As sun sets on his era, Obama honors 21 stars

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND NATION - By Kather­ine Sk­iba

WASH­ING­TON — For the last time be­fore he leaves of­fice, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama awarded the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom on Tues­day to a glit­ter­ing as­sem­bly of Silicon Valley, Hol­ly­wood, sports and rock stars.

Among the hon­orees were singers Bruce Spring­steen and Diana Ross, ac­tors Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro, phi­lan­thropists Bill and Melinda Gates, and bas­ket­ball greats Michael Jor­dan and Ka­reem Ab­dulJab­bar.

Rounds of ap­plause and laugh­ter rocked the East Room as Obama be­stowed the na­tion’s high­est honor on 21 lu­mi­nar­ies, two posthu­mously, in an hour-long cer­e­mony.

Oth­ers hon­ored in­cluded ac­tress Ci­cely Tyson, co­me­dian Ellen DeGeneres, ac­tor Robert Red­ford, ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry, Viet­nam Veter­ans Me­mo­rial de­signer Maya Lin, base­ball an­nouncer Vin Scully and “Satur­day Night Live” pro­ducer Lorne Michaels.

It’s un­likely Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump would give the award to Michaels. On Sun­day, Trump com­plained about his por­trayal on “SNL” from the night be­fore, tweet­ing, “It is a to­tally one-sided, bi­ased show—noth­ing funny at all. Equal time for us?”

Spring­steen also may find him­self on the outs in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

He has lent his star power to sev­eral Demo­cratic nom­i­nees for the White House, most re­cently per­form­ing at an Elec­tion Eve rally for Hil­lary Clin­ton in Philadel­phia that drew Obama and the first lady.

Obama con­ceded the ob­vi­ous about the suit-clad New Jersey rocker. “I am Pres­i­dent Barack Obama presents vo­cal­ist and mu­si­cian Diana Ross with the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom. Obama presents ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry and for­mer NBA star Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jab­bar with their medals. the pres­i­dent but he is ‘The Boss,’ ” he said.

Many of the celebri­ties had lent their sup­port to Obama in cam­paign events over the years — and he ac­knowl­edged the debt even as he hailed their con­tri­bu­tions to Amer­i­can life, arts and sci­ences.

“Ev­ery­body on this stage has touched me in a very pow­er­ful, per­sonal way,” Obama said.

Be­fore they re­tired, Ab­dul-Jab­bar and Jor­dan were among the NBA’s top per­form­ers.

Ab­dul-Jab­bar, who re­mains the league’s all-time lead­ing scorer, led the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers to five ti­tles and the Mil­wau­kee Bucks to an­other.

“MJ” like­wise lays claim to six cham­pi­onships, all dur­ing the 1990s with the Chicago Bulls. He now is chair­man of the Char­lotte Hor­nets.

Gehry, one of the world’s lead­ing “star­chi­tects,” counts as top projects the Wal­ter Dis­ney Con­cert Hall in Los An­ge­les and the Pritzker Mu­sic Pavil­ion in Chicago’s Mil­len­nium Park.

One re­cip­i­ent is an old friend of the Oba­mas’: Demo­cratic ac­tivist and at­tor­ney Newt Mi­now. He was in the Chicago of­fice of the Si­d­ley Austin law firm when Obama and his fu­ture wife, then Michelle Robin­son, worked there in 1989.

The con­stel­la­tion of stars made for a high-wattage pre­quel to an­other tra­di­tion on tap for the pres­i­dent today. He is to pardon a pair of tur­keys in a Thanks­giv­ing eve rit­ual, an event he never seemed to rel­ish.




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