Muhammad Ali died on Saturday at a Phoenix-area hospital after a long struggle with Parkinson's disease © Getty Images
Muhammad Ali died on Saturday at a Phoenix-area hospital after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease © Getty Images

From Lalit K Jha

Washington: “Muhammad Ali was The Greatest” and a champion “who fought for what was right”, US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle on Saturday said as they led America in mourning the death of the legendary boxer. “Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. 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,” Obama and the First Lady said in a statement. In his private study, just off the Oval Office, Obama said he had kept a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston.

Ali died on Saturday at a Phoenix-area hospital after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 74. Mourning the death of Muhammad Ali, Obama and the First Lady said they are grateful to God for how fortunate they are to have known him, “if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.” “Muhammad Ali was The Greatest,” they said. “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.”

“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 recognise today,” he added. “He wasn t perfect, of course. For all his magic in the ring, he could be careless with his words, and full of contradictions as his faith evolved. But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves,” the first couple said in the statement.

“Later, as his physical powers ebbed, he became an even more powerful force for peace and reconciliation around the world. We saw a man who said he was so mean he’d make medicine sick reveal a soft spot, visiting children with illness and disability around the world, telling them they, too, could become the greatest. We watched a hero light a torch, and fight his greatest fight of all on the world stage once again; a battle against the disease that ravaged his body, but couldn t take the spark from his eyes,” the statement said.

Former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary said from the day he claimed the Olympic gold medal in 1960, boxing fans across the world knew they were seeing a blend of beauty and grace, speed and strength that may never be matched again. “We saw him courageous in the ring, inspiring to the young, compassionate to those in need, and strong and good-humored in bearing the burden of his own health challenges,” they said.

In a tweet, Republican presidential presumptive nominee Donald Trump said Ali was the greatest. “Muhammad Ali is dead at 74! A truly great champion and a wonderful guy. He will be missed by all!” Trump said. “Muhammad Ali was the greatest, not only an extraordinary athlete but a man of great courage and humanity,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) offered condolences to the family and loved ones of Muhammad Ali and called him “a champion for peace and justice.”