St. LOUIS, Mo.–Miami Heat superstar LeBron James sparked quite a bit of conversation recently when he said that he would eventually be on the Mount Rushmore of National Basketball Association players.
That got me to thinking: What would be my NBA Mount Rushmore? It took me all of 30 seconds to figure out what four figures I would put on that mythical mountain of NBA gods.
My Mount Rushmore consists of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Not only were these gentlemen great individual players with championship legacies, but they were also absolute game-changers in one way or another. They were transcendent figures as well as all-time great players. The game is different because of their participation, on and off the court. They are icons.
Bill Russell: The greatest winner in North American sports history, Russell was the catalyst of the Boston Celtics dynasty. He led the Celtics to 11 championships in 13 years. He also led San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships and undefeated seasons in 1955 and ’56. He was also the captain of the USA team that won the gold medal at the 1956 Olympics. Russell was the greatest defensive player in the history of the game. He made defense a big part of the game. Although he wasn’t the first African-American player in the NBA, Russell was the NBA’s first African-American superstar. At a time of great racial strife and segregation in the country, Russell was a very outspoken figure against racial injustice in the U.S. He was the first African-American coach in American pro sports. Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2010.
Wilt Chamberlain: The most dominant player to ever play the game. The accomplishments and outrageous numbers that Wilt put up are well documented. He scored 100 points in a single game. He had 55 rebounds in a game. He averaged 50 points in a single season. He never fouled out of a game. He averaged 30 points and 22 rebounds for his career. He even led the league in assists one year. What made The Big Dipper a game-changer was that he was responsible for several rule changes in the game because of his dominance. They widened the lane, outlawed goal-tending and offensive basket interference and changed several other rules to try to counteract his sheer dominance.
Magic Johnson: Nobody had ever seen a player of Magic’s size and dimensions (6’9” and 230 pounds) play point guard before he came along. He was the leader of those great Lakers’ “Showtime” teams that won five NBA titles in the 1980s. Magic did it with style, passion, enthusiasm and great competitive fire. He made it cool to pass the ball and empowered tall kids all over the world that they could play anywhere on the court and not just in the low post. Magic is also largely responsible, along with Larry Bird, for bringing the NBA back from the abyss. When he entered, the league was widely unpopular to the point where the NBA Finals were broadcast on tape delay. The Magic-Bird rivalry rescued the NBA and brought its popularity to an all-time high at the time. Their epic 1979 NCAA championship game showdown also changed the college game forever.
Michael Jordan: Considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, Jordan has transcended into pop culture. MJ led the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the ‘90s, which included two three-peats and six total championships. Jordan averaged 30 points for his career and was perhaps the most cold-blooded clutch competitor ever to play. He also won two gold medals for the USA in the Olympics. He took the mantle from Magic and Bird and increased the NBA’s popularity to a world-wide level. He brought the marketing aspect of the league to new heights along with Nike and famous director Spike Lee with those Air Jordan commercials. Everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike.” Television ratings reached all-time high levels during the Jordan era.