As the world mourned the passing of boxing great Muhammad Ali, Northlander Jared Nordstrom received the news with a mixture of sadness and gratitude.

It also took him right back to the day in 1979, when as a "4- or 5-year-old" he and his late grandfather Te Mata Tipene met the great man in Auckland.

It got Mr Nordstrom reaching for the photo album to find the snaps of him and his grandfather with Ali on that day all those years ago.

"It was sad (hearing of Ali's death at the weekend) but I just felt such gratitude that this man, the greatest of the greatest ever, had taken 30 minutes of his time to spend with me and my family. That just shows what a wonderful person he was," he said.

Te Mana Tipene meets Muhammad Ali in Auckland in 1979 in front of Mr Tipene's truck
Te Mana Tipene meets Muhammad Ali in Auckland in 1979 in front of Mr Tipene's truck "The Ali Shuffle".

He said Mr Tipene was a big Ali fan and he had terminal cancer at the time so his mother, upon hearing Ali was in Auckland, rang the hotel he was staying at and asked to a speak to the boxer's manager.

"She explained that my grandfather had cancer and had named his truck The Ali Shuffle in his honour and asked if Muhammad Ali would meet us. The manager said yes," Mr Nordstrom said.

"I can really remember it well. We parked the truck in front of the hotel and he came down to meet us. He spent 25-30 minutes with us and we got photographs taken and my grandfather was just so happy. My mother said it was the happiest day of his life. He was always a huge Muhammad Ali fan so to meet him was amazing."

Mr Tipene died some months later, but Mr Nordstrom said he went to his grave happy for having met Ali. He wonders if it would be as easy to meet a modern day superstar by just ringing up the hotel and asking to speak to their manager.

"But that's the kind of person he was, so accessible and that's why I have such gratitude. I've been following everything to do with Muhammad Ali ever since then," he said.

"I think Muhammad Ali was pretty chuffed also that my grandfather had named his truck after him too. Here was the most recognisable man in the world, taking time out to spend it with me and my family. "

At news of Ali's death Mr Nordstrom immediately thought back to that day and of his grandfather.

Muhammad Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died. He was 74.

"I loved my grandfather so much and I was always grateful to Muhammad Ali for making him so happy when he was ill."

Mr Nordstrom said he has managed to put one over quite a few people over the years with his Ali experience.

"It's funny when I'm listening to people talking saying they've had their photo taken with this famous person or that famous person.

"So I say I've had mine taken with Muhammad Ali and they say 'get off the ground' ... until I show them the photographs."