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‘I can’t hardly believe he’s gone’: Childhood friend remembers Muhammad Ali

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A growing memorial is pictured outside Muhammad Ali's childhood home in Louisville, Kentucky on June 9, 2016. (Credit: PIX11)

A growing memorial is pictured outside Muhammad Ali's childhood home in Louisville, Kentucky on June 9, 2016. (Credit: PIX11)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Lawrence Montgomery first crossed paths with greatness 71 years ago. Back then he was only 11. As for Cassius Clay? He was still battling diapers.

"I guess he was about three years old, he used to run up and down the street here on Grand Avenue," Montgomery said.

Montgomery was Ali's next door neighbor. Thursday morning as he looked at Ali's childhood home, he vividly recalled the exhausting work ethic that Ali displayed at a young age.

"He would run down to a local park which we called chick-a-saw park and he would run back home and this was before he went to school," Montgomery said.

Before the world saw the mesmerizing speed of Ali as a heavyweight the future champ gave Montgomery a preview what was to come — at a time when he was not even close to being a flyweight (108 pounds in boxing terms), but Ali knew he would become much more.

"He told me one time, he said, 'Lawrence, I'm going to be the Heavyweight Champion of the World. I said 'boy you must be out of your mine,' he was real small at the time you know, and I said 'you have to be a heavy to be a heavyweight."

"Muhammad was just Muhammad, he was the greatest."

Shocking as it may see, Montgomery did not see many of Ali fights in person. In fact, he only saw one against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta. What he remembered the most from that weekend is not the fight but rather the weigh-in the day before and what his old neighbor did after Montgomery captured Ali's attention by calling the champ by his first nickname.

This, as well as an unforgettable story regarding poetry in the U.S. Senate cafeteria, can be viewed in the story of Montgomery and his friendship.