Barack Obama comedically presents Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Presidential Medals of Freedom

Ben Rohrbach
President Barack Obama struggles to present Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with his Presidential Medal of Freedom. (AP)
President Barack Obama struggles to present Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with his Presidential Medal of Freedom. (AP)

Among the list of 21 esteemed Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients on Tuesday were a pair of Pro Basketball Hall of Famers: Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As is his custom, President Barack Obama greeted the athletes at a White House ceremony with a mixture of humor and sincerity.

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“We’ve got innovators and artists, public servants, rabble-rousers, athletes, renowned character actors like the guy from ‘Space Jam,'” Obama said in reference to Jordan, drawing a laugh from the room, including fellow medal recipient and two-time Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks.

Obama also made reference to Crying Jordan, saying Michael is “more than just an internet meme.”

In addition to jokes, there was high praise for Jordan, who played for Obama’s beloved Chicago Bulls.

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“There is a reason you call somebody ‘the Michael Jordan of,'” said Obama. “The Michael Jordan of neurosurgery or the Michael Jordan of rabbis or the Michael Jordan of outrigger canoeing, and 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 recognizes it. That’s pretty rare.”

Similarly, Obama jokingly praised Kareem’s acting work in “Airplane” and opposite Bruce Lee in “Game of Death,” saying, “We’ve got some great actors here.” The president added of the other NBA legend on the dais, “Here’s how great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was: In 1967, he had spent a year dominating college basketball, and the NCAA bans the dunk. They didn’t say it was about Kareem, but it was about Kareem. When a sport changes its rules to make it harder just for you, you are really good.”

In addition to the basketball praise for both Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar, Obama lauded both for their efforts to benefit charity and diversity. Then, came the actual presentation of the Medals of Freedom.

That had its humor, too, as Obama struggled to give wrap the medal around a 7-foot-2 Kareem’s neck.

And, of course, no interaction with Kareem would be complete without a sky hook.

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So, congratulations to “the guy from Space Jam” and Roger Murdock from “Airplane” on their medals. Fitting that they received them alongside acting peers like Hanks, Robert DeNiro and Robert Redford.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!