"I dream I'm running down Broadway. That's the main street in Louisville, and all of a sudden there's a truck coming at me. I run at the truck and I wave my arms, and then I take off and I'm flying. I go right up over the truck, and all the people are standing around and cheering and waving at me. And I wave back and I keep flying. I dream that all of the time - Muhammad Ali -
Muhammad Ali got to live out that dream on Friday.
The former heavyweight boxing champion and global icon made one final journey through his hometown on the way to his final resting place. Ali, who passed away last Friday in Phoenix, had mapped out the details for his funeral prior to his death.
A hearse carrying Ali's casket, made a 19-mile trek around the city of Louisville, stopping on the highway in front of the Muhammad Ali Center, at Ali's childhood home - a little pink house in the West End. The procession took more than two hours to get from the funeral home to Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery, and of course one portion of the drive went down Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
More than 100,000 fans lines the streets, throwing flowers, pumping their fists and chanting "Ali, Ali," all along the route. Ali's family had a private burial and then went to the KFC Yum Center in downtown Louisville where 15,000 fans attended a memorial service. Among those in attendance were stars from the sports world, former President Bill Clinton, actor Will Smith and comedian Billy Crystal.
"This is absolutely amazing," Will Smith said on WAVE-3 in Louisville during the procession. "The thing that is most beautiful is it's a celebration. We are not here mourning his death, we are celebrating his life."
The celebration began on Wednesday with a festival in downtown Louisville called "I Am Ali" and on Thursday there was the Muslim funeral proceedings that took place in front of thousands at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center.
On Friday morning, it was time to say a final good bye.
"The Champ is going home," one onlooker yelled as the procession was about to begin.
The cherry-red casket was draped in an Islamic shroud was loaded into the hearse around 10:30 a.m. by a group of pallbearers that included Smith and former boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.
"This is my absolute privilege," Smith said. "It's such an honor."
With several black SUVs leading the way, the hearse slowly started moving out of the funeral home parking lot and the fans were lined up. Chants of "Ali, Ali," started to ring out and others just watched, some even sobbing with emotions. The process included about 12 other limos with family members and close friends following the hearse to the cemetery.
"You are the man," one man from atop of his car yelled as the hearse turned onto Bardstown Road. "The GOAT."
All along the route there were hundreds of fans. There were young fans and old fans and some of all color. At one stop a couple who came from Germany just for the procession did an interview with local television, while in front of Ali's childhood home there was two businessmen from Las Vegas who came "just to be part of something this special."
Many fans had signs, some ran along side the hearse to reach out and touch it and many tossed flowers onto the windshield. Twice the driver had to wipe away some of the flowers in order to see where he was driving.
At one point, there were eight helicopters flying overhead and one carried a banner that read: “Ali is the greatest – thanks 4 all the memories." Most of the folks in attendance said they did it to pay their respects and to be part of history.
"This is so special," former boxing champ Evander Holyfield said of the celebration.
The processional moved throughout the city Louisville, visiting some of the places that bear his name - the Ali Center museum and Muhammad Ali Blvd., and then the route went by his childhood home where the crowds were the largest, barely letting the procession through the streets.
Louisville is used to big events, hosting the Kentucky Derby on the first week of May each year, but this day represented one of the most unforgettable and historic events in the history of the city.
"It's the biggest event in the history of the city of Louisville," longtime radio personality Tony Vanetti said on the radio Thursday.
Added Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer: “We've all been dreading the passing of the champ, but at the same time we knew ultimately it would come. It was selfish for us to think that we could hold on to him forever. Our job now, as a city, is to send him off with the class and dignity and respect that he deserves."
Finally, the procession turned onto Broadway - the street that had been in so many Ali dreams. The cemetery was at the end of Broadway and about a mile from the end the fans were all around the hearse.
And suddenly, on the left side of the hearse towards the back where Ali's casket laid was a young African-American boy. He was wearing a Batman T-shirt and he ran alongside the Champ's hearse. The kid kept up for more than a block, throwing a few fake punches and drawing smiles and cheers from the fans. It was a fitting way to send off Ali.
Rest in peace, Champ!