(ATR) Thousands of people lined the streets of LouisvilleFriday morningto say goodbye to boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Originally slated to start at 9:30 am, the funeral procession for Ali did not set off until 10:45. That did not deter Ali's faithful hometown fans from waiting along the 19-mile route for several hours - even as the heat approached 90 degrees.
The procession began at A.D. Preston & Sons Funeral Home as a 20+ car motorcade left to chants of "Ali" ringing in the air. Those in the motorcade smiled and waved at the families who came to see the hometown hero take his final ride.
The Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville was the first of three stops along the route. The center is a museum to the Olympic champion's storied life.
The motorcade traveled down Muhammad Ali Boulevard toward his childhood home, a quaint pink house that had collected hundreds of flowers, balloons and other tributes since Ali died last Friday at the age of 74.
Ali's final resting place at Cave Hill Cemetery was the third stop on the two-hour journey. The hearse garnered dozens of flowers, petals and even fingerprints as people reached out to touch the vehicle as it slowly traversed the legend's hometown.
A private funeral with the family was held at 1:00 pm before the memorial service at the Yum! Center could begin at 3. Will Smith, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis were among the 10 pallbearers who carried Ali to his final resting place.
The 18,000 ticket holders and hundreds of media nearly filled the Yum! Center to capacity and created a buzz of excitement before the memorial service. Those in attendance realized they would be witnessing a historic moment.
The man known as "The Greatest" and "The People’s Champ" was remembered and honored by 20 speakers, including the leader of the service Zaid Shakir, throughout three-hour ceremony. Originally planned to speak at the service, president of Turkey Recep Erdogan left in a snit early Friday morning reportedly due to outrage from being cut from speaking during the program.
Ministers of many different faiths were the first to offer remembrances per Ali’s own last wishes, each telling a tale of a man who saw past religious, racial and social differences to make the world a truly better place. The interfaith service rang true to Ali’s core values and beliefs that all people on Earth should be treated with equality and respect.
Malcolm X’s daughter Attallah Shabazz was the ninth person to take the podium and gave an emotional speech about how Ali reconnected with her after her father was assassinated. Shabazz said that Muhammad Ali’s legacy will be "sustained and passed on like that Olympic torch".
Senior advisor to President Barack Obama Valerie Jarrett took the stage next to deliver a speech penned by the President. President Obama could not attend the service as Friday also marked his daughter Malia’s graduation from high school.
Members of the Ali family followed, led by Ali’s wife Lonnie. Lonnie Ali spoke of his incredible triumphs outside the ring and how they were only possible by his accomplishments inside it.
"The Olympic gold medal came and the world began to take notice," she said, reminding the crowd of his feat in Rome at the young age of 19. "He burst onto the scene at just the right time when television needed a new star. That allowed him to take advantage of his fame and use it to better the world."
"His life came full circle when he lit the torch at the 1996 Olympics."
Two of Ali’s daughters Maryum and Rasheda gave touching tributes to their father, with Maryum reciting a poem she wrote in his honor titled, "Thank You, Our Dear Father". Ali was well known for his tendency to spout poetry about his opponents as well as life.
Comedian and actor Billy Crystal spoke of his tremendous 42-year friendship with the champ. He reminisced on their first meeting when Crystal recited for the first time on television a skit in which he imitated both Howard Cosell and Ali. Crystal says that after the skit Ali came up to him, wrapped him in a bear hug and said, "you’re my little brother".
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was the last speaker of the evening and found himself questioning what hadn’t already been said about the legendary Ali. Clinton thanked Lonnie and her family for the personal invitation to speak before recalling one of his favorite Ali moments.
"The man I watched light the Olympic flame in Atlanta while I was still president in Atlanta in 1996," he began. "I still remember watching his hands shake and his legs tremble as he held the torch and I knew by god he would make those final few steps to light the flame. He still showed that fight and the flame was lit."
A moment of silence was held as the Ali family left the service. Memorial leader Zaid Shakir ended the ceremony with a poem about Ali’s life. He said the world may never see a moment like this again.
"I witnessed something I've never witnessed and may never witness again," said Shakir. "I witnessed the power of sanctum."
After the dust settles and all the foreign dignitaries, celebrities and great athletes leave Louisville, Ali will remain in the city where his story all began. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Reported and written by Kevin Nutley in Louisville, Kentucky.
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