As he reflected on Saturday on the death of Muhammad Ali, Donald J. Trump gushed, calling him a “terrific guy,” “so generous,” and an “amazing poet.”
“He was two people,” Mr. Trump said of Ali in an interview. “In the ring, he was fierce, and outside of the ring, he was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.”
The presumptive Republican nominee’s kind words were not just an obligatory salute to an iconic figure.
The two men had been friendly for many years, dating back at least to the 1980s. Ali attended Mr. Trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania Knauss in Palm Beach, Fla., and Mr. Trump appeared at Ali’s charity events.
Late last year, though, there appeared to be a chill in their mutual admiration after Ali issued a statement that seemed to criticize Mr. Trump’s call to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States.
It was Ali’s famous fight against Joe Frazier in March 1971 that Mr. Trump credits for spawning his interest in boxing as a young man, an event Mr. Trump recounted over the years and again on Saturday.
“It was the greatest sporting event that I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Trump said, recalling that “people had a heart attack” while witnessing the 15-round bout won by Mr. Frazier at Madison Square Garden. (One fan did die of a heart attack.) “There was more energy in the room than I’ve ever seen.”
Mr. Trump was heavily involved in the boxing world for a number of years, often hosting fights at his casinos. In 1988, he threw a birthday party for Ali with 500 guests in Atlantic City. In 1991, Newsday reported at the time, he left a divorce negotiation with Ivana Trump to speak at an awards dinner for Ali in New Jersey, then returned.
Over the years, Ali presented Mr. Trump with at least two awards honoring his charitable work. At a 2007 auction to benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, the winning bidder offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a meal with Mr. Trump.
“It was like a huge amount,” Mr. Trump said on Saturday. At first, he recalled it being “three-hundred-some-odd-thousand dollars,” then raised it to “a half-a-million dollars or something like that.” (According to one write-up of the event, it was $350,000.)
The presidential candidate said Ali had taught him about diversity and called him an “amazing example of strength and kindness and ability and athleticism.”
In December, after two Islamic extremists killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., Mr. Trump made his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Shortly afterward, Ali issued a statement that condemned the shootings, but also said:
“We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam.”
Even though Ali’s statement did not name Mr. Trump, many saw it as a rebuke of the candidate. The statement was titled “Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States.”
Mr. Trump, on Saturday, said that he did not “believe that was about me.”
“He never mentioned the name or anything like that,” he said, adding that if it were about him, Ali “would have mentioned the name.”
“No, that wasn’t about me. That was about other things,” Mr. Trump said.
Bob Gunnell, an Ali family spokesman, also said on Saturday that the statement was not directed at Mr. Trump, but at “extremists and jihadists.”
“Muhammad made that clear to me, personally,” Mr. Gunnell said, adding that Ali and his wife, Lonnie, had called him after the statement was issued to make the point that, “We are for all people.”
After the San Bernardino shootings, President Obama gave a speech in which he urged Americans to reject discrimination, saying that “Muslim-Americans are our friends, neighbors and sports heroes.”
Mr. Trump responded in a post on Twitter:
Some took Mr. Trump’s message as a slight against Ali and other prominent Muslim athletes, and others as ignorance of Ali’s religion.
Mr. Trump said the Twitter post was not meant to criticize Muslim athletes. “I’m saying, ‘What sport is he talking about, and who?’ I know there are many great Muslim athletes in soccer and other sports.”
He added, “All I’m saying is, ‘I’d like him to name them because I agree there are some. That’s not a knock by any stretch of the imagination.’”
Mr. Trump said he was well aware of Muslim sports stars. “I know who they are. I mean, look, Muhammad Ali is somebody that I’ve liked for a long time — and I know he’s Muslim.“
Mr. Gunnell said Ali had not been concerned with what Mr. Trump said on Twitter.
“Muhammad was the greatest,” Mr. Gunnell said. “So, Donald Trump mistakenly spoke because he knows who the greatest is and who the greatest was. When he tweeted that, it never came up. Muhammad never in a million years would have thought that was directed at him.”