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LeBron James donates to new Smithsonian exhibit

It’s no secret that LeBron James has a certain affinity for Muhammad Ali and his works during and after the civil rights movement.

On Thursday, James, his business team, and his charitable “LeBron James Family Foundation”, jumped at the opportunity to donate $2.5 million to a new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture: “Muhammad Ali: A Force For Change”.

Other famous athletes have joined James in donating to the new exhibit. Michael Jordan recently donated $5 million, and Magic Johnson came forward with a $1 million donation.

The nearly 400,000 square foot facility on Washington DC’s famous mall is the largest cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting, and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history.

An appreciative James spoke to USA TODAY Sports with regards to his donation, saying:

“Muhammad Ali is such a cornerstone of me as an athlete because of what he represented not only in the ring as a champion but more outside the ring — what he stood for, what he spoke for, his demeanor. I think of him every day. Without his passion and goals and morals, I don’t know if I’d be sitting here today talking to you about it.

“Every professional athlete, regardless of race and gender, owes a huge debt of gratitude to Muhammad Ali. His legacy deserves to be studied and revered by every generation. I am honored to partner with the Smithsonian to celebrate one of the most influential figures in our nation’s history who, along with Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, used the power of sports to advance our civil rights.”

Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s widow, responded to James’ donation with heart-felt words, saying:

“I am overwhelmed by the incredible generosity LeBron James has shown to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and to Muhammad’s legacy. This exhibit will enable children visiting the Smithsonian to learn more about Muhammad’s work outside of the ring, particularly his humanitarian work and stance on social justice for all people. Thank you to LeBron James and the Smithsonian for making this possible. I know that if Muhammad was alive today he would be honored.”

Damion Thomas, the museum’s Sports Gallery curator, also chimed in on James’ charity, saying:

“We are extremely grateful to LeBron James for his support of the museum. As the most socially active superstar in sports today, LeBron James is a testament to the influence of Muhammad Ali. Ali embodied the racial and social tumult of his times, blurring lines between politics and sports, activism and entertainment.”

Throughout his NBA career, James has worked tirelessly to change the futures of those less fortunate – especially kids. His I Promise Foundation is currently offering four-year scholarships to The University of Akron for students who complete its academic program.

James added that the job is ongoing, saying:

“We continue to crack the code and break the mold. We’re not a pop-up store. We are built for longevity, and we’re built for longevity because these kids continue to grow and more kids come after them. It’s about being sustainable. That’s the main thing I’m proud of with the foundation more than anything.”

Together with his Wheels For Education program, James’ I Promise Network serves more than 1,100 Akron-area students by providing various programs and mentors to guide them through school and beyond.

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