The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the United States of America’s highest civilian honor. It is presented by the American President to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Although the medal was first handed out by John F Kennedy in 1963, only five NBA players have been deemed worthy enough of the award since then. Let's have a look at them.
#1 Bill Russell
The NBA’s greatest champion ever, Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics in his 13 NBA seasons between 1956 and 1969. He was also the first black head coach in the NBA, winning two titles as player-coach for the Celtics in 1968 and 1969.
Russell was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011. “More than any athlete of his era, Bill Russell came to define the word ‘winner’,” Obama said of Russell when handing him the honor. “I hope that one day in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man.”
#2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points). He won six NBA championships, one with the Milwaukee Bucks and five with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a six-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a record 19-time NBA All-Star.
Before joining the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar was a star player at UCLA, leading the Bruins to three consecutive NCAA championships. In addition to his legendary basketball career, Abdul-Jabbar has been an outspoken advocate for social justice.
“The reason we honor Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the skyhook,” US President Barack Obama had said when giving Kareem the honor at a White House ceremony in 2016. “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.”