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Saying Farewell To The Greatest

Associated Press

The Latest on memorials for boxing great Muhammad Ali. 

Muhammad Ali's greatest champion thanked the world for its support since the boxing great's death. His widow, Lonnie Ali, then embraced the role as chief advocate for her husband's legacy at his memorial service on Friday.

She received a standing ovation at the ceremony, and the crowd broke into the familiar chants of "Ali, Ali, Ali."

She says expressions of support have "come in every language, from every corner of the globe" since Ali's death a week ago.

She says the champ's family was "humbled by your heartfelt expressions of love."

Lonnie Ali then talked about her husband's life journey as a lesson for others. In a message aimed at young people, she said her husband never "became embittered enough to quit or to engage in violence" while facing adversity in youth.

6:30 p.m.

The memorial for Muhammad Ali has come to an end.

The star-studded service ended with a moment of silence and a closing prayer. His family walked slowly out of the building and is heading for a private ceremony at the Muhammad Ali Center a few blocks away.


6:10 p.m.

Former President Bill Clinton has closed out the memorial service to Muhammad Ali by calling him a "truly free man of faith" who took "perfect gifts we all have" and released them to the world.

Clinton noted that Ali never felt self-pity because of the Parkinson's disease he battled for three decades, and that he continued to give himself to the world long after his diagnosis as "a universal soldier for our common humanity."

"I think Ali decided at a very young age to write his own story," Clinton said. "He never got credit for being as smart as he was."


5:50 p.m.

TV journalist Bryant Gumbel says Muhammad Ali went from being one of the most polarizing figures to one of the most beloved.

And, Gumbel says, he did it without changing his nature or compromising his principles.

"He gave us levels of strength and courage we didn't even know we had. Hating people of color is wrong, Ali said, and it doesn't matter who does the hate. It's just plain wrong."

Gumbel lamented that the three-time heavyweight champion had finally gone down.

"And for once he won't get up. Not this time. He is down."


5:35 p.m.

Billy Crystal drew fast laughs when he took to the stage at Muhammad Ali's memorial service.

"We're at the halfway point," he joked. The memorial has been underway for more than 2½ hours after a morning full of remembrances.

He joked that he was clean shaven when the day's activities began.

Crystal cracked everyone up with his career-making impersonation of a boastful, fast-talking Ali — and his imitation of Ali's foil, sportscaster Howard Cosell — and rhapsodized about Ali's charisma, outspokenness and talent.

He called the boxing great "a tremendous bolt of lightning, created by Mother Nature out of thin air, a fantastic combination of power and beauty.

"We've seen still photographs of lightning at the moment of impact, ferocious in its strength, magnificent in its elegance. And at the moment of impact it lights up everything around it so you can see everything clearly. Muhammad Ali struck us in the middle of America's darkest night."

"Ali forced us to take a look at ourselves. This brash young man thrilled us, angered us, confused us, challenged us, ultimately became a silent messenger of peace and taught us that life is best when you build bridges between people and not walls."

5:30 p.m.

Muhammad Ali's widow, Lonnie Ali, took the stage at her husband's memorial to thunderous chants.

In her first public remarks since his death, she talked about how Ali wanted to be remembered after his passing.

"Muhammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted to use his life and his death as a teaching moment. He wanted to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice," she said. "He never became bitter enough to quit or engage in violence."

She reminded those listening that his message still resonates. She says he was prepared to sacrifice all he had, all that he was, to follow his soul.

She also recalled the Louisville police officer who first taught a young Ali how to box when his bicycle was stolen when he was 12.

"Joe Martin handed young Cassius Clay the keys to a future in boxing he could scarcely have imagined.

"America must never forget that when a cop and an inner-city kid talk to each other, then miracles can happen," she told the crowd to sustained applause.


4:50 p.m.

Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett has read a letter from President Barack Obama at Muhammad Ali's memorial in which Obama praised Ali for inspiring "a young mixed kid with a funny name to have the audacity to believe he could be anything, even the president of the United States."

Obama was unable to make the trip because of his daughter Malia's high school graduation. Jarrett said she was chosen to go instead because she knew Ali for 45 years.

Obama's letter said Ali was bigger than America, and it noted the world flocked to the champ "because Muhammad Ali was America. Brash. Defiant. Pioneering. Never tired. Always game to test the odds. He was our most basic freedoms: religion, speech, spirit. He embodied our ability to invent ourselves. His life spoke to our origins of slavery and discrimination and the journey he traveled shocked our consciousness and led us on a roundabout path toward salvation.

"And like America, he was always very much a work in progress. We do him a disservice to gauze up his story, to sand down his rough edges, to talk only of floating like butterflies and stinging like bees. Ali was a radical, even in a radical of times. A loud and proud and unabashedly black voice in a Jim Crow world."


4:30 p.m.

Two rabbis have spoken at the interfaith memorial service for Muhammad Ali, with one of them receiving four standing ovations and leaving the crowd chanting, "Ali! Ali! Ali!"

Rabbi Michael Lerner gave a fiery speech in which he declared that American Jews stand in solidarity with Muslims, saying they will not tolerate politicians demonizing an entire religion by the actions of a few.

He says Ali stood up to an immoral war and risked fame and fortune to speak truth to power.

"How do we honor Muhammad Ali?" he asked. "And the answer the way to honor Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today."

He listed progressive causes such as ending war, leveling the gap between the rich and the poor and eliminating racism in the criminal justice system.

"The way we get security is for the United States to become known as the most generous and caring country in the world, not the most powerful," he said.

He referred to the next president as "she." The crowd went wild and the camera found former President Bill Clinton, husband of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the audience, smiling and clapping.

Later, Rabbi Joe Rapport of Louisville said Ali was "the heart of our city ... and that heart beats still."

4:05 p.m.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch says he first met Muhammad Ali 28 years ago when the boxing great visited the Utah Republican at his Senate office.

"The friendship we developed I think was puzzling to many people, especially to those who only saw our differences," he said at Ali's memorial service. "I'd say that where others saw differences, Ali and I saw kinship."

Hatch says he once took Ali to a children's hospital in Salt Lake City, where they visited with downtrodden children.

"Ali held those kids and looked into their eyes. They would grin from ear to ear," Hatch said. "The nurses were astounded. Never before had they seen someone who had connected so immediately and profoundly with these sick children.

"He may have been a tough and tenacious man in the ring, but he was compassionate and tender around those who he loved."


3:40 p.m.

Louisville pastor Kevin Cosby says Muhammad Ali loved everyone, whether they lived in the penthouse or the projects.

Cosby was among several faith leaders who spoke at Ali's memorial service on Friday in Louisville.

Cosby says Ali infused African-Americans with a "sense of somebodiness." He says that just as James Brown declared "I'm black and I'm proud," Ali proclaimed "I'm black and I'm pretty."

He says the boxing great "dared to affirm the power and capacity of African-Americans."


3:10 p.m.

The interfaith memorial service for Muhammad Ali has begun at a sports arena packed with celebrities, politicians and athletes.

The crowd applauded as former President Bill Clinton, one of several people set to give a eulogy, arrived.

As the interfaith service got underway, the crowd of up to 15,000 burst into applause and chanted, "Ali! Ali!" when a Muslim religious leader welcomed the audience to "the home of the people's champ."

Hamzah Abdul Malik led the group in a recitation of verses from the Quran, which was translated by Ayah Kutmah.

2:55 p.m.

Louisville police estimate that more than 100,000 people turned out for Muhammad Ali's funeral procession in his hometown.

Fans of the three-time heavyweight boxing champion lined the streets Friday for an emotional goodbye to The Greatest.

The miles-long procession spanned his life — from his boyhood home to the boulevard that bears his name and the museum that stands as a lasting tribute to his boxing triumphs and his humanitarian causes.

2:45 p.m.

An announcer has asked people to find their seats so the public interfaith memorial service for Muhammad Ali can begin. Many seats are still empty.

Director Spike Lee, boxing promoter Don King and soccer player David Beckham are among those in attendance.

The service at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville follows a private graveside service at Cave Hill Cemetery. A Muslim prayer service was held a day Thursday at the Kentucky Exposition Center.

2:30 p.m.

Celebrities have begun showing up at the memorial service for Muhammad Ali.

Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, rapper/actor Common and former NFL Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis pulled up to a VIP side entrance at the KFC Yum! Center on Friday afternoon. They were greeted by cheers from onlookers standing about three rows deep.

Former boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis and actor Will Smith served as pallbearers.

2 p.m.

The private graveside service for Muhammad Ali at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery has been completed.

Next up is the interfaith memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center, where former President Bill Clinton, actor Billy Crystal and TV journalist Bryant Gumbel are scheduled to speak.

1 p.m.

The funeral procession carrying Muhammad Ali's casket has arrived at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery.

Spectators stepped into the street to touch the flower-strewn hearse as it entered the cemetery.

12:45 p.m.

The starting time for the memorial service for Muhammad Ali has been pushed back.

The service had been scheduled to start at 2 p.m. But with the funeral procession still underway at 12:30 p.m., organizers at the KFC Yum! Center said the interfaith memorial service wouldn't start for at least two more hours.

The funeral procession didn't get begin until nearly 90 minutes after its scheduled start time. The hearse is headed to Cave Hill Cemetery, where Ali will be buried.


12:15 p.m.

Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield says the massive turnout to say goodbye to Muhammad Ali is proof of Ali's role as a unifier.

Holyfield said Friday that Ali wanted the world to come together. He says Ali is "probably up above, looking down and seeing all the different races come together." Holyfield says Ali used his fame as a boxer to promote his humanitarian ideals.

Holyfield is among hundreds of celebrities and dignitaries paying homage to Ali as the three-time heavyweight champion is laid to rest in his hometown of Louisville.


Crowds are waiting for the arrival of Muhammad Ali's funeral procession at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

With the cemetery closed to the public for the day, spectators sat in lawn chairs lining the street in front of Cave Hill. Some people sprinkled rose petals in front of a cemetery entrance. A little girl, 2-year-old Lena Worthington, was wearing big purple boxing gloves.

Ali died last Friday at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

He chose the cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as his final resting place a decade ago. Its 130,000 graves represent a who's who of Kentucky, including Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders.

By 7 a.m., there were men in dark suits inside the gates, and the media was set up across the street.

11:50 a.m.

Hundreds lined the rail at Louisville's Belvedere plaza, overlooking Interstate 64, just next to the Muhammad Ali Center.

"Here comes the Champ!" one man shouted as the funeral procession neared and the crowd fell silent.

The motorcade rolled to a stop.

"Ali! Ali! Ali!" the crowd screamed. People jumped and waved. Down below, the windows of limos rolled down and arms stretched out to wave back.

Edward Fletcher swears he saw Will Smith wave at him.

The procession paused on the interstate for one minute in the shadow of the museum that will stand as a lasting tribute to The Louisville Lip's legacy.

"My heart is racing," said Mona Fletcher, Edward's wife. "I feel like I should cry, they'd be tears of joy. What an honor, what a blessing I was able to witness this great moment."

The Fletchers brought their 11-year-old granddaughter, Iyanna Cleveland, from their home in Atlanta.

Edward, a 62-year-old retired firefighter, said he admired Ali since he was a young boy. Ali taught him to be strong and have conviction, to believe in his own greatness and to rely on God.

Alan Hensley, from Indiana, was standing against the rail when he saw Iyanna behind him struggling to see. He offered her his spot against the rail.

Mona Fletcher remarked that it was symbolic of what Ali stood for: grace and kindness, even if it cost him the best view.


11:25 a.m.

Herman Crossen could easily win an award as the best-dressed person watching the Muhammad Ali funeral procession.

The pastor of a neighborhood church turned heads as he crossed Muhammad Ali Boulevard in a tailored cream suit with a white-collared shirt and multicolor tie. Like others trying to keep cool as temperatures approached 90 degrees, he managed to do that and look hip as well as he stood against a brick wall.

"I'm kind of used to hearing that," Crossen joked about the compliments and looks.

Crossen said his uncle, also a minister, helped Ali distribute food to needy families and even helped fix up the champion's childhood home. He said his mother helped baby-sit for Ali. No way would he miss the chance to say goodbye to someone from around the way who just happened to be The Greatest.

"I'm excited about the unity here, which is what Ali spoke about," Crossen said. "I wanted to see this one moment on this one page of history."


11:15 a.m.

Inez Hughes tried not to cry as she gazed at the interstate where the hearse carrying Muhammad Ali's body will soon pass by.

"This is the last time to see him ride by," the Louisville native said. "This is history."

She stood with dozens of others leaning against the rail overlooking the interstate at Louisville's Belvedere, a plaza along the Ohio River where the memorial will be live-streamed for those who weren't able to get tickets.

Semitrailers passing on the interstate below honked and waved in solidarity.

"He was Louisville, he represented us better than anybody else," said Hughes' co-worker, Ashia Powell. "He stood up for himself and for us, even when it wasn't popular."


11:05 a.m.

Hundreds lined the streets of a busy Louisville road as a hearse carrying the casket of Muhammad Ali left the funeral home for a miles-long procession around the city.

There were a few chants of "Ali!" as the cars left, but most were quiet and reverent as the champ went by. Kenneth McGlothlan chanted "Ali!" as the procession started. He said he felt joyous today and that this week in Louisville has been a celebration of "a great life."

Children came with their parents and stood in the increasing heat waiting for the procession to begin nearly 90 minutes after its scheduled start time.

Just before the procession began, the streets were blocked off and people were allowed to stand on the road just feet away from Ali's casket. One woman threw rose petals on the street as the procession went by.


11 a.m.

Three women who graduated with Muhammad Ali in the class of 1960 at Central High School weren't going to miss a chance to say a last goodbye.

Veronica Pearson, Yvonne Ford Wilson and Shirley Daugherty lived in the same neighborhood as Ali.

"We thought we were hip and we called him a square," Wilson said. "But he was generous, he was nice. He is what the world sees today, the same man he was then."

Wilson pulled out a plastic butterfly and a stuffed animal bee out of her purse as she got out of a car across from the arena where Ali's memorial service will be held.

The three women were sad that Ali died but happy the world could celebrate his life.

"It's wonderful," Hillman said. "Who else would pass away and bring all this unity and peace. He has included everybody, young, old, black, white and all religions."

Wilson said one of her favorite remembrances of Ali as a teenager was when he would stand on corners and make a sound like a siren when cars went by, startling drivers who thought they were being pulled over by police.

"He was so funny," she said. "We've been telling stories ever since he passed. Sometimes you want to grieve and talk about it."


10:45 a.m.

The area near Muhammad Ali's boyhood home is crowded as people — young and old; black, white and Asian — await the processional carrying Ali's casket.

Debra Brown, who grew up in another part of western Louisville, says she has always admired how Ali has represented the city and wanted to be a part of the events to say goodbye. She said she brought her granddaughter to teach her about his boxing triumphs and his humanitarian causes outside the ring.

"She knows the name now. When she gets older, it will stick in her head. ... When she sees his face, she's going to remember Muhammad Ali."

Brown says she hopes her granddaughter also will heed some of Ali's teachings.

"You can be all that you can be; talk positive about herself."


10:40 a.m.

Heads of nations have contributed to the makeshift memorial growing outside the Muhammad Ali Center.

A wreath of red roses was signed from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohammad Nawaz Sharif. A garland of white flowers came from the ambassador of Bangladesh.

Others left prized possessions: a framed copy of a Sports Illustrated with Ali on the cover, a hand-painted canvas of Ali's likeness, framed photos of children with the Champ.


10:35 a.m.

The funeral procession carrying Muhammad Ali's casket through the streets of Louisville has begun.

The 17-car motorcade is expected to take Ali's body on a 19-mile route past his boyhood home, the gym where he first learned to box and the museum that bears his name.

The burial at Cave Hill Cemetary is to be followed by a grand interfaith memorial service in the afternoon.


10:25 a.m.

Brae'lyn Gamble needed a little prodding to recall her family's connection to Muhammad Ali.

Standing with her friend Jennai Carroll, 8, holding homemade posters proclaiming Ali as The Greatest, Gamble was a little shy before relatives reminded her that her great-great aunt lived next door to Ali's childhood home for 30 years before the owner sold it. It's now a museum and gift shop.

Gamble, who traveled from Murray, Kentucky, opened up.

"I'm going to tell people my great-great-aunt lived right next to that pink house," she said, "and Ali was born in Louisville, just like me."

Carroll simply recalled the pink color of Ali's former home and, "I was glad to go to his house."


10:15 a.m.

Attendance for Muhammad Ali's Muslim prayer service was smaller than anticipated.

Kentucky State Fair Board spokeswoman Amanda L. Storment says 6,000 people were scanned in to Freedom Hall and the North Wing, where the service was held. She says 15,000 tickets were given out for the service Thursday.

Storment says "a significant crowd" gathered outside the facility before and during the service but didn't enter the building.

An interfaith memorial service is being held for Ali on Friday in Louisville, following a procession through the city.


10:05 a.m.

Yejide Travis stood on her tiptoes to peek over a walk outside the Muhammad Ali Center. She was with several others looking for a view of the interstate where the motorcade carrying his body will soon pass by.

The 55-year-old from Louisville grew up not far from Ali's childhood home. One of her first memories was running into him on the street. He was already a boxing champion.

"I was 5 and this big strong man who was so pretty picked me up. He was kind to me. He looked me in the eye, made me feel special. And I haven't forgotten it in 50 years."

She remembers seeing him walk around town with dozens of kids trailing at his heels. He never seemed to mind, she said.

"He was the people's champion. He loved us well. He asked you how you were doing and he really wanted the answer. He was the greatest of all time. There will never be another."


10 a.m.

Hundreds of people are crowding the streets in front of the Louisville funeral home holding Muhammad Ali's body, many squeezing into a neighboring yard to catch a glimpse of the casket.

The scene is a joyous atmosphere, as many hope to say a final goodbye to the boxing champ. Police are blocking off the property to keep people back. Some made signs, and others wore Ali T-shirts.

Thirty-six-year-old Mike Stallings brought his 2 young sons. The family made signs to wave at the start of the processional.

He says: "It's a real reminder of our mortality, to see someone like that so strong and now he's gone.

"As big as he was, he never looked down on people. He always mingled among the crowds."


5 p.m.

Officials say Turkey's president, who flew to the United States to attend the funeral for Muhammad Ali, is cutting short his visit and returning home.

His office on Friday did not give an explanation as to why Recep Tayyip Erdogan was returning early.

Private Dogan news agency reported that the Turkish leader was upset that funeral organizers rejected his request to lay a piece from the cloth covering the Kaaba, in Mecca, on Ali's coffin. They reportedly also denied a request for Turkey's top cleric to read from the Quran.

Erdogan attended the Muslim prayer service for Ali on Thursday but would not take part in Friday's interfaith memorial service.

Erdogan and Jordan's King Abdullah were scheduled to speak at the funeral but lost their spots when other speakers were added later.


9:30 a.m.

Takeisha Benedict and her co-workers were color-coordinated as they waited to pay their respects to Muhammad Ali.

The five women wore orange T-shirts with "I Am Ali" printed on them while standing outside the housing office across the street from the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage on Muhammad Ali Boulevard. The long procession was about 45 minutes away from passing by, and they didn't mind waiting in the sun with a late-arriving gathering of people to see The Greatest.

Benedict would've been out here no matter the weather.

She says: "To me, he was a legend to this city and an example to people. I'm just glad to be part of this history of saying goodbye. Opening it up and allowing us to be part of it, we're so appreciative."


9:25 a.m.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in Louisville for the memorial service for Muhammad Ali.

The NBA's all-time scoring leader posted a photo of himself on Twitter standing in front of a makeshift memorial outside the Muhammad Ali Center, with the caption, "And so my day begins ...'.

The center is several blocks from the KFC Yum! Center, where more than 15,000 people, including hundreds of celebrities and dignitaries, are expected to show up Friday afternoon for an interfaith memorial service.


9 a.m.

Jenell Weber says she came to Louisville from Santa Clarita, California, to pay tribute to Muhammad Ali, whom she called her "biggest hero."

She flew in Thursday at 6 a.m. so she could attend the prayer service and went to Ali's boyhood home Friday for the processional because she wanted to see where it all started.

She says: "He's so much more than boxing. He is an amazing humanitarian. He stood up for what he believed in when it wasn't a popular thing to do, and he has a soul in his character like gold."

She says she also admired his way of bringing people together, no matter their race or religion.

She says, "We need more people like him to help get the world to come together."


8:45 p.m.

Filipino fans remembering Muhammad Ali gathered near the site of his epic "Thrilla in Manila" fight with Joe Frazier for an art and photo tribute.

The display near Araneta Coliseum at Ali Mall in the Philippines was launched hours before Ali's burial in the United States.

Outside the coliseum, a cutout picture of Ali stands in a boxing ring. Fans crowded around a screen playing videos of the 1975 match that put the Philippines on the map. At the mall, memorabilia including boxing gloves with Ali's autograph, an original souvenir program and a gold commemorative coin also are on display.

The Oct. 1, 1975, heavyweight championship, one of the greatest boxing matches in history, was won by Ali on a technical knockout at the jam-packed coliseum in Manila's suburban Quezon city and was watched by a worldwide audience.


8:35 p.m.

About two dozen people gathered along the road in front of the funeral home where Muhammad Ali's body is being kept. They watched as limousines for the 17-car procession filed into the AD Porter & Sons funeral home parking lot in southeastern Louisville.

Lisa Taylor, who lives down the street, showed up before work to catch a glimpse of the beginning of the procession.

She said: "I just wanted to come out and feel the spirit today. He is Louisville's son, and I wanted to be close to history. People all over the world will be watching. He's a world humanitarian."


8:23 a.m.

Organizers of Muhammad Ali's memorial sought to quash rumors that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is attending Friday's service.

Bob Gunnell, a spokesman for the Ali family, said Trump will not be among the guests. Gunnell said Trump "was invited like anyone else was" to the public service. Trump spoke to Ali's wife, Lonnie, and said he was unable to attend.

In December, Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States. Ali, probably the most famous Muslim in the U.S., issued one of his last statements to criticize the proposal, calling on people "to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda."

Gunnell said Friday morning that 300 celebrities and dignitaries will be among the 15,500 in the crowd.


8:09 a.m.

People gathered early outside Muhammad Ali's boyhood home, which was decorated with balloons, flags, flowers and posters for Friday's memorial.

A procession with Ali's casket was to pass by the home Friday morning.

Fans took photos of themselves standing in front of the small pink home with white trim, and standing near a large cloth poster on the lawn decorated with images of Ali, and declaring him "The Greatest."

Some people staked out their place near the home with lawn chairs. Others milled about on foot.


8:08 a.m.


That will be the single word inscribed on the headstone for the boxing superstar.

Family spokesman Bob Gunnell said the simple stone is in keeping with Islamic tradition.

Ali chose Cave Hill Cemetery as his final resting place a decade ago. Cave Hill is on the National Register of Historic Places, and also the final resting place of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders.

Ali wanted to be buried in his hometown, where he learned to box and fought his first fight. He also built a museum and the city named a street in his honor.


7:55 a.m.

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson is a late addition as a pallbearer at Muhammad Ali's burial.

Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell says Tyson caught a late flight to be part of the ceremonies Friday honoring Ali in Louisville, Kentucky. Other pallbearers include actor Will Smith and another former heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis.

Gunnell says Tyson wasn't sure if he would attend the service because of a prior commitment. He says Tyson was highly emotional when he learned of Ali's death and wasn't sure if he could handle the emotions of Ali's memorial.

The ceremonies will start with a procession that begins at 9:30 a.m., taking Ali's casket past his boyhood home and the museum that honors him.

Muhammad Ali was the mouth that roared. What came out of it, Bob Arum says, was what the world needed to hear.

The Hall of Fame boxing promoter says Ali put into words what most African-Americans wanted to say but didn't have the courage to do so.

"You've got to recall what this country was like in the 1960s," Arum says. "African-Americans were treated horribly. Black athletes were told by the leaders of their communities to be soft-spoken — Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis. Prominent blacks were not outspoken.

"Suddenly, here comes Muhammad Ali."

Ali understood how to connect with his peers and with the African-American communities. He recognized he could use his status "to say what he wants to about the racial situation," Arum notes. "He was saying what was probably on the minds of a majority of African-Americans."

Ali's outspokenness shocked many Americans, black and white. It angered some, uplifted others.

"When people realized he was a man of his conviction and was willing to sacrifice everything, the atmosphere changed," Arum says. "Around the world, he became beloved. People appreciated that and were mesmerized by it."


5 p.m.

President Barack Obama is remembering Muhammad Ali as the rare figure who's capable of capturing the world's imagination by being open, funny, generous and courageous.

Obama says Ali was one of a kind and that he'll always be "The Greatest" to him.

The president reminisced about Ali in a video posted Thursday on his Facebook page. Obama shows viewers two items he keeps as reminders of the three-time heavyweight boxing champion: the picture book "GOAT (Greatest of All Time) - A Tribute to Muhammad Ali" and a pair of Ali's boxing gloves that the champ autographed.

Obama jokes that he's "had to slug it out a little bit here in Washington."

Obama won't be attending Ali's memorial service Friday in Louisville, Kentucky. He'll be at his daughter Malia's high school graduation ceremony.


4:40 p.m.

Muhammad Ali swishing from half court? Bob Arum swears it happened — three times.

The Hall of Fame boxing promoter tells a story of Ali preparing to fight Oscar Bonavena in 1970. Ali was at Madison Square Garden while the NYU basketball team was practicing for a game that night.

As the boxer was walking across the court, Arum says, Ali picked up a ball at half court and launched a shot.

"Swish," Arum recalls.

The players dared Ali to try it again. Arum says Ali did and, once again, nothing but net.

One more time, the NYU players insisted. And, according to Arum, Ali swished another shot.

"That day. Muhammad was like Stephen Curry," Arum says with a laugh. "He couldn't miss. I've never seen a guy shoot a ball as well as Ali did on the floor of Madison Square Garden that day."


4:05 p.m.

George Kalinsky has been the official photographer for Madison Square Garden for a half-century. He owes the job to Muhammad Ali.

Kalinsky says he was "the official photographer for my family" when he was in Miami one day in 1966 and saw Ali walking down the street and turning into the 5th Street Gym.

A camera on his shoulder, Kalinsky followed Ali into the gym, where he was stopped by trainer Angelo Dundee.

"Angelo said I can't come in unless I paid a dollar," Kalinsky recalls. "So I said, 'But I'm the official photographer for Madison Square Garden.'"

Dundee bought it and told Kalinsky to enter.

"It was the first time I had seen anyone famous," Kalinsky says. "Soon, Howard Cosell came in. I really liked the atmosphere. I said to myself, 'Gee, I can really do this.'"

Kalinsky sold a photo of Ali from that day to the Miami Herald that went national, then international.

The next week, he was in New York interviewing for the job he claimed already was his. MSG publicist John Condon asked Kalinsky for examples of his work, and the photographer had only one roll of film to show.

"John Condon responded that if I have the 'chutzpah' to come with only one roll of film," Kalinsky says, "he has the 'chutzpah' to hire me.

"And that's how I became Madison Square Garden's photographer."


3 p.m.

Bob Arum believes Muhammad Ali was as important a public figure as anyone in the 20th century.

The Hall of Fame boxing promoter says that ranking Ali in the top 10 among influential people — in all walks of life, not just sports — is "too conservative."

"In the history books, when you look at the top three, Ali will be one," Arum says. "He not only had a tremendous impact in the United States with his stand on civil rights, but all over the world he was the most recognizable figure.

"Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King — Ali may have had the most impact of anybody."

2:20 p.m.

ESPN is airing 9½ hours of coverage of Friday's day of remembrance for Muhammad Ali.

Beginning with "SportsCenter" at 7 a.m. EDT, ESPN's flagship channel will air the planned 19-mile procession carrying Ali's body through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky, the boxing champion's hometown, and the ensuing interfaith memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center.

The coverage will be anchored by Hannah Storm and Jeremy Schaap.

It also will be streamed live on WatchESPN.


1:45 p.m.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan attended the Muslim prayer service for Muhammad Ali.

Thursday's service was attended by Ali's family and thousands of Muslims and fans of the boxing champion, who died last Friday at the age of 74.

Ali joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay as a young man. He later parted ways with the group, embracing mainstream Islam.

Jackson confirmed that Farrakhan attended the service and said he had a chance to chat with Farrakhan.

"The Nation of Islam played a big role in the early religious disciplines in Muhammad Ali — his sense of sacrifice, his values," Jackson said. "Yet he did not limit himself to one religion. ... He always had a chance of humanity that was not limited to one religion."

1:15 p.m.

A member of the Muslim American community has offered condolences to Muhammad Ali's family at a prayer service for the boxing great, saying his death has taken something away "from the sweetness of life itself."

Sherman Jackson says Ali belonged to everyone but was "an unapologetic fighter in the cause of black people in America — and not just the classes among black folks, but even more especially the masses."

"Ali was the people's champion, and champion he did the cause of his people," Jackson said.

Jackson says Ali "did more to normalize Islam in this country than perhaps any other Muslim in the history of the United States," exceeding the achievements of scholars and clerics because he demonstrated the religion's generosity and power.

He said Ali put the question of whether you can be a Muslim and a proud American to rest.

"Indeed, he KO'd that question," Jackson said.

12:15 p.m.

The Muslim prayer service for Muhammad Ali is underway in Louisville, Kentucky.

Thousands are attending the service. Some chanted and some held cameras and cellphones above their heads as Ali's body was brought inside a wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center.

Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent U.S. Muslim scholar, is leading the Jenazah prayer service. He told the crowd:

"We welcome all of you here today. We welcome the Muslims, we welcome the members of other faith communities, we welcome the law enforcement community. We welcome our sisters, our elders, our youngsters."

"All were beloved to Muhammad Ali."

11:50 a.m.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says Muhammad Ali set an example for athletes to "use the high platform of championships" to make a difference beyond sports.

Jackson was interviewed before a Muslim prayer service Thursday in Louisville for Ali. He said Ali's "dignity in the ring and his sense of heroism beyond the ring made him a living legend."

The civil rights leader said Ali will be remembered not only as a boxing champion but also as a human rights activist.

"He never stopped winning battles, whether it was in the ring or outside the ring," Jackson said.

11:15 a.m.

Former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard is attending a Muslim prayer service in Louisville for his friend, Muhammad Ali, whom he called "a man of great character and courage."

He said Ali's most important contributions were as a humanitarian and a fighter for civil rights and social justice. Leonard said Ali "impacted the world."

Leonard believes Ali's most memorable moment as a boxer was when he defeated George Foreman to reclaim the world heavyweight boxing title in 1974. Leonard said he "was so afraid that George was going to kill him."

He said Ali "meant the world" to him: "He was my idol, my friend, my mentor. He was someone that I looked up to and someone who I tried to emulate during my boxing career."

10:20 a.m.

Mourners began trickling in for Muhammad Ali's funeral shortly after the doors opened at 9 a.m. Thursday, three hours before the traditional Muslim service.

Ali insisted it be opened to all. The attendees were young and old; black, white and Arabic. Some wore traditional Islamic attire, others blue jeans or business suits.

Twenty-five-year-old Abdul Rafay Basheer came from Chicago for the service. He called Ali an ambassador for Muslims, particularly important at a time of terrorist attacks, incendiary political rhetoric and global fear of the faith.

Ali's Muslim service will be broadcast around the world. Basheer said he hopes it serves to demystify his religion. He thinks Ali designed his own funeral as a vehicle of unity and meant "to show his religion to the world and to America."


8:40 a.m.

There are still a few tickets left for Thursday's Muslim prayer service to honor Muhammad Ali. But there are none left for the interfaith memorial on Friday.

Muslims have traveled from all over the world to pay tribute to Muhammad Ali. A fellow Muslim who shares the same name traveled from Bangladesh to honor the boxing great, who stayed at his home during a visit in the 1970s.

Mohammad Ali arrived in Louisville on Wednesday with no hotel reservations and found a local family to take him in.

The other Ali from Bangladesh says The Greatest stayed at his home in 1978 and always referred to him as his twin brother.


8:30 a.m.

Nearly 14,000 people are expected to be in Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday for a Muslim prayer service to honor Muhammad Ali.

Organizers say the service, or Jenazah prayer, is open to all, but meant especially as a chance for Muslims to say goodbye to a man considered a hero of the faith. It will be streamed live online.

U.S. Muslims hope the service for the Kentucky native will help underscore that Islam, so much under attack in recent months, is fully part of American life.

Ali famously joined the Nation of Islam, the black separatist religious movement, as a young athlete, then embraced mainstream Islam years later, becoming a global representative of the faith and an inspiration to other Muslims.

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