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Michael Jordan, Vin Scully visit White House for star-studded Medal of Freedom ceremony

From Diana Ross to Michael Jordan to Tom Hanks, here are the highlights from President Obama's final Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Barack Obama handed out his final set of Presidential Medals of Freedom on Tuesday, honoring 21 individuals, including Michael Jordan, Vin Scully and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Today we celebrate extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits, strengthened our union, pushed us toward progress,” Obama said at the White House ceremony.

Obama has set the record for the most Presidential Medals of Freedom

Amid the pomp and circumstance that went along with honoring individuals who have made great achievements in public life, Obama peppered the ceremony with jokes, including once referring to Jordan as “the guy from ‘Space Jam’ ” and regaling the audience with a tale from Jordan’s childhood.

“When he was five years old, Michael Jordan nearly cut off his big toe with a ax,” Obama said. “If things had gone differently Air Jordans may not have taken flight. I mean, you don’t want to buy a shoe with one toe missing.”

Obama also referenced the infamous “Crying Jordan” meme that took the sports world by storm earlier this year.

“Michael Jordan is … more than just an internet meme,” Obama said to chuckling crowd. He’s more than just a charitable donor or a business owner. … There is a reason you call someone the Michael Jordan of [something]. … They know what you’re talking about because Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness. He is the definition of somebody so good at what they do that everybody recognizes it. That’s pretty rare.”

Obama gave Abdul-Jabbar a similar shout out for being one of the best, referencing a 1960s-era NCAA rule that banned dunks in basketball games.

“They didn’t say it was about Kareem but it was about Kareem,” Obama said about the rule change. “When a sport changes its rules to make it harder just for you, you are really good.”

“Physically, intellectual, spiritually, Kareem is one of a kind,” Obama added, highlighting Abdul-Jabbar’s commitment to his Muslim faith and civil justice work.

Obama also had a joke ready for Scully, whose trademark voice, he said, has become one of the “signature sounds” of baseball.

“In fact, I thought about him doing all these citations, which would’ve been very cool, but I thought we shouldn’t make him sing for his supper like that,” Obama said, as he devoted about a minute and a half to each recipient’s achievements.

The President also made note of Scully’s humble character, referring to the incredulous manner in which Scully responded to being named one of Tuesday’s 21 recipients.

“Are you sure?” Scully asked when told he’d be a recipient of the award last week. “I’m just an old baseball announcer.”

Scully had some fun with Earnest on Tuesday before the ceremony, referring back to Earnest’s response after he first informed Scully that he was going to be one of the recipients.

Other recipients of the honor on Tuesday included entertainers Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Lorne Michaels, Robert Redford, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen and Cicely Tyson, as well as Native American advocate Elouise Cobell (posthumous), physicist Richard Garwin, Bill and Melinda Gates, architect Frank Gehry, NASA engineer Margaret H. Hamilton, early computer programmer Rear Adm. Grace Hopper (posthumous), artist Maya Lin, attorney Newy Minow and Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron.

Can you spot them all in this Mannequin Challenge?

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