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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
The Greatest: Remembering Muhammad Ali. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired June 10, 2016 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:30:26] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We're back now with our live coverage and we're awaiting Billy Crystal, the former president and family members to speak soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ambassador Shabazz to read and share and inspire us.
ATTALLAH SHABAZZ, MALCOLM X'S DAUGHTER: Assalamu Alaikum. May peace be on all of us.
As this is a peace going home celebration, I find myself balance between that of celebration and depletion, of loss, that somehow or another my breathing capacity has been weakened this past week, so I ask all of you gathered and afar to please muster up and transmit a bit of your air to me in the memory of Muhammad Ali, thank you all.
(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
And more as the globe centers at this very moment amidst the holy month of Ramadan where every two hours, there's a time zone praying, including Muhammad Ali and his family in your thoughts. Amidst that are the prayers of all faiths, all those touched, even those that don't claim a religion are feeling something right now in honor of the family and the memory of their father, husband.
In the spirit of my parents, Malcolm X Shabazz, Dr. Betty Shabazz, in the presence of my five younger sisters, our children and our grandchildren, I would like to first honor his beloved wife, my sister, Lonnie Ali.
For all the strengths that you know and that resonate beyond. Sometimes you do need a little help no matter how magnificent you are and indeed those that were with him, that loved him, his family members sustain that. His nine children, and I will name them, Maryum, Rasheda, Muhammad Jr., Khaliah, Miya, Hana, Laila, and Asaad, as well as their mothers and the third generation of Ali grandchildren who accompany them.
To his only brother, Rahman, to his extraordinary example of a best friend, Howard Bingham and to his sister-in-law Marilyn Williams.
For all the grief that I am depleted by and others are feeling by his transition, there is none comparable to yours and I know that. On this day and those to come, as you live your waking days with a life without him here presently, very different.
Photos, memories, all the things that we have on him that keep him going. He touched you differently and that has to be honored and recognized, never forsaken.
[16:35:06] Just know that when you are the descendent of and in the presence of someone whose life was filled with principle, that the seed is in you so that you have to cultivate that responsibly as well.
This moment is very meaningful for me to have been amongst those chosen and blessed by Muhammad himself and affirmed by his wife Lonnie to take part by sharing a statement during this home-going ceremony.
While he and I had a treasured relationship, the genesis of his love was through the love of my father. Muhammad Ali was the last of a fraternity of amazing men bequeathed to me directly by my dad.
Somewhere around me turning 18, 19, 20, they all seemed to find me somehow guided by an oath of a promise to my dad long after him leaving this earth to search for me and they did. Each one remaining in my life until joining the rest of the heaven's beloved summit of fearless humanitarians.
This included Muhammad Ali whom my dad loved as a little junior, 16 years his junior, and his entrusted friend. There was a double-take when I came upon him, a once childhood, first child, and now looking right into his face and you know how he is. He gives you that little dare like, is that you?
From the very moment we found one another, it was as if no time passed as all despite all of the presumptions of division, despite all of the efforts of separation, despite all of the organized distancing. We dove right into all of the unrequited, yet stated and duly spaces we could explore and uncover privately. We cried out loud.
His belt, his grief for having not spoken to my dad before he left and then just as loudly we'd laugh about the best of stories, some that can't be repeated. He was really funny. What was significant as brothers for my father and Ali was their ability to discuss openly anything, all facets of life, namely, the true meaning, as men with great responsibilities be bestowed to them of how to make an equitable difference in the lives of others.
A unifying topic was faith, an ecumenical faith, respect for faith, all faiths, even if belonging to one specific religion or none, the root of such being the gift of faith itself.
So, in his own words he wrote: We all have the same God. We just serve her differently. Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, oceans, all have different names but they all contain water. So do religions have to fit names and yet they all contain truth. Truth expressed in different ways and forms and times. It doesn't matter whether you're a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. When you believe in God, you should believe all people are part of one family.
For if you love God, you can't love only some of his children.
His words and certainly ideals shared by both men, love is a mighty thing, devotion is a mighty thing and truth always reigns. Having Muhammad Ali in my life somehow sustained my dad's breath for me just a little while longer -- 51 years longer until now.
[16:40:07] I am forever grateful at our union on this earth together allowed for me a continuum of shared understanding, preserved confidentialities and the comfort of living in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky, for the past six years.
That was not a plan. And mostly for the gift of knowing and loving his wife and children forever forward as my own family, know that. As the last of the paternity reaches the heavens, my heart is rendered ever longingly for that tribe. The tribe of purpose, the tribe of significance, tribe of confidence, tribe of character, tribe of duty, tribe of faith, tribe of service.
We must make sure that the principle of men and women, like Muhammad Ali and others, whom dedicated their very being to assure that you get to recognize your own glory, is sustained and passed on like that Olympic torch.
My dad would offer in state when concluding or parting from another, may we meet again in the light of understanding and I say to you with the light of that compass by any means necessary.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, representing the president of the United States and Mrs. Obama, Ms. Valerie Jarrett.
VALERIE JARETT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: Good afternoon. On behalf of President Obama and Mrs. Obama, I wish to express to you their deepest regret that they couldn't be with us here today as we celebrate the extraordinary life of Muhammad Ali. I first met Muhammad Ali over 45 years ago through his friendship with
my Uncle Gene (ph) and he, my uncle, would be so touch that his son Gene is a pallbearer here today. Thank you, Lonnie.
Because of my family connection, the president and first lady asked me if I would read this tribute to you penned by President Obama.
It was 1980, an epic career was in its twilight. Everybody knew it, probably including the champ himself. Ali went in to one of his final fights an underdog. All of the smart money was on the new champ, Larry Holmes. And in the end, the oddsmakers were right.
A few hours later, at 4:00 a.m., after the loss, after the fans had gone home and the sportswriters were writing their final take, a sports writer asked a restroom attendant if he had bet on the fight. The man, black and getting on in years, said he had put his money on Ali. The writer asked why. Why, the man said? Why? Because he's Muhammad Ali.
That's why. He said, mister, I'm 72 years old and I owe the man for giving me my dignity.
To Lonnie and the Ali family, President Clinton and an arena full of distinguished guests, you are amazing. The man we celebrate today is not just a boxer or a poet or an agitator or a man of peace, not just a Muslim or a black man or a Louisville kid, though I know you wish that was Louisville, this wonderful city, he wasn't even just the greatest of all time.
[16:45:16] He was Muhammad Ali, the whole far greater than the sum of its parts. He was bigger, brighter and more original and influential than just about anyone of his era.
You couldn't have made him up and, yes, he was pretty, too. He had fans in every city, every village, every ghetto on the planet. He was foreign heads of state, the Beatles, British invasion took a detour to come to him.
It seemed sometimes that the champ was simply too big for America. But I actually think that the world flocked to him in wonder precisely because, as he once put it, Muhammad Ali was America!
Brash, defiant, pioneering, joyful, never tired, always game to test the odds. He was our most basic freedoms, religion, speech, spirit. He embodied our ability to invent ourselves.
His life spoke to our original slavery and discrimination and the journey he traveled help to shock our consciousness and lead us on a roundabout path towards salvation. And like America, he was always very much a work in progress.
We do him a disservice to gauze up his story to talk only of floating like butterflies and stinging like bees. Ali was a radical even in a radical of times. A loud and proud and unabashedly black voice in a Jim Crow world.
His jabs knocked some sense into us, yes, they did. Pushing us to expand our imagination and bring others into our understanding. Now, there were times when he swung a bit wildly. That's right.
Wound up and accidently may have wronged the wrong opponent as he was the first to admit. But through all his triumphs and failures, Ali seemed to have achieved the sort of enlightenment and inner peace that we are all striving towards.
In the '60s when other young men his age were leaving the country to avoid war or jail, he was asked why he didn't join them. He got angry. He said he'd never leave. His people, in his words, are here, the millions struggling for freedom and justice and equality, and I can do a lot of help in jail or not right here in America.
He'd have everything stripped from him, his titles, his standing, his money, his passion, very nearly his freedom. But Ali still chose America. I imagine he knew that only here in this country could he win it all back.
So he chose to help perfect a union where a descendant of slaves could become the king of the world. And in the process, in the process, lend some dignity to all of us.
Maids, porters, students and elderly bathroom attendant and help inspire a young, mixed kid with a funny name to have the audacity to believe he could be anything, even the president of the United States!
Muhammad Ali was America. Muhammad Ali will always be America. What a man. What a spirit. What a joyous champion. God bless the greatness of Ali.
[16:50:09]God bless his family and God bless this nation we love. Thank you very much.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Lonnie Ali.
LONNIE ALI, MUHAMMAD ALI'S WIFE: Assalamu alaikum. Peace be upon you. You know, said I something to Matt Lauer yesterday that I firmly believe Muhammad had something to do with all of this and I think we are right. Thank you all for being here to share in this final farewell to Muhammad.
On behalf of the Ali family, let me first recognize our principal celebrant imam (inaudible) and Dr. Timothy Gianotti (ph). We thank you for your dedication to helping us fulfill Muhammad's desire that the ceremonies of this past week reflect the traditions of his Islamic faith.
And as a family, we thank the millions of people who, through the miracle of social media, inspired by their love of Muhammad have reached out to us with their prayers. The messages have come in every language and every corner of the globe. From wherever you are watching, know that we have been humbled by your heartfelt expressions of love. It is only fitting that we gather in a city to which Muhammad always returned after his great triumphs.
A city that has grown as Muhammad has grown. Muhammad never stopped loving Louisville and we know that Louisville loves Muhammad. We cannot forget a Louisville police officer, Joe Martin, who embraced a young 12-year-old boy in distress when his bicycle was stolen.
Joe Martin handed young Cassius Clay -- sorry for tripping up Clay, the keys to a future in boxing he scarcely could have imagined. America must never forget that when a cop and an inner city kid talk to each other, then miracles can happen.
He struggled with Parkinson's in a meeting and Muhammad indicated when the end came for him, he wanted us to use his life and his death as a teaching moment for young people for his country and for the world.
In effect, he wanted us to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice, that he grew up in a segregation and that during his early life, he was not free to be who he wanted to be.
But he never became bitter enough to quit or engage in violence. It was a time when a young black boy his age could be hung from a tree in Mississippi in 1955 whose admitted killers went free.
It was a time when Muhammad's friends, people that he admired, like Malcolm X and Dr. King were gunned down and Nelson Mandela imprisoned for what they believed in.
[16:55:13]For his part, Muhammad faced federal prosecution. He was stripped of his title and his license to box and he was sentenced to prison. But he would not be intimidated so as to abandon his principles and his values.
Muhammad wants young people of every background to see his life as proof that adversity can make you stronger. It cannot rob you of the power to dream and to reach your dreams. We built the Muhammad Ali center and that's the center of the Ali message.
Muhammad wants us to see the face of his religion, true Islam, as the face of love. It was his religion that caused him to turn away from war and violence, for his religion he was prepared to sacrifice all that he had and all that he was to protect his soul and follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon you.
So even in death, Muhammad has something to say. He's saying that his faith required that he take the more difficult road. It is far more difficult to sacrifice oneself in the name of peace than to take up arms in pursuit of violence.
You know, all of his life, Muhammad was fascinated by travel. He was child-like in his encounter with new surroundings and new people. He took his world championship fights to the ends of the earth, from the south pacific to Europe to the Congo. And, of course, with Muhammad, he believed it was his duty to let everyone see him in person because, after all, he was the greatest of all time.
The boy from Grand Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky, grew in wisdom and discovered something new, that the world really wasn't black and white at all. It was filled with many shades of rich colors, languages and religions.
As he moved with ease around the world, the rich and powerful were drawn to him, but he was drawn to the poor and the forgotten. Muhammad fell in love with the masses and they fell in love with him.
In the diversity of men and their faiths, Muhammad saw the presence of God. He was captivated by the work of the Dalai Lama, by Mother Teresa and church workers who gave their lives to protect the poor.
When his mother died, he arranged for multiple faiths to be represented at her funeral and he wanted the same for himself. We are especially grateful for the presence of the diverse faith leaders here today.
And I would like to ask them to stand once more and be recognized. Thank you. You know, as I reflect on the life of my husband, it's easy to see his most obvious talents. His majesty in the ring as he danced under those lights, enshrined him as a champion for the ages.
Less obvious was his extraordinary sense of timing. His knack for being in the right place at the right time seemed to be ordained by a higher power. Even those surrounded by Jim Crow, he was born into a family with two parents that nurtured and encouraged him.
He was placed on the path of his dreams by a white cop and he had teachers who understood his dreams and wanted him to succeed. The Olympic gold medal came and the world started to take notice.
A group of successful businessmen in Louisville called the Louisville Sponsoring Group saw his potential and helped him build a runway to launch his career. His timing was impeccable as he burst into the national stage just as television was hungry for a star to change the faith of sports.
You know, if Muhammad didn't like the rules, he rewrote them.