Former American Basketball Lakers Star Player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became one of just 21 people this year to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday.
US President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House gave out his last batch of Presidential Medals of Freedom to huge names in Hollywood, the world of sports, philanthropy and more, according to media reports.
“The reason we honor Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the skyhook,” Obama said. “He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy and wasn’t popular. He’s as comfortable sparring with Bruce Lee as he is advocating on Capitol Hill or writing with extraordinary eloquence on patriotism.”
Obama’s biggest challenge during the ceremony was trying to figure out how to get the award around the next of the 7 foot to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Obama called him “the sport’s most unstoppable force” for two decades and quoted his character from the 1980 movie “Airplane!” saying, “He did it all while dragging Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.”
After retiring from basketball in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar, aged 69, continued to use his stature to try to change the public’s way of thinking on various issues. In particular, the White House commended him on his avocation for civil rights, cancer research, science education and social justice.
“Physically, intellectually, spiritually, Kareem is one-of-a-kind,” Obama said. “An American who both illuminates our most fundamental freedoms and our highest aspirations.”
From a podium at the White House, Obama explained that the awards are given to Americans who have ‘lifted our spirits, strengthened our union, and pushed us toward progress.’