UCLA graduate and iconic basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was among 21 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

“Physically, intellectually, spiritually, Kareem is one of a kind,” President Obama said at a ceremony honoring the recipients. “An American who illuminates both our most basic freedoms and our highest aspirations.”

Abdul-Jabbar starred on the varsity team at UCLA from 1967-69, helping lead the Bruins coached by John wooden to three consecutive NCAA titles. Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, he helped UCLA compile an overall record of 88-2 in three seasons and was the only player ever selected Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four three times.

A standout in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar is the league’s all-time leading scorer, having played for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers from 1970 through 1989. He led the Lakers to five championships and the Bucks to another. Abdul-Jabbar was a six-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a 19-time All-Star.

Abdul-Jabbar, 69, is a  New York Times-bestselling author, prominent Twitter presence, historian, Washington Post and Time magazine columnist, and longtime advocate for equality and justice. Read more

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation’s highest civilian honor — it’s a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better,” President Obama said in a statement on Nov. 16. “From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”

Other Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients from the sports world on Tuesday included NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. The honorees also included actors Tom Hanks, Cicely Tyson, Robert DeNiro and Robert Redford, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry.