NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Tri-state area is mourning boxing legend Muhammad Ali Friday, as thousands are expected to attend his funeral in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
Ali spent years training for some of his most memorable fights at Gleason’s Gym — where the boxer’s legacy still remains a celebrated part of the location’s history.
His pictures adorn the walls and his story continues to inspire many who walk through their doors.
PHOTOS: Remembering Muhammad Ali
When Ali first came to Gleason’s, he was still known as Cassius Clay and Gleason’s was located in the Bronx. Through his career, the boxer continued to train there even after Gleason’s moved to Manhattan, and eventually to its current location in Brooklyn.
The fighter trained at the gym before he took on Sonny Liston for the first time in 1964 — in what became one of the most legendary sports events of the 20th century after Liston didn’t answer the bell in the 7th round.
This week, gym members told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes they’re mourning the death of the man known as “The Greatest.”
Bruce Silverglade, who owns Gleason’s, was a friend of Ali’s and says young boxers still come in wanting to learn how to fight just like him.
‘What’s memorable is that every time he came in here, he made a point of going around and talking to everybody in the gym,” Silverglade said.
Silverglade remembers Ali not only as a boxer, but for the fighter he was outside of the ring — standing up for civil rights issues and fighting against the draft during the Vietnam War.
“He’s an inspiration because he can show that anybody — no matter what your social life is like, your economic life, education life, is like — you can achieve what you want to do,” Silverglade said.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, a room full of champs, trainers, and boxing devotees worked the sweet science of preparation, conflict, and endurance as Ali was memorialized in his hometown.
Even without TV screens, his image was everywhere.
Ali stodd out from the beginning. Dan Molitz saw him at the Garden as Cassius Clay, a Golden Gloves champ in 1960.
“Everybody was talking about him even at the time before he went to the Olympics, that this was a special fighter,” Molitz said.
Champs who were children first entered the ring because they saw his movement, speed, and aura.
Juan LaPorte watched from Puerto Rico.
“We love boxing because of Muhammad Ali. I named one of my kids Cassius,” LaPorte said.
Juan Guzman watched from the Dominican Republic and said just seeing Ali many years later at the 1996 Olympics remained a highlight of his life.
“In front of my face, ‘Oh God Muhammad Ali, the greatest fighter in the world,” he said, “I remember that.”
During his professional career Ali trained at previous Gleason’s gyms in Manhattan and the Bronx, and visited the Brooklyn location after his career was over.
Former Olympian John Douglass remembers meeting him.
“I went over to shake his hand and he was with a barrage of people, and they pushed me away. You know what he did? He pushed them away, and he grabbed me and hugged me, and tears came out of my eyes,” Douglass said.
An enduring example of the greatest, he even enticed a dancer into the ring and she became a champion.
“One time someone said to me that was a great compliment is that I was Muhammad Ali in a skirt. It’s because of the movement. That’s how he revolutionized the sport. He put a different spin on what boxing looked like,” said Alicia ‘Slick’ Ashley, Super Bantam Weight Champion.
Ali was also remembered Friday in Harlem, where he has always been a legend. Some fans gathered in an auditorium to watch his funeral from Louisville.
When they laughed or clapped at the funeral in Louisville, the crowd at the Schomburg Center responded in kind. Jan Roberts told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell she wanted to watch the funeral with others.
“I think you felt the emotion among the group,” Roberts said.
Roberts said she saw Ali as a role model.
“Just to remember how much he gave up in terms of what he believed in and how many of us have the strength to do that?” she said.
Schomburg Center viewer Rhonda McFarland remembers the feel she had as a kid when she saw Ali. She described it simply as “pride.”
Ali died last Friday at 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.