Fan buys Muhammad Ali's childhood home

BRUCE SCHREINER
Last updated 15:25 12/09/2012

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A fan of Muhammad Ali has acquired an important piece of memorabilia: the boxing great's boyhood home.

Las Vegas real estate investor Jared Weiss closed on the property in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this week, a Louisville realtor told The Associated Press today.

Realtor Dave Lambrechts said Weiss paid $US70,000 ($NZ85,300) for the small white house with a sagging front porch overhang in a neighborhood of neat, modest homes.

"The guy's a huge Ali fan, and that's what kind of spurred this," Lambrechts said.

The home already has a state historical marker out front recognising the residence as the home of Ali when he was a boy named Cassius Clay. The marker says Ali lived in the mostly black neighborhood with his parents and brother and attended local public schools.

It was at the home where the future boxing champion's "values were instilled," the marker says.

"Ali's childhood home is really symbolic for the area," Lambrechts said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was upbeat about the deal.

"I am delighted that a fan of the champ is in control of the home, and the city looks forward to helping make this residence a place that spreads the message of Muhammad Ali's legacy," he said in a statement. "We are proud to be the home of the 'Louisville Lip"' - a nickname from Ali's boxing days.

Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville, also was cheered by the home's purchase.

Lassere said in a statement that "3302 West Grand Avenue is an important landmark for the city of Louisville and it will forever be tied to Muhammad's legacy here in his hometown."

The center looks forward to giving Weiss a grand tour, he said, promising to reveal more insight into Ali's "iconic life and how his early years in Louisville helped shape the man who is known around the world as 'The Greatest."'

Ali and his wife, Lonnie, have residences in Phoenix, Louisville and Berrien Springs, Michigan, but their primary residence is in Arizona. Lonnie, who is some 16 years younger, grew up in the same Louisville neighborhood as the boxing champion, an Ali Center spokeswoman said.

They remain linked to their hometown by the Ali Center, a museum and education center that is one of the city's prime tourist attractions.

Ali came home for a 70th birthday bash in January.

Lambrechts said the new owner wants to restore Ali's boyhood home to how it looked when the future champ lived in it. He estimated the restoration would cost about $US50,000.

Lassere said the Ali Center was pleased the home went to someone who cares about its preservation.

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Lambrechts said Weiss hasn't finalized his plans but won't use it as rental property. Among the options being considered are turning the home into a museum or using it for some charitable function.

The house had been under private ownership and was assessed at $US23,260, according to the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator's website. Former owner Steve Stephenson had said he was asking $US50,000.

It was at his childhood home where Ali began dreaming of boxing greatness. He took up boxing at age 12, when his bike was stolen and he wanted to find and whip the culprit. The boy was introduced to Joe Martin, a police officer who coached boxing at a local gym.

Ali went on to become a three-time world heavyweight champion. He remains one of the most recognizable figures on the planet, even though his public appearances have become sporadic as he fights Parkinson's disease.

Ali's influence has extended far beyond the boxing ring as he has championed social causes. He traveled the world on humanitarian missions and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President George W. Bush in 2005.

- AP

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