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Center dedicated during Louisville ceremony

11/22/2005 - Boxing

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Muhammad Ali Center was dedicated Sunday in a ceremony celebrating the values of the boxing great and his ties to his hometown.

The dedication capped a weekend of hoopla surrounding the opening of the $80 million, six-story center on the edge of downtown Louisville. A Hollywood-style event Saturday night at a nearby performing arts center drew former president Bill Clinton as well as athletes, actors and singers.

Ali didn't speak during the ceremony on a plaza overlooking the Ohio River. He stood with his family in front of the flags of 141 nations whose children have contributed to the Ali Center. He waved and pointed to the crowd as photographers crowded around.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that while Ali is revered around the world, "Louisville loved him first."

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville in 1942, Ali learned to fight after having his bicycle stolen as a boy. He won a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics and went on to win the heavyweight title three times as a professional until retiring in 1981. He changed his name after converting to Islam.

Lonnie Ali, his wife, has said her husband hopes the center, an $80 million project, will inspire visitors, especially youngsters, to reach their potential and promote peace.

"We hope this center becomes a beacon in our community ... and in our world," Lonnie Ali said.