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MacLeod: Athletes take pause to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela

Moment of silence is held in tribute to Nelson Mandela before Montreal-Boston hockey game

The Canadian Press

The world of sports took a time out to celebrate the life of former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday at the age of 95.

Boxing great Muhammad Ali, himself a world-wide role model, paid tribute to Mandela as a symbol of "forgiveness"

"He made us realize we are our brother's keeper and that our brothers come in all colours," Ali said in a statement that was released in his hometown of Louisville.

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"His words, his mind will live on forever," NBA star LeBron James said. "In his 95 years, he was able to do some unbelievable things, not just for South Africa but for the world."

Tiger Woods recalled the moment 15 years ago when he had the opportunity to meet Mandela in person during a stop over in South Africa.

"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."

Athletes from around the world used the platform of Twitter to celebrate Mandela's life, including Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic.

"A lifetime of lessons to be taught and learned from a great man," Raonic wrote. "RIP Nelson Mandela."

Gary Player, the best golfer that South Africa has ever produced, labeled Mandela "one of the great heroes" in his life.

"I commend him for all that he did over his 95 years," Player said. "He was a courageous leader who fought for all that is right, and he possessed an aura that inspired people, and our nation, to change for the better."

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Mandela loved sports and he also understood the important role it can play in unifying people.

"Sport has the power to change the world," Mandela, said in a speech in Monaco in 2000.  "It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.

'It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all kinds of discrimination."


The bad news for the Toronto Maple Leafs is they allowed the Dallas Stars to pepper 50 shots at their net at the Air Canada Centre.

The good news is that goaltender Jonathan Bernier was playing out of his mind, blocking 48 of them to help lift the Leafs to a 3-2 overtime victory .

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It was an emotional night for Nazem Kadri, who scored twice for Toronto in the victory in a performance he dedicated to his grandfather, who died earlier in the week.

Taylor Hall enjoyed a memorial night in Edmonton, scoring three times as the Oilers routed the Colorado Avalanche 8-2.

It is normal practice for fans to toss their hats onto the ice in celebration of a hat trick.

One fan supported Hall's performance in a rather unique fashion


It was a battle of the bottom feeders in New York where, for one night at least, the Knicks were playing with pizzazz, humbling the Brooklyn Nets 113-83.

Even the normally complacent Andrea Bargnani got into the act for the Knicks, blowing by Kevin Garnett for an emphatic dunk early in the game.

Later on, displaying a spark rarely send during his time in Toronto as a Raptor, Bargnani trashtalked the trashtalker, muttering sweet nothings into Garnett's ear after sinking a long two.

For that, Bargnani was ejected for taunting, the first time in his career he has been ejected during a game.

Afterward, Garnett said Bargnani's taunts fell on deaf ears.

"I don't understand Italian," Garnett said.

The Globe's Robert MacLeod curates the best of sports on the web most weekday mornings

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