[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text
version below transcribed directly from audio and edited for continuity]
I can just hear Muhammad saying now, "Well, I
thought I should be eulogized by at least one President. And by
making you last in a long, long, long, long line I guaranteed
you a standing ovation."
I'm trying to think of what has been left
First, Lonnie, I thank you and the members of
the family for telling me that he actually -- as Bryant [Gumbel] said --
picked us all to speak and giving me a chance to come here.
I thank you for what you did to make the second half of his life
greater than the first. I think you for the
Ali Center and what it has come to represent to so many people.
Here's what I'd like to say. I've spent a
lot of time now, as I get older and older and older, trying to
figure out what makes people tick. How do they turn out the way
they are? How do some people refuse to become victims and rise
from every defeat.
We've all seen the beautiful pictures of the
home Muhammad Ali was a boy in, and people visiting and driving
I think he decided something I hope every young
person here will decide. I think he decided very young to write
his own life story.
I think he decided before he could
possibly have worked it all out, and before fate and time could
work their will on him, he decided that he would not be ever
He decided that not his race, nor his place,
not the expectations of others -- positive, negative, or
otherwise -- would strip from him the power to write his own
He decided first to use these stunning gifts
strength and speed in the ring, his wit and way with words in
managing the public, and his mind and heart -- to figure out at a
fairly young age who he was, what he believed, and how to live
with the consequences of acting on what he believed. A lot of
people make it two steps one and two and still just can't quite
manage living with the consequences of what he believes.
longest time, in spite of all the wonderful things that have been
said here, I remember thinking when I was a kid -- this guy is so
smart. And he never got credit for being as smart as he was. And
then, I don't think he ever got the credit for being, until later,
as wise as he was.
In the end, besides being a lot of fun to be
around and basically a universal soldier for our common humanity, I
will always think of Muhammad as a truly free man of faith; and
being a man of faith, he realized he would never be in full
control of his life. Something like Parkinson's could come along,
but being free he realized that life still was open to
choices. It is the choices that Muhammad Ali made that have
brought us all here today in honor and love.
And the only
other thing I'd like to say I think we all need to really, really
think about. The first part of his life was dominated
by the triumph of his truly unique gifts. We should never forget
them. We should never stop looking at the movies [of/about him]. We should thank
Will Smith for making
his movie. We should all be thrilled
-- it was a thing of beauty.
But the second part of his life was more
important because he refused to be imprisoned by a disease that
kept him hamstrung longer than Nelson Mandela was kept in prison in
South Africa. That is, in the second half of his life,
he perfected gifts that we all have. Every single
solitary one of us have [sic] gifts of mind and heart. It's just that he
found a way to release them -- in ways large and small.
I'll never forget, I asked Lonnie
if she remembered a time when they were still living in Michigan
and I gave a speech in Southwest Michigan. There's
economic club there and it's sort of a ritual when a President
leaves office -- you have to get reacclimated; nobody plays
a song when you walk
in a room anymore; you donít really know what youíre supposed to
do. And this club, there, itís called the Economic Club, I think.
Theyíre used to acting like you still deserve to be listened to
and you got to get reacclimated.
So they came to
dinner and they sat with me at this dinner. And he knew, somehow
he knew that I was a little off my feet that night. I was trying
to imagine how to make this new life, and so he told me a really
bad joke. And he told it so well and he laughed so hard that I
totally got over it and had a great time. He had that feel
-- you know thereís no textbook for that, knowing where
somebody else is in their head, picking up the body language.
Then, Lonnie and Muhammad got me to come here when we had
the dedication of the Muhammad Ali Center, and I was trying to be
incredibly old, gray haired, elderly statesman, dignified.
I've got to elevate
this guy -- so Iím saying all this stuff in very high toned
language and Muhammad sneaks up behind me and puts his fingers up
[behind my head.]
Finally, after all the years that
we'd been friends, my enduring image of him is like a little
reel in three shots:  the boxer I thrilled to as a boy;  the man I
watched take the last steps to light the Olympic Flame when I
And Iíll never forget it. I was sitting there in
Atlanta. By then we knew each other. By then I felt I had
some sense of what he was living with. And I was still weeping
like a baby, seeing his hands shake and his legs shake and
knowing by God he was going to make those last few steps. No matter
what it took, the flame would be lit; the fight would be won; the
spirit would be affirmed. I knew it would happen.
And then this : the children whose lives he touched;
the young people he
inspired. Itís the most important thing of all. So I ask you to remember that.
all have an Ali story. Itís the gifts we all have that should be
most honored today, because he released them to the world, never
wasting a day -- that the rest of us could see anyway -- feeling
sorry for himself that he had Parkinson's. Knowing that more
than three decades of his life would be circumscribed in ways
that would be chilling to the naked eye, but with a free
spirit, it made his life bigger not smaller; because other
people, all of us unlettered, unschooled, in the unleashing said,
"Well would you look at that look at that. Look at that. [He] may not be able to run
across the ring anymore, may not be able to dodge everybody and
exhaust everybody anymore, and he's bigger than ever, because
he is a free man of faith, sharing the gifts we all have.
should honor him by letting our gifts go among the world as he
God bless you, my friend.
Audio Source: C-SPAN.org
Page Updated: 8/12/17
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