Muhammad Ali inspired LeBron James to be the man he has become, so the NBA superstar is working to ensure the boxing legend might affect others the same way in the coming years.
James revealed Thursday in an interview with USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt that he, his charity and representatives have pledged to donate $2.5 million to support the Ali exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
James will join Michael Jordan and Magic and Cookie Johnson on the list of the museum’s founding donors, but the Cleveland Cavaliers star’s gift is geared specifically toward helping the exhibit, “Muhammad Ali: A Force For Change,” add context and memorabilia to the recently deceased boxer’s national tribute.
“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,” James said. “I think of him every day. Without his passion and goals and morals, I don’t know if I’d be sitting here today talking to you about it.”
James has become increasingly outspoken on social issues in recent years. He and museum director Lonnie Bunch hope other athletes will follow suit.
“His support will help us to continue the story of Muhammad Ali and will encourage athletes to realize how important athletics is in terms of social justice,” Bunch said. “It’s also really important that actions like this by Mr. James encourage younger athletes and people with means to recognize the philanthropy and paying homage to those who went before, how crucially important that is.”
James’ announcement has thrilled Ali’s family, who counts him among their many friends.
“I am overwhelmed by the incredible generosity LeBron James has shown,” Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s wife, said in a statement. “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. … I know that if Muhammad was alive today, he would be honored.”
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images