By Dan Loumena
6:56 AM PST, December 6, 2013
Legendary athletes Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods and Gary Player echoed world leaders in the wake of Nelson Mandela's death on Thursday at age 95.
The man who endured 27 years of imprisonment for his civil-rights efforts and helped end apartheid upon his release was hailed for his vision, inspiration, compassion and leadership.
Ali, the former heavyweight boxing champion, became friends with Mandela and released the following statement:
"He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. He made us realize, we are our brother's keeper and that our brothers come in all colors."
Woods, who is in Thousand Oaks this week for his annual charity golf tournament, recalled visiting Mandela and the indelible impression it left.
“It's sad for everyone who got a chance to not only meet him, but I've been influenced by him,” Woods said. “I got a chance to meet him with my father back in '98. He invited us to his home, and it was one of the inspiring times I've ever had in my life.”
Player, among South Africa's most beloved sports figures, was moved to tears upon meeting Mandela.
“It was very tearful for me, because when you think of a man that has gone to jail for all those years for doing the right thing, not the wrong thing, it is hard to comprehend that a man can come out and be like that,” Player said. “He was an exceptional man.”
Two athletes at the height of their greatness -- LeBron James and Usain Bolt -- also had glowing words for Mandela and his worldwide influence.
“In his 95 years, he was able to do unbelievable things not only for South Africa but for the whole world. What he meant to this world while he was able to be here is everything,” the NBA star said.
The Jamaican sprinter took to Twitter:
One of the greatest human beings ever..May your soul rest in peace..The worlds greatest fighter… http://t.co/kriCCKM7Is— Usain St. Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) December 5, 2013
Wire and Internet reports contributed to this story.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times