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'We miss you champ': A look back at Muhammad Ali's visits to TODAY

Bryant Gumbel and Bob Costas on Muhammad Ali
/ Source: TODAY

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.

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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.

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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.

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"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."

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.