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LeBron James to donate $2.5 million for Muhammad Ali exhibit

LeBron James, philanthropist and Muhammad Ali admirer. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

LeBron James has added to his growing philanthropic portfolio with Thursday’s news that he, his charitable foundation and business partner Maverick Carter will donate $2.5 million for a new exhibit about Muhammad Ali at the recently opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

“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 told USA Today.

James has been a longtime admirer of Ali, who passed away June 3 at the age of 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The Cleveland Cavaliers star was playing in the NBA Finals at the time and spoke emotionally about how Ali’s life had affected his own.

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“So many thoughts come to my mind when I think about the man who passed away yesterday,” he said at the time. “What he represented, as a kid, I gravitated towards him because he was a champion, but I only knew as a kid what he did inside the ring. As I got older and started to be more knowledgeable about sport in general and about the guys who paved the way for guys like myself, I understood that he is the greatest of all time, and he was the greatest of all-time because of what he did outside of the ring. Obviously we knew how great of a boxer he was, but I think that was only 20 percent of what made him as great as he was.”

According to USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt, James’s donation will go toward adding historical context and memorabilia to the Ali exhibit, which will span two portions of the museum and focus on both the champion boxer’s career in the ring and his social activism out of it.

“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,” museum founding director Lonnie Bunch told Zillgitt. “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’s charitable career began early in his career when he founded the LeBron James Family Foundation, which has done everything from bike giveaways to promises of University of Akron scholarships for young students who meet academic and community service requirements.