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LeBron James on What Muhammad Ali Meant to Black Athletes

LeBron James will go down as the most iconic athlete of his generation, yet his global appeal will never match that of one Muhammad Ali.

James, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the rest of the sports world mourned the passing of Ali on Friday at age 74, with LeBron saying it’s Ali’s work and influence outside the boxing ring that he will remember most.

“When I was a kid, I was amazed by what Ali did in the ring,” LeBron told ESPN.com. “As I got older and started to read about him and watch things about him, I started to realize what he did in the ring was secondary to what he meant outside of the ring — just his influence, what he stood for.

“The reason why he’s the GOAT is not because of what he did in the ring, which was unbelievable. It’s what he did outside of the ring, what he believed in, what he stood for, along with Jim Brown and Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor — obviously, who became Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] — Bill Russell, Jackie Robinson. Those guys stood for something. He’s part of the reason why African-Americans today can do what we do in the sports world. We’re free. They allow us to have access to anything we want. It’s because of what they stood for, and Muhammad Ali was definitely the pioneer for that.”

LeBron credited Ali with being one of the inspirations behind his efforts to do more off the basketball court for his community.

James made the comments after the Cavs' Saturday morning practice in Oakland, as they try to even the NBA Finals after going down 0-1.

-- Glenn Erby

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