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Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali Dead At 74. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired June 4, 2016 - 07:00   ET



[07:00:08] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We do have breaking news to share with you this morning. So grateful for your company, as always. I'm Christi Paul.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns, in for Victor Blackwell.

PAUL: So, the breaking news that we want to share with you this morning, if you're just waking up. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has died and there is an outpouring of condolences from people all over the world this morning.

We're going to talk about that, but I want to give you the latest here. The boxing icon passed away. He was 74 years old. He battled Parkinson's disease for 32 years but he is known for his flawless boxing style, his brash trash talking during matches. He was three times world heavyweight champ.

JOHNS: But you know what? His contribution didn't end there. Even after he retired and he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease which probably had to do with the fact that he got hit in the head so many times, he continued tonight and now outside the boxing ring for humanitarian causes raising money for charity.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer is going to take a look now at his inspirational life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the legend of Muhammad Ali, the greatest fighter that ever will be.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): He proclaimed himself the greatest and millions of fans around the world agree.

MUHAMMAD ALI, BOXING LEGEND: Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.

BLITZER: Those phrases became Ali's motto. His wit and charisma outside the ring would also make him one of the world's best known personalities. But his persona began to emerge long before he captured his first

heavyweight championship. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, during an ugly era of racial segregation in America. At 12 years old, Ali's world would change forever when a local police officer introduced him to boxing. It became an outlet for his rage.

It also offered Ali an opportunity to develop his remarkable talent. Just six years later Ali would bring home a gold medal from the 1960 summer Olympic Games in Rome. He'd turn pro at the age of just 18, and at 22, he stunned the boxing world defeating a fighter the experts thought was invincible, Sonny Liston. Ali had arrived. And Liston would never be the to prove the point, Ali put Liston away for a second time in a rematch the next year.

The '60s were glory days for Ali. But the civil rights era would also become a controversial and polarizing period in his life. He renounced his given name and joined the volatile black separatist Nation of Islam. Almost as quickly as he had arrived, Ali's heavyweight title was gone, revoked after he claimed conscientious objector status and refused to serve in the Vietnam War.

At the peak boxing age of 25, Ali also gave up millions of dollars in endorsements and faced five years in prison, all in defiance of a war he called despicable and unjust.

ALI: My intention is to box, to win a clean fight. But in war, the intention is to kill, kill, kill, kill, and continue killing innocent people!

BLITZER: Ali began a three and a half year exile from championship fights until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction on a technicality.

ALI: For everybody that watches and trains. There is no contest. Better not fight like that with Ali.

BLITZER: But the world would soon learn that even Superman has his off days. Ali was barely back in the ring when his undefeated professional record came to an end. He lost to Joe Frazier in the 1971 match dubbed "The Fight of the Century." It was the first of three fights with Smokin' Joe.

ALI: Joe's going to come out smokin', but I ain't going to be jokin'. I'll be peckin' and a pokin', pouring water on his smokin'. This might shock and amaze you, but this time I retire Joe Frazier.

BLITZER: And retire him he hid, the famous "Thrilla in Manila" fight ended after frazier's trainer stopped the fight following the 14th round giving Ali a technical knockout. Ali was on a roll again.

But his greatest athletic comeback was in Kinshasa, in what was then Zaire.

ALI: Last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean I make medicine sick. BLITZER: Ali knocked out the heavily favored champion George Foreman.

[07:05:01] It was called "The Rumble in the Jungle".

His last fight in 1981 would mark the beginning of another battle that Ali described as his toughest, the diagnosis that he was afflicted with Parkinson's disease.

After two decades of redefining the heavyweight division, Ali was forced to retire. His lifetime record -- 56 victories, just 5 defeats.

But he never retreated from living a very public life. In 1996, Ali provided one of the most poignant moments in sports history. With 3 billion people watching, he lit t Olympic flame at the Summer Games in Atlanta. His hands trembling but never wavering. Ali remained the consummate showman.

As his condition grew progressively worse, Ali struggled each day to whisper a word. His hands and legs shook. And his voice quivered.

ALI: I am the greatest.


BLITZER: Yet his spirit was never shaken and he never slowed down from serving as an ambassador for peace and a mediator in world conflicts.

In 2005, Ali was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, the nation's highest civilian honor.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: When you say the greatest of all time is in the room, everyone knows who you mean.


BLITZER: And tributes for the champ continue.

REPORTER: How do you feel about getting the honor tonight?

ALI: It was long overdue.

BLITZER: Ali was one of the most gifted and unique personalities in sports history. The world may never see the likes of him again. In the final chapter, few would argue that Ali needed the crowds as much as they needed him. Not for mere validation, but because each saw in the other the best in themselves.

ALI: Ali's got left, Ali's got right, if he hits you once you'll sleep for the night. And as you lie on the floor while the ref counts ten, hope and pray that you never meet me again.


JOHNS: Muhammad Ali was so much of a citizen of the world, grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, spent his final moments at a hospital in this Scottsdale, Arizona. He was surrounded by close friends and family, and that is where we find our Dan Simon live this morning.

Dan, are you learning anything more about Muhammad Ali's final moments?


Details at this point are thin. We do know that he was brought to the hospital on Thursday with what was described as a respiratory issue which is common in patients who have advanced Parkinson's. And at first we were led to believe that this was going to be a brief hospital stay according to the family spokesperson, that he was in fair condition.

So I think the speed at which this all occurred may have caught a lot of people off guard. Of course, he died here at the hospital last night and he was surrounded by friends and family, as you said, Joe.

JOHNS: He's been to the hospital before over the recent years and made it out okay. That is part of the surprise this morning, isn't it?

SIMON: That's right. Of course, he had been in failing health. But this really was not expected. He had pulled out, if you will, each time he had been to the hospital. He had been in and out over the years.

The last time he was seen in public was back in April at a charity event, and he was frail but he was getting around. And so, you know, him coming to the hospital I think, you know, was a big surprise to many. In terms of what's going to happen today here in Phoenix, Joe, we know that there is going to be a news briefing where we are expected to get some details about the funeral. At this point, they haven't released any firm plans other than the fact we know that it is going to be in Louisville, Kentucky, in Muhammad Ali's hometown, Joe.

JOHNS: And a memorial service in Louisville today as far as we know. Is that correct?

SIMON: That's exactly right. We don't have a whole lot of details about that either, but certainly the city is going to be offering an opportunity for people in that community to mourn the life of Muhammad Ali.

I can tell you that here at the hospital, Joe, things have been a bit quiet. But overnight we did see people lighting candles, dropping off little mementos, things of that nature. I would expect that to continue throughout the day.

JOHNS: Only the beginning, no doubt, of an enormous remembrance of a world icon in fact. Thanks so much for that, Dan Simon.

PAUL: And still to come -- there is a side of Muhammad Ali that most people would never know, people that didn't get to meet him. [07:10:05] Well, CNN's Pamela Brown did. We're going to talk to her

and get the story behind this picture. Yes, that is her with Muhammad Ali.

JOHNS: Also, how can anyone forget these images of Muhammad Ali later in life? Long and public fight he had with what was really his toughest opponent -- Parkinson's disease. It took a toll on him.


PAUL: The breaking news this morning is that the world has lost Muhammad Ali at the age of 74. People all over Twitter and Facebook and social media talking about him, remembering him, thinking of his family. Certainly thoughts and prayers to them today.

But he had certainly -- excuse me -- been somebody who had just taken the boxing world by storm and then transcended it into so many other areas of life where he proved to be such an inspiration to people.

JOHNS: Changed boxing and I think he also changed the world in many ways standing up to the Vietnam War at a time when the United States was torn over the issue. He changed our views of spirituality in some ways, going from a Baptist upbringing generally to the Nation of Islam, on to Sunni Islam and to Sufism. A very complicated man in so many different ways.

[07:15:00] His last challenge being, Parkinson's disease, which was the thing that he carried with him for over 30 years.

PAUL: His daughter, Laila Ali, posted a picture of him with her daughter Sydney who was born back in 2011 and I said, "I love this photo with my father and my daughter Sydney when she was a baby. Thanks for all the love and well-wishes. I feel your love and appreciate it."

JOHNS: She followed him into boxing.

PAUL: She did follow him into boxing. I always have to wonder what he thought seeing her there. He had been there, he into you how tough it was. Do you wish that for your daughter? You know?

JOHNS: Absolutely, I know.

PAUL: It's that kind of thing. But you know he was her biggest fan.

Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney is with us now. Perhaps best known for managing Lennox Lewis when he won the heavyweight title in 1992.

Kellie, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us. I understand that you had met Muhammad Ali on several occasions. Help us understand what he -- what impression he left you with. What do you remember about this man that you will always take with you?

KELLIE MALONEY, BOXING MANAGER, PROMOTER (via telephone): Well, the first time I had the privilege of seeing Muhammad Ali in the flesh was he was still Cassius Clay. It was (INAUDIBLE) in London. I was very lucky to skip school and manage to get into the gymnasium he was going to work out at.

It was one of the most -- I don't know, he just sort of mesmerized the whole room. People just stood in awe of this man. I think I was about 14 at the time. Maybe a little bit younger.

It was then I realized I wanted into boxing and work with heavyweight boxers. Then I met him later on in life, after one of the Lennox Lewis fights. We got the privilege of meeting him, had an audience with him. And it was just fantastic being in the room with Lennox Lewis who was current world heavyweight champion and whose hero was Muhammad Ali.

And to hear Lennox talk about Muhammad and how he inspired Lennox to go into the boxing room and to hear Muhammad pay Lewis compliments him and call Lennox champ was the most amazing, humble feeling I've ever witnessed.

JOHNS: Kellie, we call him the greatest. That's the nickname he's gone by for years and years. But could you give me a sense from the boxing perspective, what is the biggest lasting mark that Muhammad Ali will leave on the sport?

MALONEY: I don't know because there are so many great moments. Everyone talks about the fight with "The Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman, but my great fight that I remember was the "Thrilla in Manila" with Joe Frazier when both of them were on the point of actually exhaustion coming out for the last round. And Joe Frazier's trainer in the end just waved his hands.

And Ali admitted, "I'm so glad he had done it because I would have collapsed in that next round." I think that is an amazing compliment. Think that was one of the best fights I ever witnessed as a young person.

I saved money for the first Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali fight in Madison Square Garden on closed circuit. Even then. To just watch this man, that was just fantastic, his fights with Ken Norton, his fights with George Foreman, even his fight with Henry Cooper, the first one, when he was on the floor. I was listening to it on the radio with my father. There was just something about Muhammad Ali completely.

PAUL: Yes. He was -- you were transfixed on him when he was in the room.

Kellie Maloney, thank you for sharing your memories. We really appreciate your thoughts and your voice on this. Thank you.

MALONEY: Thank you.

PAUL: Of course.

Now, there are some great quotes by Muhammad Ali. Some of them very profound. Some of them very funny. Remember "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee"? Muhammad all in his own words is what's coming up next. JOHNS: Also, he was more than a boxer. Muhammad Ali was the global

sports icon in a way few others have ever been able to match. His influence on sports coming up next.


[07:23:16] PAUL: He was the self-proclaimed greatest. Then, you know what? The world just followed suit, believing the same thing. But Muhammad Ali passed away overnight at the age of 74.

JOHNS: The tributes, the kind words have been pouring in from all over the world. His death comes after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease. He was diagnosed with the disease in 1984, three years after he retired from a boxing career that began as a 12-year- old amateur in Louisville, Kentucky.

PAUL: Former world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao is reflecting on the passing of Muhammad Ali this morning.

JOHNS: And writing, "We lost a giant today. You will always be the greatest of all time. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Ali family. May God bless them."

Manny Pacquiao joins us now on the phone. Thank you so much for calling in. How will you remember, Muhammad Ali?

MANNY PACQUIAO, FORMER PRO BOXER (via telephone): Muhammad Ali, when I start boxing, he's one of my inspirations. He did a lot of things in boxing, accomplished. It's an inspiration to all boxing.

It is a big loss for boxing. He passed away, but you know, the memory of Muhammad Ali, his accomplishment, we will never forget and we -- you know, I mean, my condolences to his family and, of course, we as boxers, athletes, we always admire him and what he has done in boxing.

[07:25:06] PAUL: Mr. Pacquiao, I know that you are a champion, especially in the Philippines, of trying to stop human trafficking. And that is one of your passions. Did Muhammad Ali and his passions outside the ring influence you to get involved in things other than boxing?

PACQUIAO: Yes. That's right. Other than boxing, Muhammad Ali inspired me to do good things, helping the people, helping those who need help.

JOHNS: And can you just give us some sense of whether you had personal interaction and contact with Muhammad Ali? Did you ever meet him? Did you ever talk to him? Or did you just, as you said, use him as an inspiration?

PACQUIAO: I didn't meet him personally but I just met to his daughter. But I always admire him. I always his inspiration in boxing, and we know that -- we all know that what he has done and accomplished in boxing. It is a big thing in boxing history.

JOHNS: What do you think what his greatest fight? PACQUIAO: Oh, he had a lot of good fights, especially Thrilla in

Manila. He fought here in the Philippines once, so that's big part of Philippines, to be part of his legacy.

PAUL: Manny Pacquiao, we so appreciate you taking the time to call in. As we know, everybody in the boxing world is shocked by this. We did not expect to hear this news this morning. We knew he had been hospitalized but we didn't know it was as dire as it is. Manny Pacquiao, again, thank you so much for your voice here.

PACQUIAO: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.

PAUL: Take good care.

JOHNS: We continue to remember the remarkable life of Muhammad Ali as the city of his birth prepares to remember the man known as the greatest fighter ever. Talk about his legacy coming up next.


[07:31:12] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: So grateful to have your company, as we bring you the news today about Muhammad Ali. I'm Christi Paul.

JOHNS: And I'm Joe Johns, in for Victor Blackwell.

We are following the breaking news of boxing legend Muhammad Ali's death, a man who took the world by storm, including in boxing. He earned the nickname "the greatest", became the three-time world heavyweight championship. But he was also a hero, an icon in many other ways.

In fact, this is how I met him on Capitol Hill in 2002, pushing for more money for Parkinson's disease. He championed many humanitarian causes after he retired, raising money for charity.

In 2010, President Obama wrote an op-ed on Ali in "USA Today." He said he admired Ali's unique ability to summon extraordinary strength and courage in the face of adversity to navigate the storm and never lose his way.

So, joining us now, CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill. He's also a professor at Morehouse College.

Thanks again for coming in, Marc. We said many times this morning that Muhammad Ali transcended sports. Do you believe in your estimation, as many have said, that his legacy will be more about the way he lived his life than the things he did in sports?

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, absolutely. I mean we can't ignore the fact that Muhammad Ali is arguably the greatest heavyweight of all time. And certainly the greatest athlete of all time when we look at the totality of his career, but he does transcend sport. You know, I was in the Middle East two weeks ago and I see signs for

Muhammad Ali, posters of Muhammad Ali. This is decades after he's retired. You know, when I'm in Tanzania, when I'm in south Africa, when I'm in Ghana, I see Muhammad Ali signs. I say people around the country saying, oh, you're from America, Muhammad Ali. He is a global figure, a global voice and global hero.

That had something to do with boxing for sure, but it had a lot to do with his humanitarian efforts, it had a lot to do with his constant growth. Muhammad Ali said if have the same world view decades later that you had decades earlier, you have wasted decades of life. He became a more centered, peaceful human being and he brought the world along with him. That's what made him such an extraordinary person, his leadership on the global stage, his efforts on Capitol Hill to expand funding. Not just for Parkinson's but for other diseases and other forms of research.

Let's not forget, Muhammad Ali also did things in private. He wasn't the person, despite his brash persona, he wasn't the person who always courted attention. Muhammad Ali would donate money to causes and not even tell you.

In fact, there were times when he would donate money on the condition that no one knew who did it. He was about people. He was about humanity. He was about loving his way through this world.

PAUL: Marc, you mentioned the quote there that he says, the man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. His daughter, Hana Ali, tweeted, "Our father was a humble mountain and now he's gone home to God. God bless you, daddy, you are the love of my life. Obviously he was so much more than a boxer to them."

But when you talk about traveling the world and seeing pictures of Muhammad Ali and people immediately finding out, oh, you're from America, Muhammad Ali, what do they say about him? What conversations do you have with people when you are all over the globe and this is the man's name who continues to come up time and time again?

HILL: Well, there's two things. One is that he's larger than life athlete, right? People saw him around the globe as this person who kept slaying giants, you know?

When he fights Sonny Liston, there was no expectation that he would win.

[07:35:05] People laughed at the idea that he would beat Sonny Liston. Then he beat him twice. You know, after losing to Joe Frazier, he comes back out and wins and defeats him twice. He beats George Foreman, perhaps the hardest punching person in boxing history.

So, here is this beautiful, talented, gifted, funny person, who also destroys giants. People remember that he was a global hero for that. But beyond that, people admired the fact that he pushed back against empire. In 1967, Muhammad Ali could have simply gone into the draft. People

say, oh, he's a coward. No, he wasn't a coward. He wasn't being asked to hold a gun and stand on the front lines. He was going to do boxing exhibitions just like Joe Lewis had done decades earlier. It was a very easy job.

He decided not to do it on principle. The fact that he surrendered millions of dollars, he surrendered his Q rating, his popularity rating, basically surrendered his career for a long time an didn't get it back, the fact that he did that made him a hero to many. And in subsequent decades he has sustained his character. He has sustained his image.

PAUL: What you say there when you talk about the military and the controversy about going to serve in the Vietnam War when he claimed conscientious objector status and was then put in jail for several years. Basically when we say his principle, he came out and said, why should I go kill these innocent people? That is not who I am.

And that was his argument for not wanting to go.

HILL: That's exactly right. As a student of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, he was taught that this was not his war and that he had global solidarity with people of color again around the world. Because of that he did didn't see them as his enemy. He said I see more injustice in the United States than I do from Vietcong, so I can't do that.

And then, as he grew in his beliefs, as he grew in his principle, he said I can't engage in a militaristic enterprise. I don't want to be part of this imperialistic regime. I want to fix America. I want to make this place more fair, I want to make this place more just, I want to make this place more equal.

So, he did it on principle. Again, he could then just go on and done some boxing matches, collected a check and going back the world's greatest heavyweight. He decided to do something far more dangerous and a testament to the fact that he was right is that 29 years later, you know, he's standing in Atlanta, Georgia, lighting the Olympic torch. He was from being enemy of the state in 1967, to be an American hero in 1996.

And he didn't change. The world did. That's what makes him so special.

JOHNS: But also, just to put a finer point on it, a lot of this happened during the tumultuous 1960s at a time when we had figures like Malcolm X, as you mentioned, Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King. The country was trying to navigate racial issues as well as the Vietnam War. And into that context, you drop Muhammad Ali with these sort of outspoken pronouncements about not just the war, but race in general.

So, it was sort of empowering be with was it not, especially for African-Americans in those times. HILL: Absolutely. Because many athletes, many artists, many people

didn't say or do anything. Muhammad Ali could have very easily continued to fight but he was -- or not fight, rather. But he was part of a very small group of athletes, people like Jim Brown, people like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who were willing to speak out when it was dangerous.

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. had also fallen to the depths of unpopularity. He was no longer allowed to speak at major venues. Martin Luther King was not allowed on the Morehouse college board of trustees. They say he was a bad influence on young people for going to jail too much. He didn't make "People" magazine's most admired Americans list.

Many people who we revere now at that moment in '67 were unpopular because they were no longer saying be non-violent to white racists. They were saying be non-violent abroad. Let's not enter this ugly war.

You had anti-war activists who were like white hippies. Anti-war activists who were black preachers. But then you had this athlete, somebody who's not from the political world somebody who's not from this sector saying, hey, I want to be part of this struggle, too. I'm not going to lead the struggle but I'm going to be an extraordinary voice in it.

Muhammad Ali for that reason is admired by so many people because he had so much to lose. He put so much on the line when he didn't have to and that again is a testament to his character.

PAUL: He didn't want to go over there and kill civilians. He didn't want to kill anybody that said, they've done nothing to me. You know, the mothers and civilians that are caught up in the war. He didn't want to be part of that.

Marc Lamont Hill, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

JOHNS: We're joined once again now by former British boxer and world champion, Chris Eubank.

Thanks so much for coming in again, Chris. When you listen to all of this and we just got the perspective from the United States and what it was like during the 1960s and the impact that Muhammad I really had on the things outside sports. Can you see that across the pond it was about the same way there? Did he sort of transcend sports in England and in other countries where people thought boxer?

[07:40:08] CHRIS EUBANK, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BOXER: Most certainly. He used his platform which was boxing to be the humanitarian that he was, and still is, because that spirit is still vibrant.

Mandela in his inaugural speech, he said, the world cannot be served by your playing small. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so others around you will feel secure. We were born to make manifest the glory of God which is within us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously allow others to do the same. And in liberating ourselves from our own fears, our presence

automatically liberates others. So, here's a man embodying the spirit of a Mandela, the great men. And was said before, in order to see further and to be better, we have to stand on the shoulders of giants which is what these men were.

So hugely inspired and hugely -- a huge tribute should go around the world for this man. As I said earlier, about the funding I would fund and help fund this idea of have region statues in Hyde Park, maybe Central Park, the Emirates, around the world to have the statue and to actually use as an example the spirit, the beacon that this man was.

PAUL: Chris, when you talk about that he meant to you. I know that you were a boxer and talked about how he influenced your inspiration in that regard. But outside of that, what do you feel you have done in your life because of Muhammad Ali outside boxing?

EUBANK: Well, I didn't want to get into this, but as you asked the question, in 2003, I protested against the war in Iraq. Now that has done me personally a great deal of damage. However, it was the right thing to do.

How was I inspired to do just that? Muhammad Ali. I had a truck. I drove a 379 Peterbilt truck, and I drove it outside and parked it outside Downing Street, and have on the back, "military occupation causes terrorism".

It cost me so much in my life. It cost me so much trouble. But anyway, the point is I was inspired by him to do the right thing.

So in many respects during my career, even my vibrance, my gamesmanship, my being a maverick, this is all inspired by the giant that was Muhammad Ali which is bright and still alive as far as I'm concerned, because I am alive and I am still vibrant and I'm still pushing and I'm still protecting those who are disenfranchised and those who are weaker. And this spirit was born of the likes of Mandela and Muhammad Ali.

PAUL: Many people believing his spirit will absolutely continue to live on.

Chris Eubank, thank you.

EUBANK: My pleasure.

JOHNS: And we're going to take a little break right now. When we get back, we'll talk to civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

PAUL: Stay close.


[07:46:59] PAUL: If you're just waking up, you are learning that the world has lost the greatest. After a three-decade-long fight with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has died at the age of 74. JOHNS: You know, this brought agreement about this man's life and

legacy. But a lot of people forget that he was one of the most polarizing stars in sports. He was both revered and reviled for a brash style in and out of the ring. But his powerful punches and quick footwork were always a sight to behold, nonetheless.

PAUL: He was outspoken on civil rights issues. Let's talk about that with activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Reverend, thank you very much for being with us.

I saw on your Twitter page this morning, you have a really profound quote there. When champions win, they ride on the people's shoulders. When Muhammad Ali won, we ride on his shoulders and the sweet picture of a child on top of Muhammad Ali's shoulders.

Let's talk about what he did outside the boxing arena. What was it --

REV. JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST (via telephone): You know, he was a champion inside the ring. He beat every foe that came his way. We're champions within ourself and they ride on the people's shoulders.

Heroes, the people that ride on their shoulders. His hero status was beyond the ring. He was a defiant man of dignity challenging the system by using the platform of boxing. In 1960, four years before the public accommodation bill was passed, civil rights passed. It was passed, legal, segregation in America, those are the laws of the land.

He defied those laws. Segregation was polarizing. He challenged the condition under which we lived.

PAUL: Reverend Jackson, how are you different? How are you a different man because of Muhammad Ali?

JACKSON: Well, in some sense because I knew him. And because we were part of the same struggle. In 1960, he was in the Olympics (INAUDIBLE) in Greenville, South Carolina. I remember so well April 4th, 1967.

Ali was in a hotel room in New York with Jim Brown and Dr. King and Andrew Young and I talking about his position on the war and how he was willing to sacrifice all. That's what made an even bigger hero because the U.S. sought to discredit him by dethroning him. You can have the crown, you cannot have the championship (INAUDIBLE)

Most blacks resented segregation, but they didn't resisted. I even associated athletes celebrating on the courts, and on the football (INAUDIBLE). The idea of "I'm the best, I'm the greatest, (INAUDIBLE), basketball players gesturing, football players dancing in the end zone and basketball player (INAUDIBLE).

[07:50:06] All of that stuff (INAUDIBLE) any kind of defiant, braggadocios motion that's in there actually before him, except his hero (INAUDIBLE) was Jack Johnson. Jack Johnson was at a time he was at his height. It was a big deal psychologically and yet he had married a white woman, rode down in his convertible limousine. (INAUDIBLE) public social defiance.

JOHNS: So, Reverend, one thing that fascinates me about Muhammad Ali as well as a number of other figures from the 1960s, including yourself, is the journey. When he first started out and people started hearing his name, he was a controversial figure even in African American communities.

People divided on whether they liked him or they didn't like him and his style, but can you little bit about that journey from controversial figure to world icon that you sort of experienced yourself?

JACKSON: Well, runaway slaves upset the slaves like they upset the masters. He was a runway. He challenged that system. Most people define their actions by fear, not by courage.

Most people went to the back of the bus because they didn't fight because they adjusted. They didn't for the right to vote because they adjusted. They didn't fight discrimination, they didn't like it, but they adjusted. (INAUDIBLE) adjusted to the conditions of that system.

And I would like to think that his sacrifice took him to another level in the sense that he is a man of sacrifice, his wealth, I remember him have been to borrow money to survive. He sacrificed his career, this fame. And then in the end, he prevails.

Those who are against that war finally embraced him. Those who fought with their own war embraced him so he goes from being reviled to given the light the torch in Atlanta, Georgia. He went from being reviled to being revered.

JOHNS: Reverend Jesse Jackson, thanks so much for calling in and we will talk to you again, I'm sure.

JACKSON: Thank you, Joe.

PAUL: Thank you so much.

And we'll be right back. Stay close.


[07:56:26] JOHNS: Muhammad Ali was much more than a boxer. He was a global icon.

PAUL: Yes, and Coy is here to talk more about that.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, guys.

In the '60s Ali in his prime and for a black man in those times to declare "I am the greatest", to declare, "I'm pretty, I'm a bad man," this is when African Americans are depressed, they're oppressed. And he's an empowering force.

He converted from Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But with gall, with gumption, he preserved critics, attacks, he adhered to his believes, stood up for social change.

And today when you think about that how sport can affect society, you think of maybe LeBron James when he wore the "I can't breathe" t-shirt to take a stand for Eric Garner. But it pales in comparison to what Muhammad Ali was doing, when he was doing it.

Imagine how powerful what he was doing for other African-Americans. He transcended the sports. That was just the vehicle. He was just the conduit. He was one of the greatest influencers the world has ever known.

He was a pillar of strength for people around the world, especially for African Americans here in the U.S. when they really needed one. Incredible stuff, guys.

PAUL: Coy, thank you.

JOHNS: And it's a conscious choice in a lot of ways for an athlete to decide to be political, to be controversial or just play the game.

PAUL: No doubt about it, no doubt about it.

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