President Barack Obama offered his condolences Saturday on the death of Muhammad Ali, joining millions of Americans in recalling how the fighter inspired him.
“Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing,” Obama said in a statement. “But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.”
Obama said he keeps a pair of Ali’s gloves on display in his White House study, under the iconic 1965 photograph of a 22-year-old Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston.
“I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was — still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden,” Obama said.
“ ‘I am America,’ he once declared,” Obama continued. “ ‘I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me — black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.’ 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. A man who fought for us.”
The president added: “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. But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes — maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves.”
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com.