ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A hearse carrying the body of Muhammad Ali traveled through the streets of his hometown, Louisville, Ky., today. The procession began at a funeral home, went along a boulevard named after him and ended at the cemetery. Thousands of people lined the streets. The three-time heavyweight boxing champion died one week ago of respiratory failure after suffering from Parkinson's disease for decades. His funeral service is underway in Louisville at the city's KFC Yum! Center arena. Ali himself planned that service. A family spokesman said the champ wanted the service to be inclusive of everyone. He's being celebrated by boxers, religious figures, journalists, former President Bill Clinton. NPR's Sonari Glinton is there.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: It's good to be with you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: You've been in Louisville for a a few days now. What have you noticed?
GLINTON: Well, it's like every single person has gotten the word here to celebrate Muhammad Ali. The buses are flashing The Greatest. There are video programs if you go up and down the streets. Billboards. Volunteers are pointing guests to places and passing out water and they're wearing orange and black I Am Ali T-shirts. And that is an amazing thing 'cause Louisville is in the South, and you think about the change that has happened over the years and to see dozens and dozens of people walking through the streets with I Am Ali T-shirts, it's a pretty striking figure when you think that he converted to the Nation of Islam in the '60s.
SHAPIRO: At this memorial service, the roster of speakers is long and very impressive. Give us a highlight or two from the eulogies.
GLINTON: OK. Well, there is - I mean, this whole event has been laid out as an ecumenical bonanza. There's a priest. There are two rabbis. There's been Buddhist chants. There are Native American leaders. And they all emphasize the importance of Muhammad Ali to the world and to Louisville. But, Ari, let's listen to Reverend Kevin Cosby as he talks about Muhammad Ali's importance to the black community.
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KEVIN COSBY: The masses bet on him while he was still in the mud.
COSBY: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stood with him when he was in the mud. Jim Brown stood with him when he was in the mud. Bill Russell stood with him when he was in the mud. Howard Cosell stood with him when he was in the mud.
COSBY: Now, please don't mishear me, I am not saying that Muhammad Ali is the property of black people. He is the property of all people.
COSBY: But while he is the property of all people, let us never forget that he is the product of black people in their struggle to be free.
GLINTON: And that's the sense, Ari, that he is a product of the U.S., he's a product of Louisville and he's a product of black America and the struggle of black Americans. And, you know, when you think about it, he's the first real superstar in the sports world in his way. He was the undisputed heavyweight champion three separate times, and Louisville is really, really proud of him.
SHAPIRO: And is there more of a focus now on his life as an athlete, or other aspects of his legacy?
GLINTON: You have to start with him being the greatest, right? Everyone talks about how great he is as an athlete, but you don't go very long before you talk to people and they tell you about how important he was as an individual, a man saying that his name was Muhammad Ali in the '60s. And we know how difficult that might be today, but that's a tremendous change. And this - when you walk down Martin Luther King Boulevard, it intersects with Thomas Merton Circle, and those are two ecumenical leaders. Thomas Merton was a priest who lived here in Kentucky. And you get this sense that by planning this whole thing, by doing this all, that Muhammad Ali wanted this sort of ecumenical sense. He wanted people to come together to celebrate him but to celebrate a place that he loved.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Sonari Glinton speaking with us from Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, Ky. Thanks.
GLINTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.