Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Muhammad Ali: "His spirit was indomitable"

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the "indomitable" spir... 05:21

Thousands have gathered in Louisville, Kentucky to bid their final farewells to the man known as "The Greatest." Among them is basketball Hall of Famer and six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was a longtime friend of Muhammad Ali.

Abdul-Jabbar said he remembers Ali for his outspokenness more than his exceptional athleticism. That made it especially difficult to see the three-time world heavyweight champion lose control of his body and speech over his lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease.

"The last couple of years that he was alive, it was kind of tough on him not being able to communicate... in his style. That weighed hard on him, it weighed hard on all of us because we knew how he was struggling with that," Abdul-Jabbar told "CBS This Morning" Friday. "But throughout all, any of the problems that he had, his spirit was indomitable and he always kept us smiling."

Like his indomitable spirit, Ali stood firmly by his principals, as he famously displayed in his political activism during the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement. Citing religious reasons, Ali resisted induction into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, a controversial decision that stripped him of his boxing license and heavyweight title.

"When he felt that the Vietnam War was immoral and illegal, he wasn't going to participate and nothing was going to change him, nothing was going to push him off of that position," Abdul-Jabbar said. "And he paid a big price for it, but his principals were more important than the price that he was paying."

Abdul-Jabbar also looked up to Ali as a big brother figure. He recalled the time Ali came to his aid when his house burned down after a fire.

Louisville memorial honors the life of Muhamm... 04:05

"He was like that - when you needed him, he was there. He was amazing. That's all it takes," Abdul-Jabbar recalled.

But Abdul-Jabbar said Ali was also a brother to all African Americans as a champion for civil rights.

"Well that's a testimony to his courage, you know. During those times during the height of the civil rights movement, people like for black Americans to be outspoken and assertive of a position, that was not popular. He didn't care about that - he was going to say what he wanted to say and he was going to be the person that he had to be," Abdul-Jabbar said.

As Abdul-Jabbar did of Ali, the boxing champ also saw Abdul-Jabbar as a legend. In an autographed photograph from 1989, Ali wrote: "To Kareem, From one legend to another, may history shine upon you. As-salaam-Alaikum. Your Friend God Bless."

Funeral procession to pass Muhammad Ali's chi... 01:38

Ali and his children also often attended many of Abdul-Jabbar's games when he played for the Los Angeles Lakers. He recalled one humorous story Ali shared when he visited Abdul-Jabbar in the locker room.

"Some people gave him some... miner birds that were trained to say "Ali." That's all they said... all the time - they wouldn't say anything else. So I said, 'You still got those birds?' he said, 'No, I got rid of those birds, man. I couldn't sleep... So I got rid of those birds and we won't see them again. Don't say nothing,'" Abdul-Jabbar said, laughing.