President Obama and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObama says change may be coming 'too rapidly' for many YouTube confirms it picked kids featured in Harris video Photos of the Week: Congressional Baseball Game, ashen trees and a beach horse MORE on Saturday praised Muhammad Ali as a national hero after the legendary boxer’s death late Friday.
“Muhammad Ali was the greatest — period,” the Obamas said in a statement. "If you just asked him, he’d tell you. He’d tell you he was double the greatest; that he’d ‘handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail.’
“But what made the champ the greatest — what truly separated him from everyone else — is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing,” they added.
“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 piece.”
President Obama spoke with Ali's wife Yolanda "Lonnie" Williams on the phone Saturday, according to a White House release "to offer his family's deepest condolences for the passing of her husband."
Ali on Friday died near Phoenix, Ariz., following respiratory problems exacerbated by his longstanding battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 74.
Ali was equally powerful in and out of the ring, becoming a three-time world heavyweight champion and a civil rights icon.
He attended an inaugural ball for Obama in January 2009, giving his blessing to America’s first black president.
“He wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s wife, said after the Bluegrass Ball in Louisville, Ky. “I think [Obama’s] shoulders are broad. He and Muhammad are really made of the same fabric.”
Obama on Saturday said he has often turned towards Ali’s achievements for inspiration.
“In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep 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,” he said.
“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,” Obama added.
“But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes — maybe because in him, we hope to see something of ourselves. That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age — not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right.”
- Updated at 4:50 p.m.