"Muhammad Ali is such a cornerstone of me as an athlete because of what he represented not only in the ring as a champion but more outside the ring — what he stood for, what he spoke for, his demeanor… Without his passion and goals and morals, I don’t know if I’d be sitting here today talking to you about it." – LeBron James
When it comes to athletes who have been able to transcend sport and impact lives for future generations, there are very few that have achieved that monumental place in history. On the top of that list would be Muhammad Ali.
This week, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) announced that LeBron James will give $2.5 million to support the museum and its presentation titled "Muhammad Ali: A Force for Change." The exhibit tells the story of how Ali’s contributions transcended the world of sport—his commitment to challenging racial barriers helped lay the groundwork for the successful careers of so many African Americans in athletics and beyond. It also allows visitors to look at Ali not only for his athletic achievement, but also for his achievements in community activism, resistance, politics, spirituality and culture.
"Every professional athlete, regardless of race and gender, owes a huge debt of gratitude to Muhammad Ali," James said. "His legacy deserves to be studied and revered by every generation. I am honored to partner with the Smithsonian to celebrate one of the most influential figures in our nation’s history who, along with Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, used the power of sports to advance our civil rights."
"I am overwhelmed by the incredible generosity LeBron James has shown to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and to Muhammad’s legacy," said Lonnie Ali, Ali’s widow. "This exhibit will enable children visiting the Smithsonian to learn more about Muhammad’s work outside of the ring, particularly his humanitarian work and stance on social justice for all people. Thank you to LeBron James and the Smithsonian for making this possible. I know that if Muhammad was alive today he would be honored."
"We are extremely grateful to LeBron James for his support of the museum," said Damion Thomas, curator of the Sports Gallery. "As the most socially active superstar in sports today, LeBron James is a testament to the influence of Muhammad Ali. Ali embodied the racial and social tumult of his times, blurring lines between politics and sports, activism and entertainment."
James’ business partner Maverick Carter will also be part of the $2.5 million contribution to the Ali exhibit. With this gift, the LeBron James Family Foundation and Carter will join the list of founding donors for the NMAAHC.