Lifelong friend describes how Muhammad Ali would react to tributes

A memorial to honor Muhammad Ali, the former world heavyweight boxing champion who died at the age of 74 on Friday, at the Louisville Islamic Center in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 5, 2016.

John Sommers II/REUTERS

Muhammad Ali's body was returned to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, on a chartered flight Sunday.

He died in Arizona Friday night while surrounded by his family. He was 74 years old.

A private ceremony is planned for family members on Thursday with a service for the public Friday.

Ali was a citizen of the world whose messages of strength, perseverance and civil rights were heard by millions, reports CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. But in Louisville, where the man once known as Cassius Clay got his start, fans have been dropping off flowers, cards, photos, even boxing gloves to pay their respects.

He was known as "The Greatest of All Time," with physical jabs that stung just as much as the verbal ones.

"I can run through a hurricane and don't get wet. When George Foreman meets me, he'll pay his debt," Ali once said.

The three-time heavyweight champion fought until the end.

People gather in Louisville to mourn the loss... 02:54

Victor Bender first met Ali when they were 13 and went to school at Louisville's Central High. They remained lifelong friends.

"How did you guys become friends?" Duncan asked.

"We used to train together," Bender said.

"What are you going to miss most about him?" Duncan asked.

"I'm going to miss his friendship, his happiness, his telling jokes, and just enjoying being around people. He loved people," Bender responded.

On Sunday, Ali's body traveled from a Scottsdale, Arizona, hospital and came home to Louisville.

At the Baptist church Ali attended before converting to Islam, his younger brother Rahman Ali wept during a service held in his brother's honor.

"He was a saint, he was a wonderful man," he said.

At the Muhammad Ali Center, a steady stream of people stopped to pay their respects. At a Louisville mosque, those at an inter-faith service remembered Ali for being a symbol of strength.

"At this time when Islamophobia is at its height and ... hatred and bigotry is becoming the world of politics, we needed Muhammed more than ever," Dr. Muhammad Babar, a local Muslim leader, said.

"What do you think Muhammad Ali is saying as he looks down at all the support from the people?" Duncan asked Bender.

"Well, if he was looking down, he would say, 'I'm still the greatest,'" Bender said, laughing. "'I'm still the greatest of all time.'"

Among those scheduled to pay tribute to Ali at Friday's public service are former President Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal.

In an interview Ali gave when he was 35 years old, a young boy asked the boxer what Ali planned to do after he retired. Ali said by doing good deeds, he was going to get himself ready to meet God.