Muhammad Ali's Hometown of Louisville Honors the Late Boxer as 'Our Inspiration'
By NBC News
As the world awoke to news of Muhammad Ali's overnight death, the people of Louisville, Kentucky, found ways Saturday to remember their hometown hero. They lowered flags in mourning. Gathered in civic squares to share local pride. And prepared to welcome him home — for the final time — with a funeral.
Outside the Muhammad Ali Center, locals created an impromptu memorial, leaving flowers and written tributes.
A few blocks away at Louisville Metro Hall, Mayor Greg Fischer marveled at the many outsize roles Ali embodied: sports champion, civil rights icon, humanitarian and "interfaith pioneer."
"The Louisville Lip spoke to everyone," Fischer said, referring to the dismissive nickname the press gave the boastful Ali early on his career. "But we heard him in a way no one else could, as our brother, our uncle and our inspiration."
Ali died late Friday night in an Arizona hospital after being admitted a day earlier with what his family described as respiratory problems. He had suffered for more than three decades from Parkinson's disease. A cause of death has not yet been announced.
At the Muhammad Ali Center, CEO Donald E. Lassere read a statement from the institution, which said Ali "will be remembered for his love for all people, his athleticism, his humanitarian deeds, social justice and perhaps mostly his courage in and out of the ring."
Lassere added, "And I'm sure Muhammad would want me to say this as well: he would want to be remembered for how pretty he was."
Fischer asked his audience outside Metro Hall to imagine what it must have been like to witness Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in 1942, as an infant — his long, remarkable life still ahead of him.
"Imagine that day, that little boy, eyes wide open, looking around the the room at the old Louisville General Hospital, not knowing the life that awaited him, the life he would make, the world he would shake up, and the people he would inspire," Fischer said. "And like you, I am absolutely one of those people."
The mayor added: "Muhammad Ali belongs to the world, but he only has one hometown."
To accentuate that point, Fischer pointed out some of the many honors and titles Ali accrued in his post-boxing career: Amnesty International lifetime achievement award, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Century, and co-founder, with his wife, Lonnie, of the Muhammad Ali Center, created to "promote respect, hope and understanding in Louisville and around the world."
Earlier on Saturday, a spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, which named Ali a "messenger of peace" in 1998, called him "a world champion for equality and peace."
The spokesman recalled Ali first connecting with the U.N. in the 1970s to campaign against apartheid and racial injustice. Later, Ali traveled the world for the U.N. to support children's initiatives and racial and political reconciliation.
"The United Nations is grateful to have benefited from the life and work of one of the past century's great humanitarians and advocates for understanding and peace," the statement said.