“Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period,” it begins. “If you just asked him, he’d tell you. He’d tell you he was the double greatest; that he’d ‘handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail.’ But what made The Champ the greatest — what truly separated him from everyone else — is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing.”
POTUS continues, “Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing. But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.”
Speaking to his impact on a young Barack, the President recalls a quote from Ali: “‘I am America,’ he once declared. ‘I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.’ That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.”
“His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing,” he continues. “It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.”
Born Cassius Clay, Ali died Friday evening after he was earlier hospitalized for reported respiratory issues. “Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it,” the Obamas’ statement concludes. “We are all better for it. Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family, and we pray that the greatest fighter of them all finally rests in peace.”
Read the full statement from the White House here.