President Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Boston Celtics point guard and basketball coach Bob Cousy Thursday afternoon at the White House.
“You’re one of the all-time greats in the history of sports, not just basketball, and an inspiration to us all and today America honors and celebrates everything that you have achieved. You have achieved so much and even beyond basketball,” Trump said during a ceremony inside the Oval Office.
Cousy earned his nickname — “Mr. Basketball” — in the 1950s and 1960s playing for the Celtics. While still a player, the 13-time All-Star player spoke out about racial quotas. He also helped form the NBA Players Association union and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1971.
“Bob was right at the forefront of combating racism within the league,” Trump said, adding, “Throughout his long career, Bob was a voice against prejudice, racism and bigotry.”
Accepting the medal, Cousy called himself the “luckiest SOB on the planet.”
“If I’d known I was going to be eulogized I would have probably done the only decent thing and died for you. I think at 91 I’ve got to stop using that line. I think the good lord has heard it once too often,” Cousy joked.
He told the President, “I know in your world you’re well on your way to making America great again. In my world, it’s been great for 91 years. Only in America could my story’ve been told.”
“This acknowledgment allows me to complete my life circle. I can stop chasing the bouncing ball. The Presidential Medal of Freedom allows me to reach a level of acceptance in our society I’ve never once ever dreamed of,” Cousy said, adding that the award is “being presented by the most extraordinary President in my lifetime.”
Cousy is the fifth professional athlete Trump has presented the medal to, the highest civilian honor in the US. The medal is bestowed 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,” according to the White House.
Trump has diverged from some of his predecessors, who took to celebrating several Medal of Freedom honorees at large, public ceremonies inside the White House. The President has instead, in recent months, chosen to hold ceremonies for individual honorees, sometimes with limited press in the Oval Office.