WATCH: Barack Obama cracks up crowd as he gives basketball stars Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Presidential Medals of Freedom
Greats awarded US’s highest civilian honour in star-studded ceremony
US President Barack Obama cracked up a crowd in the White House East Room as he bestowed America’s highest civilian honour on former basketball greats Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“When he was five years old, Michael Jordan nearly cut off his big toe with a ax,” Obama joked. “If things had gone differently Air Jordans may not have taken flight. I mean, you don’t want to buy a shoe with one toe missing.
“Michael Jordan is . . . more than just an internet meme,” he added, referring to the ‘Crying Jordan’ image that swept the internet this year.
Ironically, Jordan appeared to shed a couple of tears at the star-studded ceremony, which also honoured stars from entertainment, business and the arts such as Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Bill and Melinda Gates, and architect Frank Gehry.
“We’ve got ... renowned character actors like the guy from Space Jam,” was one of Obama’s biggest laugh lines, referring to Jordan’s role in the 1996 animated movie.
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“There is a reason you call someone the Michael Jordan of [something]...” he added. “They know what you’re talking about because Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness. He is the definition of somebody so good at what they do that everybody recognises it. That’s pretty rare.“
Obama highlighted Abdul-Jabbar’s game-changing dominance, mentioning a sixties college basketball rule change banning dunks.
“They didn’t say it was about Kareem but it was about Kareem,” Obama said. “When a sport changes its rules to make it harder just for you, you are really good.”
“Physically, intellectual, spiritually, Kareem is one of a kind.”
And he drew more laughs when he jokingly posted up against the gigantic Abdul-Jabbar.
“Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way,” Obama said.
Abdul-Jabbar is the league’s all-time leading scorer after guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships and the Milwaukee Bucks to another.
Jordan won six championships during the 1990s with the Chicago Bulls and was part of the US Olympic ‘Dream Team’.