As sun sets on his era, Obama honors 21 stars
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.