On Nov. 22, President Barack Obama presented Michael Jordan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The nation’s highest civilian honor is awarded “for especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Obama, as president of the United States, is allowed to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom to anyone he wants. In fact, Obama has given out more Presidential Medals of Freedom than any president before him. Maybe a plethora of people have made especially meritorious contributions to world peace, culture and American security in the last eight years. More plausibly, however, Obama wanted to honor people who would not have received a Presidential Medal of Freedom during Donald Trump’s presidency. You’re welcome, Tom Hanks.
Jordan, though, is the type of person who very well may have received an award from Donald Trump. The two have similar hobbies: smoking cigars, blowing up the meme world, golfing, owning bankrupt organizations and reminding the galaxy that they are better than everyone else inside of it.
Regardless, Jordan did not receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom because Obama was scared Trump would never give him one. Jordan received it because he’s the greatest basketball player of fall time and Obama’s personal hero.
I don’t want to have an issue with this. Jordan clearly fits the third category; his cultural endeavors are undoubtedly significant enough to merit the award. As a basketball player, he changed the sport, the city of Chicago, the world and possibly Obama himself.
But, alas, I do have an issue with this. Jordan has already received enough awards for his time as a basketball player. There’s an entire Wikipedia page devoted to them. Five Most Valuable Player awards, six National Basketball Association Championships, a Rookie of the Year, a Hall of Fame Induction, 14 all-star appearances and two gold medals, all accompany 12 hard-earned Kids’ Choice Awards in Jordan’s trophy cabinet. It’s a good thing Jordan lives in a 30,000-square-foot mansion, otherwise there might not be room for his Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Don’t get me wrong. Other winners of the Nov. 22 Presidential Medal of Freedom have won awards before. Robert de Niro and Robert Redford have received Oscars. Bruce Springsteen has won Grammys. I think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won Jeopardy! once. But all of these people received the Presidential Medal of Freedom because they did something, whether it be philanthropic or otherwise culturally significant, outside of the careers for which they are known.
It’s not like Jordan doesn’t give to charity. He has donated money and sports equipment to help start the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago. He has played in enough charity golf tournaments to make one wonder how he can still suck so much at the sport. He has even spoken out against police violence and pledged million dollar donations to organizations committed to fighting against it in the city he called home for over twenty years.
Unlike pull-up jumpers, though, philanthropy has never come easy to Jordan. Quite frankly, nothing outside of basketball has come easy to Michael Jordan. Even with his attempts to make the world a better place, Jordan is going to die as the greatest basketball player of all time, and nothing more.
Bill Gates, along with Jordan, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 22. Gates could have gone down as the greatest software engineer of all time. Instead, Gates is going to go down as the greatest philanthropist of all time. What would you rather be: The richest person ever, or the richest person ever who was also the best at giving it away?
Jordan wasn’t even the tallest person on the stage. Overshadowing him was Laker great Abdul-Jabbar. Along with his Jeopardy! victory, which he won for charity, Kareem has involved himself in enough philanthropic endeavors to refill Jordan’s trophy cabinet, while also playing a critical role in the Nation of Islam movement. Kareem may only go down as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, not the greatest basketball player of all time. But unlike Jordan, basketball is only one part of his biography, not the entire biography.
The problem is not that Jordan has not given back. The problem is that Jordan does it reluctantly. He does it when he wants to. He does it when he doesn’t have a tee time, or endorsement, or poker table waiting for him. It is really no different than his basketball career. Jordan did not win championships for fans, or cities, or the legions of kids and one president, who call him their hero. He did it for himself. And while there is nothing wrong with that, there isn’t really anything right with it, either.
In 2017, a different Chicago Bull may be standing on stage next to the president. He is a personal hero of Donald Trump, Celebrity Apprentice star, noted cultural icon and intrepid diplomat who befriended the cherubic North Korean “Dear Leader” after he vowed to exterminate New York with a hydrogen bomb.
America, at least we can take solace in the fact that Obama awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom and not the world-changing Dennis Rodman.
Noah Asimow is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .