Picking basketball's Mount Rushmore
As we eagerly wait for basketball to return, now is the perfect time to reminisce about some of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood. Join us as we present our version of the NBA's Mount Rushmore.
We could bore you to tears by rattling off Michael Jordan’s career statistics, but there’s only one stat you really need to know: Six. That’s the number of times Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to the NBA Finals and captured the NBA Championship. It’s also the number of times His Airness won NBA Finals MVP as the unquestioned best player on basketball’s biggest stage.
MJ wasn’t just good in the Finals, he was a BEAST. Jordan averaged 33.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game in his six NBA Finals appearances and he never, ever had to play a Game 7. That’s something that no other superstar can claim. Other players have since surpassed Jordan’s career totals, but no one will ever surpass his ferocious will to win.
By now you likely know all about LeBron James’ 16 All-Star game appearances, four MVPs, and three NBA championships. You’ve probably read about how he’s recorded a triple-double against every team in the league, and you may have seen one of his 12 50-point games. Those accomplishments are as much a part of his legend as his pre-game chalk toss.
However, if you want to get a sense of just how dominant LeBron really is, all you have to do is take a peek at the roster of the 2006-07 Cavaliers, whom he dragged kicking and screaming into the NBA Finals. Cleveland didn’t have another All-Star on its squad that season, and was forced to dole out heavy minutes to the likes of Eric Snow and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, two players most NBA fans couldn’t pick out of a police lineup. A 22-year-old LeBron led that ragtag group to 50 wins and commanding series victories over the Wizards, Nets, and Pistons. No other player in NBA history could have gotten more from less, and that is the No. 1 reason why King James is on our list.
Just how dominant was Kareem Abdul-Jabaar? The NCAA banned dunking during his tenure at UCLA to prevent him from making a mockery of the sport. A lot of kids would have cried foul and packed it in, but Kareem responded by mastering the skyhook, which he used to lead the Bruins to three national championships.
Kareem’s signature shot wasn’t just lethal against college kids. It also drove NBA All-Stars to fits and allowed him to rack up an NBA-record 38,387 points during a 20-year career that included 19 All-Star selections, six MVP awards, six NBA championships, and two scoring titles.
We know some fans would like to see Wilt Chamberlain in this spot, and if we were building a Mount Rushmore for sexual endurance he’s be a lock. However, this is all about basketball, and apart from Bill Russell, Wilt simply didn’t face the same caliber of competition as Kareem. Most of the centers he went toe-to-toe with were gangly, ground-bound white guys who would have trouble making a junior varsity team today. That makes his many accomplishments, like his 100-point game, highly suspect.
This was the hardest spot to pick with so many deserving candidates to consider. Tim Duncan and Bill Russell were two of the greatest winners of their respective generations. Larry Bird was one of the most fiercely determined players to ever lace ’em up. Charles Barkley and Karl Malone both deserve props despite their lack of postseason success. In the end, we’re giving the nod to Magic Johnson, who guided the Lakers to five NBA championships and still ranks among the all-time leaders in assists nearly 25 years after his retirement.
In addition to his gaudy stats, the ultra charismatic Magic also deserves credit for ushering in an era of positionless basketball. Prior to his rookie season, 6-foot-9 dudes were exclusively big-bodied bangers who set bone-rattling picks and lived in the paint. Magic changed all of that with his no-look passes and ability to orchestrate the break. His legacy lives on today in players like LeBron James and Luka Doncic.