Adams: The Mount Rushmore of the NBA
Hayden Adams | Monday, January 20, 2020
It’s a debate that Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman like to have on “First Take” on ESPN: who is on the Mount Rushmore of NBA players? Well, as I’m sure many people want someone to do, allow me to shut them up definitively.
- Michael Jordan
This is an easy choice. Jordan is the greatest player of all time. He holds the NBA record for career points per game and is fourth on the all-time scoring list only because he retired twice. He has six NBA championships and as many Finals MVPs. He was an outstanding defender, as evidenced by his second place ranking in career steals (again, in relatively few seasons).
Jordan also fought through the flu in game five of the ‘97 NBA Finals, hit a championship-winning go-ahead jumper in the ‘98 Finals and was the first player over the age of 40 to score 40 points. Oh, and he punched Luc Longley in the face before a Finals game because he was soft.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
I feel like Jordan is pretty much a unanimous decision among everyone, but this one less so. Still, Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and a six-time MVP. He is the all-time leader in points scored and revolutionized the center position. Most big men at that time were bruisers who threw their bodies around, but Kareem relied on grace instead of power and had immense success. Not to mention that he had the single most unstoppable move in the history of basketball.
- Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird
I’ll explain where I’m going with this. First of all, Magic and Bird are a package deal, like it or not. They faced off in the ‘79 NCAA championship in the most-viewed championship game ever. From there, their rivalry lived on in the NBA.
Magic was a unicorn before that was a term. There had never been a 6-foot-9 point guard before, and he pioneered the Lakers’ showtime era and won five NBA championships. Bird, while possessing a very different background from Magic, was very similar in playing style with his stat-stuffing ability and own showtime moments, not to mention his legendary trash-talking.
The reason I put Bird and Magic on here together, aside from their rivalry, is their impact. The fact of the matter is that they saved the NBA. The league was not very popular in the ‘70s and games in the ‘90s were often not aired live. But Bird and Magic provided a dynamic that the whole country could buy into, and regardless of whether or not you subscribe to the race dynamic at play, you can’t argue that it didn’t make for great marketing.
- Julius “Dr. J” Erving
Now I’m sure this one is controversial. Julius Erving didn’t even play in the NBA for his entire career as he was the face of the ABA for many years. But that’s why he’s on here. He was the Jordan before Jordan. He was dunking from the free throw line and packing Rucker Park so tight that some sat on tree limbs and kids watched from their school windows. In the ABA, he almost singlehandedly kept the league from folding, even if it was prolonging the inevitable. He then helped keep the NBA aloft until Bird and Magic came along, and he was the inspiration for those guys and Jordan. Not to mention the numerous iconic plays he made that live on in basketball lore.
That’s right. No LeBron on this list. Maybe if he had managed to win one more NBA championship, but a 3-6 record in the Finals doesn’t sit well enough with me to put him here, especially considering his impact in the context of the era he’s played in. You could also argue Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson or Bill Russell.
But you know what? None of this matters. It’s entirely subjective based on what factors you weigh as more important. As much as I would love to put a cork in the mouths of Smith and Kellerman, they will unfortunately continue to spew absolute garbage out of their pieholes. Stephen A. is going to keep saying stupid crap like Dwayne Haskins is more of a running quarterback. Kellerman is going to keep desperately trying to appeal to young people with pop culture references.
While this article (probably) failed in its objective, it’s still a fun debate to have. And it goes to show that little is more difficult than comparing players across eras.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.