Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, one of the faces of the NBA, spoke about legendary boxer Muhammad Ali on Saturday afternoon, a day after his passing.
“First of all, my condolences goes to the Ali family. Rest his soul to the G.O.A.T.,” said James.
James said of what way do he ties the avenue for athletes to become global icons to Muhammad Ali, ” I’m not sure I’m going to answer your question exactly how you wanted to, but so many thoughts come to mind when I think about the man who passed away yesterday, what he represented.
“As a kid, I gravitated towards him because he was a champion, but I only knew as a kid of what he did inside the ring. As I got older and I started to be more knowledgeable about the sport, about sport in general and about the guys who paved the way for guys like myself, I understood that he is the greatest of all time, and he was the greatest of all time because of what he did outside of the ring.
“Obviously, we knew how great of a boxer he was, but I think that was only 20% of what made him as great as he was. What he stood for, I mean, it’s a guy who basically had to give up a belt and relish everything that he had done because of what he believed in and ended up in jail because of his beliefs. It’s a guy who stood up for so many different things throughout the times where it was so difficult for African-Americans to even walk in the streets.
“For an athlete like myself today, without Muhammad Ali, I wouldn’t be sitting up here talking in front of you guys. I wouldn’t be able to walk in restaurants. I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere where blacks weren’t allowed back in those days because of guys like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Lew Alcindor, Jackie Robinson, and the list goes on and on.
“So when an icon like Muhammad Ali passes away, it’s just very emotional. It’s also gratifying to know that that guy, one man, would sacrifice so much of his individual life knowing that it would better the next generation of men and women after him.
“So today I can sit and go to China and make trips to China and all over the world and people know my name and know my face. I give all credit to Muhammad Ali because he was the first icon. He is the goat. He is the greatest of all time, and it has zero to do with his accomplishments inside the ring. So hopefully I was able to cover it.”
Ali was one of the first athletes to take political stands, and James has followed that lead. He made his feelings known on some very important issues, like the Trayvon Martin case, Ferguson, and the Eric Garner case, wearing a shirt with “I can’t breathe” in 2014.
James said of putting his views out there and whether athletes should do more of it, “I just think it’s in you. If it’s in you, then it will be brought to light. If it’s not, then it won’t. I would never compare myself to Muhammad Ali because I never had to go through what those guys had to go through back in those times. But in my own daily struggles, as I continue to say, growing up in the inner city, being a statistic that was supposed to go the other way and I’m able to sit up here today and knowing that I was a guy who beat the odds, it’s just you never take for granted the path and the guys who just every single day just struggled in their individual lives and everything they had to go through on a daily basis for us, for a guy like myself.
“Yes, I’ve had some adverse moments in my life and, yes, I’ve had to deal with a lot of things as a professional, and I’ve spoken up on a lot of issues that other athletes may not speak upon, but I feel it’s my duty to carry on the legacy of the guys who did it before me.”
James said of the type of legacy that Muhammad Ali will leave on this Earth, “I think what’s unfortunate sometimes where some of our greats and some of our role models and some of our leaders is that we don’t appreciate them until they’re gone, and I think that’s unfortunate. But I think in Muhammad’s case, I hope we were able to appreciate him from the time that he was set or stepped foot on Earth. And along his path from a kid all the way to a teenager all the way to an adult and to a father and so on and so on, his legacy will obviously live on.
“It’s funny, last night we were back at the hotel, and a good friend of mine, a role model friend of mine who actually grew up in the same hometown as Muhammad Ali and kind of around the same age, he put on last night, on the TV where we were, the Thrilla in Manila, the fight between Ali and Frazier. It was just an unbelievable pound-for-pound slugfest, but just two greats just seizing the opportunity and seizing the moment to be in it and do what they love to do.
“It sent a lot of emotions through all of us just in that room watching it. Like I said, I had an opportunity to meet him a few times, and for him to be able to fight the disease that he had for so long, I think three decades he had that disease for, and still be able to recognize and do the things that he wanted to do and live on, he’s a powerful man.”