WASHINGTON — "The Greatest" saluted the nation's first black president at an inaugural soiree Monday night.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, celebrating his 67th birthday, was the guest of honor at a party for 1,400 that included other celebrities, lawmakers and native Kentuckians.
Ali will be sitting on the platform Tuesday when Barack Obama is sworn in as the nations first black president. And when that happens, Alis wife predicts, a torch will have been passed.
"He wouldnt have missed this for the world," Lonnie Ali said after Monday night's Bluegrass Ball, a celebration of her husband's 67th birthday. Kentucky is the familys home state.
Muhammad Ali carried the dreams of a generation during his prime as an athlete, and later as a humanitarian.
"Whats interesting is that Muhammad had time to grow into his role as being a world humanitarian," Lonnie Ali said. Obama on the other hand "will inherit the world on his shoulders, not just the U.S. And it is a much heavier burden than I think Muhammad had to face.
"But I think (Obamas) his shoulders are broad," she added. "He and Muhammad are really made of the same fabric."
Ali, who suffers from Parkinsons disease, was the guest of honor at the Bluegrass ball, which hosted 1,400 people and was studded with other celebrities as well.
Native Kentuckian and actress Ashley Judd and artist Simon Bull unveiled a birthday gift to Ali _ a pair of portraits of the boxer and Obama.
The two appear in the painting depicting a close-up of Obamas face looking off into the distance. Within the boundaries of the new presidents visage is a depiction of Ali as a boxer gazing over a fallen opponent _ signifying a debt that Obama owes Ali and his fighting spirit, according to a release by the Muhammad Ali Center, which commissioned the portraits.
"Youve got Barack Obama, whos the leader of the greatest nation on earth, and Muhammad Ali, whos the greatest of all time," mused Steve Buttleman, official bugler of Churchill Downs. "How appropriate is that? Its so fitting."
There was agreement from the mistress of ceremonies, former Kentucky first lady Phyllis George:
"The seriousness of what theyve both done in their lives and how theyve both brought people together, Im just very proud to be a part of it," George said.
Theres one thing that Obama holds over Ali, though, Lonnie Ali said. Obamas now probably more recognizable to more people around the world.
"I do believe youve been surpassed," Lonnie Ali said she told her husband.