NBA legends Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were honored at the White House yesterday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Selected personally and presented by President Barack Obama himself, the veteran cagers were among twenty-one awardees for 2016, including actors, artists, and scientists.
On the court, Abdul-Jabbar is best remembered for being six-time league MVP, in addition to being the NBA’s all-time highest scorer, in addition to being one of the all-time great collegiate players. Over his twenty-season NBA career, Abdul-Jabbar was recognized as an All-Star 19 times and six-time champion (five while playing with the Lakers and one with the Bucks).
Obama recognized the duo for their contributions to the country, not just in the field of organized sport, but in pop culture, referencing their roles in films like Space Jam (Jordan) and Airplane (Abdul-Jabbar) while listing their accomplishments – he even referenced the popular Jordan meme of Jordan crying.
Jordan of course, is no stranger to the limelight, having won six championships across 15 NBA seasons. A 5-time MVP, he was named an All-Star 14 times and was a key member of the inaugural Dream Team that played the Barcelona Olympics. Today, he remains one of the most popular athletes in history, with his personal brand continuing to generate billions for Nike two decades after he retired.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor the President of the United States can bestow, and the closest thing America has to an actual knighthood. A visibly emotional Obama said, in his speech, “Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, very personal way…These are folks who have helped make me who I am.”
If two basketball players were able to inspire a young man to reach the highest office in his country through their athleticism, sportsmanship, and accomplishments, who’s to say how far today’s basketball fans will go?
Image sources: Sporting News