asked Smith to join him the next morning at his hotel.
“I thought he would stand me up,” said Smith, who is now vice president of communications for Haymon Boxing, “but sure enough, he met me at his suite the next morning.
“And for three hours that morning we covered every single subject you could think of to ask Ali about,” Smith continued. “Plus, he did a slew of magic tricks including the levitation trick where I slipped a sheet of paper under his feet.
“It was the great professional experience of my journalism career.”
This story was updated.