Have we nothing better to talk about? Rethinking the ridiculousness of the NBA Mount Rushmore argument

Russell James

I had really planned on leaving this one alone.  After all, choosing the four best players to have ever played a sport is entirely subjective.  I might include Player A on my mountainside and justify that argument until I’m blue in the face only to hear you make a legitimate case for Player B.

That’s what happened all last week after some reporter asked LeBron James who he felt belonged on the NBA’s hypothetical Mount Rushmore.  I suppose it was a worthwhile question considering it inspired a week’s worth of debate.  The only problem is, LeBron got the answer wrong, or at least Bill Russell thinks he did.

LeBron’s point, while accidentally offending the sport’s most decorated champion, was that by the time his career was over, sculptors would have to break out their chisels to redesign the mountain with King James’ mug alongside it.

I know I’m in the minority here but personally, I don’t have a problem with James’ bravado.  It’s not like either Tim Hardaway or Boris Diaw was saying they belong there, both of which would have been laughable suggestions.  No, these rather lofty aspirations came from an athlete with a legitimate point and the talent to get him there.  LeBron might be on that mountainside when it’s all said and done.  Besides, find me a superstar athlete that doesn’t have an ego and I’ll find you a guy who couldn’t cut it in the league.

Since we’re on the topic of Mount Rushmores, I’m going to go ahead and give you mine.  Take it for what it’s worth.  I’m not saying this should be your NBA Mount Rushmore or even the NBA Mount Rushmore.  I’m merely saying that if I had to choose four players that best represented the NBA and who meant the most to the game over the years, these would be my four.

Russell ringsBILL RUSSELL:  There, I got that out of the way.  Maybe he’ll be a little less pissed now.  I never saw Bill Russell play but I can tell you this.  The guy won eleven championships in thirteen years.  He was the best player on a team that dominated the sport for a decade.  He was the first African-American man to coach in the NBA and won two of those Celtics championships as player/coach.  He defined the role of shot-blocker/defender, something so many of the league’s big men have yet to master but still attempt to emulate.  And he consistently got the best of the man who is the second face on my Mount Rushmore….

Wilt 100WILT CHAMBERLAIN: Have you ever seen the NBA record book?  Go ahead and take a look, I’ll wait.  Sure, Wilt the Stilt might not have the titles Bill Russell has but he owns NBA records that will never be broken.  Wilt has almost 24,000 career rebounds.  To put things in perspective, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 17,440.  Kevin Garnett, the NBA’s current active rebounding leader has just over 14,000.  Tim Duncan, largely considered the game’s greatest power forward, or at least one of them, has less than that.  Wilt averaged 22.89 rebounds per game.  (Russell was just shy of that mark with 22.45).  After that, no one else is even close.  Wilt once averaged 50 points per game for an entire season.  He led the league in scoring seven times.  He scored 100 points in a single game, a record which still stands and is virtually untouchable.  Wilt changed the game.  He remains its most dominant player.  He was Ruthian in size and scope.  He is second behind only Michael Jordan in points scored per game, which leads us to our third member of the mountainside…

michael jordan all star dunkMICHAEL JORDAN: You’d be hard-pressed to find any self-respecting basketball fan who would exclude Jordan from their Mount Rushmore.  He’s nearly unanimously considered to be the greatest player ever.  He won three straight championships from 1990 to 1993, then decided to retire because nobody in the league could cover him, then returned to prove that theory once again by winning three more championships with an entirely different team.  Not only is he the game’s career leader in points scored per game (30.1) but he’s also the league leader in playoff points per game (33.45).  He led the league in points scored nearly every season he played.  He won five MVP Awards but he should have had more than that.  Perhaps most importantly, Michael Jordan was the game’s most marketable player, largely responsible for the game’s popularity today.  But someone made the game marketable before MJ ever stepped foot in the league, and that man was …

MagicMAGIC JOHNSON: If I could, I’d have my sculptor take Magic Johnson’s face and make half of it look like Larry Bird’s.  It would be only fitting.  After all, theirs was the rivalry that brought the NBA into America’s living room.  The Celtics-Lakers dynasties dominated the NB80s and while Larry Bird was like nothing we’d ever seen, neither was Magic.  He was a 6’9” point guard.  They still don’t have those and the game has evolved exponentially since then.  Magic won five titles, three league MVPs, three Finals MVPs and he perfected the no-look pass.  He WAS Showtime.  Not to mention the earth stood still when he publicly admitted having the HIV Virus.  He was one of the game’s most dynamic personas and one of its most versatile athletes.

Look, anybody can come up their own Mount Rushmore.  Those of us killing time at the water cooler this week did exactly that.  I’m not going to tell you your list is wrong because it differs from mine.  If you want to put Larry Bird or Oscar Robertson or Kobe Bryant or Kareem on your list, I’ll entertain a listen.

Yet we may very well be putting LeBron’s face up there when it’s all said and done.  He’s already two championships and four MVPs in and he’s only 29 years old.  Knocking one of the aforementioned names off will be awfully tough but he appears up to the task and a determined LeBron is a very scary thing.

Narrowing the tens of thousands of players to have ever played the game down to only four is an exercise in futility.  But if you HAD to choose just four, which is what everyone and their mother was doing this week, now you have mine.

Feel free to disagree.  I know LeBron does.

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34 Replies to “Have we nothing better to talk about? Rethinking the ridiculousness of the NBA Mount Rushmore argument”

  1. Pingback: Have we nothing better to talk about? Rethinking the ridiculousness of the NBA Mount Rushmore argument - BallHyped Blog Network, NBA | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. Like a moth to a flame…you suck me in with Lebron Mania. I like your Mt. Rushmore. I think the Magic Johnson slot is interchangeable with a few others, but hard to argue against Magic. You know I don’t care for Lebron and it has to do with how he carries himself on the court, which is that of a clown. That said he is a great player and he will be in the discussion when he hangs them up.

    I really just can’t stand the NBA game in general. I didn’t bother linking to Lebrons greatest travel video or his greatest flops video (worst offender in history). However, I will leave you with this little nugget from his teammate D-Wade…appalling is all I can say. The refs should have been fired on the spot.


  3. He he, D.

    I’ll have you know that I can’t write a kind word about LeBron without thinking of the D backlash that is to come.

    Look, you don’t have to like the guy to admit he’s a badass and is doing things we’ve rarely seen, nice to see we can at least agree on that.

    I did comment on the continued rampant flopping in the league the other night. The commissioner was supposed to combat that with fines for those repeatedly break the rule.

    I looked it up last night. Fellow Heat member Mario Chalmers was the last person to pay a fine for flopping and that was a month ago.

    I can’t say Wade and LBJ are the only ones who do that though. I love me some Blake Griffin these days but he’s just as guilty.

    And traveling? They might as well just change the rule book to add another step because that never gets called.

  4. The whole “Mt Rushmore” topic is lunacy as it’s a team game. While I give begrudging respect to LeBoner I cannot foresee him eclipsing ANY of the four that you’ve listed. Jordan would be easiest to displace because one could simply point out that for all of his scoring he didn’t win squat until both Magic and Bird retired so how good could he have been?

    The only reason no one is arguing for Oscar Robertson (averaged a triple double for an entire season!) is that we’re too young to recall but I went to dozens of Magic’s games and he redefined the game.

    Jordan scored but didn’t win until the better players departed. Wilt scored lots but didn’t win until the West/Goodrich/Baylor combo finally broke through the Celtic’s reign of green terror.

    I’d prefer to sort by position but even in this nonsensical evaluation we’d still have to slide him somewhere under Russell. And others… including Magic.

  5. Hmmmm, that’s a good question, D.

    You may have to have a WordPress account, or a gravatar account, which I don’t believe costs anything.

    Can anyone else with an avatar on their comments help out the Heavy one? Al? Any words of wisdom?

    D, try this link and see if it works.


  6. Tree….

    You and Irish are obviously brothers from another mother as he did the whole by position thing on the Forum not long ago. Still not easy though.

    Here’s the argument FOR LeBron. He’s already got four MVPs. He’s in the running for one more this year although early nods are going to KD. That’s not to say he won’t win at least one more which puts him in pretty elite status.

    He’s definitely cut from the Big O cloth but played in a different era and will have far superior numbers when it’s all said and done.

    Looks like we just need another president.

  7. Chump,

    When LeBoner starts collecting Rings for his off hand then we’ll revisit the topic, fair enough?

    Russell always beat Wilt for the Ring
    so Russell still wins in perpetuity unless someone betters that insanely successful record… which no one will in the modern era.

    Dr. J defined athletic scoring a decade prior to Jordan who’s game was patterned similar. And Jordan’s success after Magic and Bird retired collecting 6 Rings is still a long ways out of LeBoner’s reach. Unless he goes unhuman again in the playoffs and grabs his third Ring quickly while other teams are rebuilding… then his odds grow…

    Let’s wait to proclaim LeBoner’s Rushmore status until he matches or passes Jordan… let alone anyone above Jordan on the Rushmore list.

  8. I’m okay with that, Tree, however a threepeat and another Finals MVP, as you suggest, would put him in some rare-ified air.

    Ya’ know how I suggested splitting faces for the Magic-Bird stone? We could potentially do the same for the Wilt-Russell one. I know that’s fence-sitting but the two did go hand in hand.

    If we cleared up space that way, and had one extra, would you put Dr. J on there instead of Oscar Robertson? Or Kareem?

  9. Tree makes an interesting point about the great ones having to retire in order for Jordan to win. That said those Celtics and Lakers teams were much better teams than any of the Bulls teams, not Jordan’s fault. The Celtics had 4 HOF’s on their team. The Lakers had 3. Can you imagine if you swapped Jordan for either Bird or Magic on those teams?

    Don’t forget Jordan also lead the USA to Olympic Gold when we were not sending pros to play…but really it is all opinion and all of the players named are great players with unique skill sets.

  10. I’m not a fan of these kind of lists. Most of the time the public gets caught up in the most recent stars and either is ignorant of history or considers today’s game so much better. Good to see a few shades of grey on your mountain’s face. Respect the past…something that many fans don’t.

  11. D…

    Which is why I mentioned Jordan’s marketability as another reason for his placement on the mountainside.

    There’s no denying that Jordan played in an era those Lakers and Celtics teams didn’t. Heck, I think Dr. J was only able to get past them once. He also never played those Rockets teams that his Bulls’ teams book-ended.

    But Jordan’s Bulls did knock off the Pistons teams that handled both Boston and L.A. And he did beat Barkley, Drexler, Payton and Malone which ain’t bad. It’s all about the natural progression of all things NBA.

    The most difficult thing about these arguments is that we don’t have a time machine to find out what would happen if a team from one era played one another. Regardless, I’m still sticking with my top four.

    Oh and I’m pretty sure if you put LeBron in a time machine and sent him back a few years, he’d be doing a fair amount of damage just as he is now.

    Someone call Stewie.

  12. The NBA brand is no longer a team game , but its postseason finale , merely affords a team being called NBA champions at season’s end .

    The NBA All Star weekend festivities was just as boring as the NFL Pro Bowl event !

    LBJ’s career has yet to reach a satisfactory climax for the Heat player, as he knows he will be adjudged against the careers of Bird , Jordan , Chamberlain , Magic , Russell and Chamberlain . For the moment , what he can say is that since he entered the NBA in 2003 in what might be deemed the “best ” draft class in NBA history , he has been by far in a way the best player to have graced an NBA court from 2003 onwards . Agree to disagree ?

    What type of defense can Blair Berk put up for client Darren Sharper ? Hell , if he’s alleged to be using “roofies” to drug his female victims , then what does that indicate to you about the former NFL player and his sexual predilections ?

    tophatal ………………

  13. Al…

    There’s one way and one way only to remedy what NBA All-Star Weekend has become.

    Back in the day, we’d watch Michael, Nique, Spud and the gang dunk away, not to mention Larry Bird tell everyone he was the greatest shooter from distance.

    I’ve said it before, the Dunk contest was a rite of passage. These days, it’s barely watchable and has been for years.

    The new commish, or whoever is in charge of coordinating the event, need to convince Bron Bron to compete. That alone would boost ratings. That’s all anyone wants to see. Offer a million dollar prize to the charity of the winner’s choice. Or more than that if that’s what they already do.

    LeBron’s career path is doing just fine right now. Again, he’s only 29. With another title and Finals MVP, if not MVP, it would be hard not to already include him in the top ten players of all time.

    I say we wait til June to have this discussion again.

  14. Chris, This is a tought endeavor. Maybe “all-time” should be broken down into eras. I’ll make my selections with 2 simple parameters. #1 The player must be retired. #2 Could the player be a superstar in any era. The list is in no particular order except for the Big Dipper #1.

    Wilt, DrJ, Iceman Gervin, both MJs, Big O, JWest, Shaq, Malone, Hakeem, and KAJ.

    These are guys OTTOMH on the fly. I’m sure I’ve omitted a few. I purposely left off Bill Russell. Why? Without Red A and his supporting cast, he’d be comparable to a majority of solid current ctr/forwds.

  15. Bets…

    Of all people, I’d expect fence-sitting the least out of you.

    I’m okay with my Rushmore. No rules, just right.

    And with regards to Bill Russell, perhaps the question you should be asking yourself is how many of those championships would Auerbach have won without HIM?

  16. I’ll say this much about Doctor J. I saw him live and his game was as alive as any I’ve seen in person or on the tube since. His game in his prime was ridiculous. As dominating as anybody in their eras. It’s nice to have a “retirement home” of sorts to retreat to when needed Chris!

  17. Chris, When Russell and the Celts won 11 championships in 13 years the NBA was a baby. The word parity wasn’t in Webster’s yet. The Celtics were the elite and then take an elevator down 3 floors to the Lakers and then keep going. Red Auerbach was worth atleast 6 points over a Gene Schue or a Bill Sharman. Russell was a solid piece in a system 30 years ahead of its time. You did say best individual players? It ain’t BR.

  18. Earth to Bets…

    The word parity still doesn’t exist in the NBA’s dictionary, hence all the little mini-dynasties we’ve had lately, from Chicago to Houston to Chicago to L.A. to the Spurs back to L.A. and now to Miami. A team gets and edge, holds on to it, wins a title or two, then gets swept away by the next mini-dynasty.

    Wait a second, I take that back. The Eastern Conference does have parity. Aside from Miami and Indiana, every other team SUCKS!

    Paritably speaking.

  19. Sportschump quote, “I never saw Bill Russell play ”

    I’m pulling longevity here. How can you accurately make this statement without seeing his on court work? His athleticism wudda been a 9. I grant you this, he looked the greatest when playing against the 7foot white stiff Mel Counts or Darryl Imhoff. He hadda excellent vertical but played flat footed. I guess Eli Manning is an elite QB ’cause he won 2 SBs.

  20. Oh, Bets…

    I didn’t mean to have it come off as Russell as my number one. He was just one of the legends on the list, in no particular order.

    But his record is hard to argue with. Pretty sure even Auerbach said he was the best player he ever coached.

    His rebounding numbers are also pretty stout, check ’em out. He essentially invented proper positioning under the basket, not to came up with blocking a shot and keeping it in bounds something players to this day don’t do.

    Scoreboard, man. 11 rings. They didn’t name the Finals MVP after him for nothing.

  21. I would now include James(LB) inside of the top twenty five players in NBA history based on his body of work , alone !

    For me the NBA Dunk contest is not far off sitting down with buddies and seeing who can down a jug of beer the fastest ! After you’ve done that a few times, it gets monotonous , if not downright dangerous .

    Adam Silver
    having succeeded David Stern melt and consulted with USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to see what ideas he might have , in seeking an improvement with the regard to the NBA’s play and brand . Next up , Joe Biden will be consulting with Jayson Blair to seek out his input on the state of journalism in the US and how plagiarism tends to affect the “quality of the written word” within the print media and in public speaking .

    Lamar Odom has packed his bags and will resume professional career in Spain . He credits his former in-laws (Bruce and Kris Jenner) with the advice given to him , to play abroad . LOL,LOL,LOL !!!! > Personally , I don’t believe that’s fair ! Spain gives the NBA both Gasol brothers (Marc & Pau) as well as Ricky Rubio and in return they get an over the hill and past his sell-by date v ……. with Lamar Odom ?

    From the official NBA website and their list of the fifty greatest players in the league’s history .

    Bowing out in style, bowing out gracefully or simply bowing out, because the game has now become uninteresting ?

  22. Odom’s going to Spain, Al? Do they have cheaper drugs over there? And not that I care all that much but did he and his lovely Armenian bride split up or is she going along for the ride?

    Slam Magazine put out their own recent Top Five Hundred just a few years ago. LeBron James was #31. Their top five were Jordan, Chamberlain, Russell, Shaq and the Big O. Their next five were Magic, Kareem, Duncan Bird and Bryant.

    Here’s the link to that:


    Now I’m not sure how they can justify ranking Shaq in the Top Four… but they did.

  23. Hey Chris, it’s always “five o’clock” somewhere. I think as you get older Happy Hour starts to mean more than ever any damn hour you wish to be happy. Is it March yet? That’s happy time indeed!

  24. Pingback: Trade to Succeed in the NBA | Sports Chump

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