While praising Jordan, Obama said the basketball great is “more than just a logo, more than just an Internet meme,” in reference to the popular image of Jordan crying. He also mentioned the 1996 hit movie Space Jam, which Jordan starred in among a set of Looney Tunes cartoon characters.
“Today, we celebrate extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits, strengthened out union, pushed us towards progress,” Obama said. “I always love doing this event, but this is a particularly impressive class. We’ve got innovators and artists … public servants, rabble rousers, athletes, renowned character actors, like the guy from Space Jam.”
The Space Jam and meme comments prompted laughter from the crowd and from Jordan himself.
Other honorees included Robert DeNiro, Cicely Tyson, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Ellen DeGeneres, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Vin Scully and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.