“Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing. 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 in the statement.
“Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it,” he said.
Obama said in his private study off the Oval Office, he has kept a pair of Ali’s gloves on display beneath an iconic photo of him after a fight. Obama praised Ali’s “wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit” and credited him with helping to make “the America we recognize today.”
“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,” he said. “A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.”
Read the full statement here:
For much more on Muhammad Ali, see TIME’s ALI: The Greatest, a 112-page, fully illustrated commemorative edition. Available at retailers and at AMAZON.COM