Ali ‘shocked the world,’ says President Obama

Ali ‘shocked the world,’ says President Obama

LAS VEGAS - The Associated Press
Ali ‘shocked the world,’ says President Obama

AP photo

President Barack Obama lauded Muhammad Ali Saturday as he joined some of the country’s most famous people in offering birthday wishes to the boxer known simply as “The Greatest.”

“Happy birthday, champ,” Obama told Ali through a video message, saying he wished he could have attended a swanky dinner gala in Las Vegas featuring some of the biggest names in sports, film, television and music. “As a fighter, you were something spectacular,” Obama told Ali, who turned 70 last month. “You shocked the world, and you inspired it, too. And even after all the titles and legendary bouts, you’re still doing it.”

The gala’s 2,000 attendees were there to celebrate Ali’s life and generate millions of dollars for brain research, a mission Ali’s family says is important to him in part because of his 30-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.

A set of gloves Ali used to defeat Floyd Patterson in 1965 in Las Vegas — the first heavyweight title fight in Sin City — sold for $1.1 million. It came with one of the original posters used to promote the fight, which had Muhammad Ali’s chosen name as a subscript to Cassius Clay, the name he was born with. When Ali converted to Islam, many people resisted calling him by his new name.

Ali entered the room and sat at a table with his family before bidding began on the gloves.

Lorenzo Fertitta, a casino owner and ultimate fighting championship owner, won the gloves, which organizers had said earlier they hoped would fetch $500,000.

The gala was held at the MGM Grand, the site of most of boxing’s major fights the past two decades. Famous faces converged on the 160 tables adjacent to two rings and a stage — Terrence Howard, Anthony Hopkins, Manny Pacquiao, and Lenny Kravitz, among others. They spoke and performed in tribute to a fighter who went 56-5 in the ring with 37 knockouts and became perhaps the most famous athlete ever because of his personality and willingness to publicly stand up for his beliefs.

Ali has lived with Parkinson’s disease for nearly 30 years, a degenerative brain condition that some doctors say can be brought on by punches to the head.

Boxing promoter Bob Arum said during a pre-gala reception Friday night that Ali will go down as one of the most important Americans in history. “Without Muhammad Ali, there wouldn’t have been an Obama,” he said. “There wouldn’t have been a mixed-race president.”