The Latest: Boxing promoter: Ali was the mouth that roared

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Posted: Jun 09, 2016 5:34 PM
The Latest: Boxing promoter: Ali was the mouth that roared

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Latest on memorials for boxing great Muhammad Ali (all times local):

5:30 p.m.

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."

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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.

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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.

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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."

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1:15 p.m.

A leading Muslim scholar 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.

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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."

In an introductory prayer, Shakir said: "Oh God, Almighty God, don't deprive us of his reward, don't cast us into tribulation after his departure. Forgive us and forgive him."

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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.

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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."

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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 and white; Muslim, Christian and Jewish. 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."

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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.

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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.