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LeBron James comments on the importance of Muhammad Ali

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LeBron James talked to ESPN about the importance of Muhammad Ali, who died today at the age of 74.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died earlier today at the age of 74. His passing has been felt and mourned across the sports world not only for his dominance in the ring, but also his voice outside of it. Among those to comment on Ali's passing is Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.

"The reason why he's the GOAT is not because of what he did in the ring, which was unbelievable," James told ESPN.

Here's a lengthier clip from ESPN's story:

"When I was a kid, I was amazed by what Ali did in the ring," LeBron told ESPN.com. "As I got older and started to read about him and watch things about him, I started to realize what he did in the ring was secondary to what he meant outside of the ring -- just his influence, what he stood for."

As an African-American, James said Ali is largely responsible for his ability to enjoy not only fame and wealth as a professional athlete but also the opportunities that come with it.

"The reason why he's the GOAT is not because of what he did in the ring, which was unbelievable," James said, referring to the acronym commonly attached to Ali, which stands for "greatest of all time."It's what he did outside of the ring, what he believed in, what he stood for, along with Jim Brown and Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor -- obviously, who became Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] -- Bill Russell, Jackie Robinson. Those guys stood for something. He's part of the reason why African-Americans today can do what we do in the sports world. We're free. They allow us to have access to anything we want. It's because of what they stood for, and Muhammad Ali was definitely the pioneer for that."

Over time, LeBron James has become one of the more social active and aware professional athletes regardless of support. When he played for for the Heat, he and his teammates wore hoodies in support of slain teenager Trayvon Martin and last year, he wore a 'I Can't Breath' t-shirt prior to a game against the Brooklyn Nets after Eric Garner was choked to death by the NYPD.

As he says, none of that would have really been possible to say without Ali. And even now, one wonders how James would be viewed if he was as outspoken as Ali was.

LeBron was among a number of NBA players and personalities to pay their respects to Ali.