Lead Story West Edition

Thousands in L.A. salute ‘Greatest of All Time’

LOS ANGELES – Tucked in a corner, just a step or two from costumed characters and the scurry of Hollywood streets, sits Muhammad Ali’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star, encased on a wall outside the Dolby Theater, adorned with a memorial reef and flowers and the site of hundreds of adoring fans who have come to pay final respects this week to the self-proclaimed Greatest of All Time.

From longtime fans taking selfies to solemn moments of prayer and reflection, Ali’s makeshift memorial was the scene of bustling activity this week, just days after the three-time champion died at age 74 following a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“His story is one of the great ones in history,” said 20-year-old UCLA student Arash Rosta, who visited Ali’s Hollywood star wearing a black letterman’s jacket with “MUHAMMAD ALI” emblazoned in big white letters on the back.

“It shows no matter what background you are from you can achieve anything,” the Sacramento native said. “No matter what race you are, no matter how old you are, you can have an impact on the world. And even if you are great at one thing, you can branch out.”

Another visitor, Chris Miller of Baltimore, said he wanted to pay respects to Ali before traveling back to the East Coast.

“Everybody has much respect for Ali because of everything he has accomplished,” Miller said. “It has impacted me. I see how people will treat someone who works hard and has made a good name for themselves.”

Ali’s stint on the world stage began at age 19 when he won a gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He later overcame the U.S. government’s attempt to disqualify him as a “conscientious objector” to the Vietnam War and ultimately became a three-time heavyweight champ before retiring in 1981.

Malibu resident Steve Prudholme, a father of three, said Ali’s unfortunate death gives him an opportunity to teach his children about the impact Ali had on the world.

“As an African-American man, Ali meant so much to me as a civil rights activist and boxer,” said Prudholme, 47.  “I used to love the rope-a-dope and his interviews with Howard Cosell.”

Hollywood resident Simon Gunn, who posted a photo of Ali on his Facebook page, said has favorite Ali memory is the boxer’s win over Joe Frazier in the highly anticipated “Thriller in Manila.”

“He was a true G.O.A.T,” Gunn said, calling Ali the Greatest of All Time. “He was always fighting for what he believed in. Never a quitter.”

A tourist from Holland agreed, adding: “He is ‘The Greatest’ – not only with the sports, but what he did for the world is great.”

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson, also a visitor to Ali’s Hollywood star, said when he was a 19-year-old student at Cal State Los Angeles, Ali’s visit to the campus had a tremendous impact on him.

“About four or five students – I was one of them – were assigned to be his unofficial bodyguards/escorts,” Hutchinson said. “When Ali hit the campus, the first thing he did when he got out of the van, he said to me, ‘My brother, I am so happy to be here!’ He came over and embraced me.

“Every step of the way he was like a conquering Roman emperor,” he added. “Students, cafeteria workers, everyone was coming out to see him.”

Professor Anthony Asadullah Samad remembers humorously his visits to the fighter’s Hancock Park home decades ago.

“He was always warm, then he’d act like he was about to hit you,” said the author and scholar, adding he will always remember Ali beating George Foreman in 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle” and Ali lighting the Olympic flame at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

Hutchinson said Ali was not only the greatest boxer ever, but an average guy.

“Here is a man you could sit down with that sat with kings, emperors and presidents, but you could speak to him just like a guy you were sitting with at a restaurant having a drink,” Hutchinson said. “The beautiful thing about Ali was, he was so accessible.”

Samad added that Ali’s social, political and psychological influence on black culture, meanwhile, is unprecedented.

“To see him beat Sonny Liston, then refuse induction into the military as a conscious objector to the Vietnam War politicized us all in a way a classroom never could,” Samad said.

“To hear a black man say what he said in the volatile 1960s raised the self-esteem of black youth worldwide.”