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Whether he was tangling with Tom Brokaw before a big fight or speaking about getting older with Bryant Gumbel, Muhammad Ali was practically a member of the TODAY family over the years.
Ali, who died at 74 on Friday, was a frequent guest, a good friend to Gumbel and an inspiration to Matt Lauer over the years.
He was particularly tight with Gumbel. The champ made a special appearance on the former TODAY anchor's final show in 1997, and Gumbel will be speaking at a public funeral Friday in Ali's hometown of Louisville.
He and Bob Costas offered remembrances of the great champion on Monday.
"It's easy in hindsight to say, 'Oh everybody embraced him and everybody loved him,' but he did a variety of things that turned off a great portion of America, and I'm not just talking about dividing them along racial lines,'' Gumbel said.
The confluence of circumstances and the status of boxing as a mainstream sport during Ali's prime make it "doubtful" that we'll ever see another figure like him, Costas said.
"Now it seems that everything is about branding,'' he said. "Ali, mistakes and greatness all taken together —and the greatness overwhelmed the mistakes for sure in this case — he was authentic."
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