The idea of a National Basketball Association Mount Rushmore is silly. First and foremost, there are no four players that hold court exclusively over every other NBA athlete. Also, the format: Do you have to reserve a spot for James Naismith, who invented the sport? What about the owners who merged the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League to create the modern-day NBA in 1947? But when LeBron James was asked last week about his personal Mount Rushmore, he gave an answer that, because he’s LeBron James, became a flashpoint for discussion.
- Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls shooting guard
- Larry Bird, Boston Celtics small forward
- Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers point guard
- Oscar Robertson, Milwaukee Bucks point guard
- LeBron James, Miami Heat small forward
Those are great choices, even in selecting himself (smart money says 99.9 percent of NBA athletes want to be counted among the best who ever played). Jordan’s the G.O.A.T., or Greatest of All Time, to at least two generations of basketball fans, and his individual and team dominance over the NBA in the 1990s is seared into the minds of LeBron’s peers — LeBron was born in 1984, a year after Jordan entered the NBA. (Of course, nowadays kids wear no. 23 because of LeBron, not Jordan, which is your daily reminder that time perpetually marches onward.)
Bird and Magic stand as one of the best rivalries in basketball, and Robertson is a great choice because he’s perennially underrated despite being the only player to average a triple-double in league history. Of course, there are a whole bunch of players that LeBron left off.
There’s Kareem Abdul-Jabar (above), the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. There’s Wilt Chamberlain, who, like Robertson, is somehow underrated despite reams of evidence pointing to his individual dominance. There’s Doctor J, Julius Erving, the epitome of basketball style.
There’s Hakeem Olajuwon, there’s Jerry West, there’s Bob Cousy … if there’s no limit on the length of dominance, you’d be hard pressed to exclude Bill Walton’s transcendent year with the Portland Trail Blazers, too. Whatever list of players on any given Mount Rushmore would probably lose a pickup game to any four hoops legends who were left off. Because, again, the idea is silly.
Reaction to LeBron’s announcement among players was mixed. Karl Malone, the second leading all-time scorer and Utah Jazz power forward, said: ”I don’t have a Mount Rushmore. They don’t have any hunting or fishing up there,” while Dwight Howard, fighting the good fight, said: ”They’ve taken centers off the All-Star ballot and now they can’t take centers off Mount Rushmore, so this is my center’s ballot. … Me being up there with Shaq [O’Neal], Bill Russell, Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] — but then you’ve got Dream [Hakeem Olajuwon].”
At least Howard mentioned Russell. Russell, the winningest basketball player in league history (11 championships over 13 years), delivered a definitive retort when LeBron apologized to him for leaving Russ off the list over the All-Star Weekend, which coincided with Russell’s 80th birthday.
— Rookie (@rookie) February 17, 2014