Picking an NBA Mount Rushmore no easy task
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The Heat’s LeBron James, here dunking in front of the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka, figures to be on most basketball fans’ all-time NBA Mount Rushmore.
President’s Day was last week, and all those stories about LeBron James’ NBA Mount Rushmore should have faded away right now.
That’s what I thought, too, before having a Homer Simpson moment (“I’m not going to enroll in that clown college”).
Picking an NBA Mount Rushmore does seem stupid and pointless at first. But if you actually think about narrowing the league’s all-time greats down to four heads carved into a mountain, it quickly becomes a perplexing brainteaser.
The Bulls made it easy to create their version. There are four retired jerseys — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Jerry Sloan and Bob Love. Does Phil Jackson’s head deserve a spot ahead of any of those four? No.
Here are a few thoughts on who does and does not belong on an NBA Mount Rushmore:
• Any legitimate mountain carving is going to include Jordan. We can all agree on that, right?
• The toughest part of picking the NBA’s greatest is trying to compare modern players to guys from the big-stat era of the 1950s and ’60s.
One player I would not include on the mountain is Bill Russell. He’s the NBA’s greatest champion, no doubt. But watch him on some old-time footage sometime. He’s 6-feet-9, good shot-blocker, very awkward offensively.
We’ll never know for sure, but I don’t think Russell would be a great player in today’s NBA, and that has to be a prerequisite. Red Auerbach and the Celtics’ stellar supporting cast made Russell a big winner.
You know who would be great in today’s NBA? Wes Unseld. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, there was barely any contact in NBA games. Imagine Unseld’s big body playing in the physical 1990s. He’d be Rick Mahorn and Charles Barkley rolled into one.
Elgin Baylor is another tough fit. I know people who saw him live swear he’s one of the all-time best. But watching him on film, I wonder if he could beat out DeMar DeRozan for a starting spot.
• Wilt Chamberlain is a guy I would consider carving into a mountain. He averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds over a full season. He also averaged 8.6 assists once. No doubt Chamberlain would be a great player in today’s NBA — and probably taking a ton of heat for not winning enough titles.
Oscar Robertson is another strong candidate. Not only did he average a triple-double in 1961-62, three other times he averaged 30 points and 11 assists. Could he put up those numbers today? No, but he’d be a tough guard, even for Tom Thibodeau.
• Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is where this list gets mucked up. Was he better than Chamberlain? Shaquille O’Neal? That’s nearly impossible to answer.
Jabbar’s performance in the early 1970s compares well with anyone. But he padded his lead on the all-time scoring list mostly by playing until he was 42. He still was very good during those years he played with Magic and James Worthy, but good enough to qualify as one of the top four?
• Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are not locks to be included. In fact, I’m willing to push them aside for a couple of modern players. Yes, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have surpassed Bird and Magic on the NBA greatest list.
Everyone knocked LeBron for not winning a title, but now he has two. Bird won three championships, Magic won five, and both had incredible supporting casts.
James’ statistics compare very well to Bird. Johnson was never a big scorer, while Bryant qualifies as the NBA’s No. 2 alpha scorer behind Jordan. Is it the best measure of greatness? Well, there aren’t many players fitting into that category.
• If it has to be four, my list is Jordan, Bryant, James and Robertson. Nearby, though, I’d be sure to commission a Mount Centers with Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal and time-traveling Unseld.
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