8 Iconic Black Men Reflect On Muhammad Ali’s Incomparable Influence

Muhammad Ali represented the epitome of black excellence. 

Ali, who died Friday, used his skill, strength and charisma to climb his way to the top and earn recognition as a world class boxing and civil rights champion. But part of what made Ali’s unprecedented success so meaningful is that he proved that a black man could be held by no boundaries; that if he was committed, he could break them all. 

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize,” Ali once declared. “But get used to me — black, confident, cocky.” 

It was Ali’s typical boastful behavior, which many admired because he always backed it up. He dreamed big and delivered on his word, replacing doubt with delight. Because of this, he stood as a hero for so many black men around the globe. They admired him for all he inspired them to achieve. After all, this is why representation matters

Many of these men went on to achieve great success themselves, but have always been conscious enough to give credit where it’s due. We’ve rounded up quotes from eight icons — from President Barack Obama to Prince — who have weighed in on the heavyweight’s timeless and inspiring influence. May we all be more like Ali. 

  • Will Smith on playing Ali onscreen
    Gregorio Binuya via Getty Images

    When we think about the legacy of Muhammad Ali, what he did in the ring is not what we think about. For nearly two years I worked to transform myself into the man who changed his name from Cassius Clayto Muhammad Ali and shook up the world. Thats really what makes my job so beautiful as an actor — for four, five months at a time, I get to wear peoples lives. So I got to wear Muhammad Alis greatness. I got to study and feel and embody the soul of the man. From the foundations of Islam and the strength of his Muslim faith in his life to the beautiful wakethat he always leaves in his magnificent path. And what I learned about the word “legacy” is that it extends far beyond our professional accomplishments. It extends far beyond accolades. Muhammad Ali is a champion for civil rights, hes a champion in the fight against injustice, hes a champion for utilizing whatever tools he has to make the world a better place. (Sports Illustrated)
  • Mike Tyson on meeting Ali for the first time
    JOHN GURZINSKI via Getty Images

    Muhammad Ali meant so much not only to me, but so many other people in the world, different nationalities and different races. When I first had an encounter with Muhammad Ali, this is really strange, I was a young kid in a detention center in New York City, the Bronx, and I forget if it was ’77, we watched a movie first, and then he came in. It was totally overwhelming. I had never in my life experienced that feeling before, that particular stage of my life. It inspired me to want to go truly in that direction. (Deadspin)
  • LeBron James on Ali’s social activism
    Ezra Shaw via Getty Images

    “The reason why he’s the GOAT is not because of what he did in the ring, which was unbelievable. It’s what he did outside of the ring, what he believed in, what he stood for, along with Jim Brown and Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor — obviously, who became Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] — Bill Russell, Jackie Robinson. Those guys stood for something. He’s part of the reason why African-Americans today can do what we do in the sports world. We’re free. They allow us to have access to anything we want. It’s because of what they stood for, and Muhammad Ali was definitely the pioneer for that.” (ESPN)
  • Prince on the first time he met Ali.

    My friend called me a couple of days ago and asked me. He said, Muhammad wants you to and I said Yes. I didnt even let him finish. He could have said, Mow the lawn and I would have been down with it. Muhammads my hero. He has been since I was a child. As you can see, hes such an inspiration to many people. (The Los Angeles Times)
  • Barack Obama on Ali’s philanthropic efforts
    BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images

    We admire the man who has never stopped using his celebrity for good the man who helped secure the release of 14 American hostages from Iraq in 1990; who journeyed to South Africa upon Nelson Mandela’s release from prison; who has traveled to Afghanistan to help struggling schools as a United Nations Messenger of Peace; and who routinely visits sick children and children with disabilities around the world, giving them the pleasure of his presence and the inspiration of his example…This is the Muhammad Ali who inspires us today the man who believes real success comes when we rise after we fall; who has shown us that through undying faith and steadfast love, each of us can make this world a better place. He is, and always will be, the champ. (USA Today)
  • Kanye West on Ali inspiring him to speak his mind
    Kevin Mazur via Getty Images

    Before [College Dropout] came out, I talked my little shit just to let people know that theres a new dude in the league running down the court talking shit, but backing it up. Thats my whole niche right now. People either love it or hate it. People loved and hated Muhammad Ali. My grandfather loved Muhammad Ali and my grandmother hated him. But I bet you that more people love and remember Muhammad Ali than less. Because he used to talk shit –float like a butterfly, sting like a bee –and I think I say the same kind of things in my own statements. (Kanye West in the Studio: Beats Down! Money Up!)
  • Lenny Kravitz on Ali being a hero
    KMazur via Getty Images

    “He’s a hero, he’s a hero of all sorts, he became a hero of the planet because of what he stood for … He fought with dignity and class and I love him.” (E Online)
  • Lennox Lewis Ali’s influence in his life
    Moses Robinson via Getty Images

    Do I feel emotional when I am around him? No, not emotional, just honored to be in his presence. Muhammad Ali inspired me –from when I was a young boy growing up –he motivated me to chase my dreams inside and out of the ring. I admired the fact that he was concerned about people, enough to oppose the war in Vietnam and young men going there to fight. He is a religious man and he captured my attention because he was always helpful to people. (The Telegraph)

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2016/06/04/black-men-muhammad-ali-influence_n_10300186.html

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