Before he became a global icon and world traveler, Muhammad Ali was afraid to fly.
Decades after he stomached his fear of flying and got on an airplane to fly to Rome to box for a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, Ali’s hometown officially unveiled the new name and logo of its airport in his honor.
From now on, visitors flying into Louisville will be welcomed into the city at the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.
“When you think about how Muhammad used his 74 years, he used his platform from his athletic fame to dedicate himself to standing up for justice and humanitarian causes, and to bring everybody together, something we need now more than ever,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. “And that’s one of the many reasons that it makes all the sense in the world to rename Louisville’s airport for Muhammad.”
Fischer and Ali’s widow, Lonnie Ali, spoke at the airport Thursday morning as the rebranding and renaming of the airport was officially unveiled. The unveiling was the featured event of the sixth day of Ali Week in Louisville.
“It’s ironic that a man who left this city to embark on his first international trip with a fear of flying now has the airport — the place where he was welcomed back from that trip from the Rome Olympics as an Olympic gold medalist — now will bear his name,” Lonnie Ali said.
The airport’s new branding logo features a silhouette of Ali with his gloves raised above his head outlined by the shape of a red and orange butterfly.
Steve Leder, who was behind the logo’s design, said the transition of the color from dark red to warm orange along with the bold typography represent the “bold and gentle” nature of Ali’s personality.
June 3 marked the three-year anniversary of Ali’s death and subsequent burial in his hometown.
“Muhammad spent the next 54 years of his life traveling to every corner of this globe and making new friends, discovering new cultures and customs,” Lonnie Ali said. “And I believe that new and returning visitors to Louisville, who arrive through this airport will feel that same welcoming embrace from the city … that they will end up with a Muhammad Ali state of mind.”
Outside of the boxing ring, Ali was a devout Muslim. He’s remembered for inspiring people from across the world, including Anwar Khan, who was at the airport logo unveiling.
Khan grew up in England as a Muslim and is the president of the Islamic Relief USA global charity. He spoke about Ali’s legacy in the Islamic community.
“He bridged gaps between cultures and between faiths, but, as a Muslim American, it’s not always easy for me to have that experience at the airport. Some of you know what I’m talking about,” Khan said. “And this city, naming this airport shows how big your heart is. You’ve recognized one of your favorite sons, even when he wasn’t always popular.”
With several of Ali’s immediate family members at the unveiling, Lonnie Ali left those in attendance with her best impression of her late husband’s boldness.
“And as Muhammad would certainly declare if he were here, ‘The Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport is the greatest airport in the world!’”