It is officially time that we retire the old “NBA Mount Rushmore Argument.” Trying to nail down a true top four of all time NBA greats is not an objectively possible task.
There are at least four players alone within the past two decades who deserve to be a part of that conversation, let alone the preceding half century plus of league action and the superstars and dynasties that took their share of the spotlight during that time.
In fact, it is getting tough to even narrow down a Mount Rushmore of players per position. At the center position, you have Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal who could all make an argument for their own appearance in that top four. At power forward you have Larry Bird and Tim Duncan with an honest argument to be made.
At the wing positions it is even more of a convincing field, with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James all with a viable claim to be made for the honor.
At the point guard position, Jerry West, the logo himself, Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson make an appearance on many people’s top 4 list as well.
So, there you go. 12 players right there who all deserve a shot at having their face sculpted on a mountain. Can we officially put an end to this Mount Rushmore once and for all? There is absolutely no way to select a top four without basing it purely on personal bias, and that is a conversation not worth having, particularly in the world of professional sports journalism.
Because I am not a professional sports journalist, just for s**** and giggles, here is my completely subjective ranking of the top dozen players of all time, in descending order.
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12. Tim Duncan, PF: The face of one of the greatest dynasties of the early 21st century, starting with the 1997 Rookie of the Year award. The silent leader of 5 different Spurs championship teams, the Tom Brady to Greg Popovich’s Bill Belichick. 19.0 points, 10.8 boards, 3.0 assists, and 2.2 blocks a game for his 19-year career. Two MVPs, three Finals MVPs, consistent dominance.
11. Jerry West, PG: As if being the NBA logo isn’t reason enough, or his amazing post playing career as an executive, West happened to have a pretty amazing career, splitting time at the guard positions. One ring with a Finals MVPS. 14 All Star appearances. 27.0 points, 5.8 boards, 6.7 assists, and 2.6 steals for his career, all with the Lakers through the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
10. Oscar Robertson, PG: Over the same span as Mr. West, including a shared rookie season in which Robertson took home the Rookie of the Year award, Oscar Robertson also took home one ring in Milwaukee, an MVP award, went to a dozen All Star games (three All Star game MVPs) and averaged a triple double for a full season long before Russell Westbrook made it cool. With averages of 25.7 points, 7.5 boards, and 9.5 assists per game, Robertson left it all on the floor and was truly dominant.
9. Shaquille O’Neal, C: Probably the most physically imposing and dominant athlete in basketball history, Shaq could easily be higher on the list. With 4 rings (three with the Lakers, one with the Heat), a Rookie of the Year win, three Finals MVPs, two scoring titles and a prime that saw him break backboards like the Incredible Hulk with hops while bullying every opposing big man in the league (besides maybe Hakeem the Dream, who would probably have been number 13 on this list if I kept it going), Shaq retired with averages of 23.7 points, 10.7 boards, 2.5 assists, and 2.3 blocks per game. Throw in 15 All Star games with three All Star game MVP awards. His career averages would have been considerably higher had be not hung around the league long after his prime during his 19-year career. Also, had he and Kobe been able to set aside their differences, his 4 rings could have easily turned into more.
8. Bill Russell, C: 11 championship rings, an NBA record. He ran out of fingers. Need I say more? Add in his five MVP awards, and outstanding averages of 22.5 boards per game during his career along with 15.1 points, 4.3 assists, and only God knows how many blocks back before they were officially recorded, and clearly Bill Russell is one of the most dominating players of all time.
7. Larry Bird, PF/SF: Three rings as the best player in the Celtic’s dynasty of the 1980’s, a Rookie of the Year award, along with three MVP awards, Larry Bird was in the GOAT conversation at the time before a series of debilitating back injuries slowed him down and ended his career after 12 All Star appearances in 13 years. Larry Legend was one of the greatest shooters of his generation, and ended his career with averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 boards, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
6. Wilt Chamberlain, C: As far as pure individual statistical accomplishments go, no one can touch Wilt the Stilt. With a Rookie of the Year win, two championships and 13 All Star appearances during his 15 year career, plus four regular season MVP awards, Wilt put up career averages of 30.1 points, 22.9 boards, 4.4 assists, and, had they recorded them at the time, probably about 10 blocks a game (that is an exaggeration, but seriously I’m sure it would be insane). Wilt averaged 50 points for a season, and scored 100 points in a game, two records that will probably never be broken by a human being.
5. Magic Johnson, PG: With five rings and three MVP awards in LA, and 10 All Star appearances over an 11 season span before leaving the league for to handle his shocking HIV diagnosis, Magic was also in the GOAT conversation during his prime. Magic was an incredible leader and distributor of the ball, finishing his career with averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 boards, and an incredible 11.2 assists per game, before passing the torch of league dominance to Michael Jordan (and perhaps very briefly, Isiah Thomas, who likely would have been number 14 on this list if I kept going even past the Dream).
4. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, C: 19 All Star appearances, 6 rings, 6 MVPs, a Rookie of the Year win and some incredible statistics and records that speak to the longevity of his dominance, Kareem holds the record for most career points scored, a record that Lebron may have a shot at breaking. Kareem finished his career with averages of 24.6 points, 11.2 boards, 3.6 assists, and 2.6 blocks. He is one of a very select few that still challenges MJ occasionally in the GOAT arguments.
3. Kobe Bryant, SG: The heir apparent to Michael Jordan, Kobe won three titles with Shaq, regrouped after his partner in crime moved on, won an MVP and two Finals MVP awards, 15 ALL-NBA team appearances, attended 18 All Star games in 20 years in a league that started straight out of high school, and promptly won two more with Pau Gasol. Kobe was the ultimate competitor, and his “Mamba mentality” has inspired the next generation of NBA superstars. Just look at the world-wide response to his untimely death this year to see the impact Kobe had on the world, inside and outside of the sport of basketball. Kobe finished his career with 25.0 points, 5.2 boards, 4.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
2. Lebron James, SF/PF/PG: I reluctantly place Lebron James at the number 2 spot. I honestly believe that, when Lebron hangs it up for good, he will surpass Michael Jordan at number 1. However, if he retired today, he would still be number 2. Lebron, like Kobe, started straight out high school (Lebron then promptly won the Rookie of the Year award), and is now 17 years deep into his career. 17 years deep, and he is still the best player in the league, coming off his fourth championship win (not to mention the 6 losses in his incredible 10 trips to the finals). Lebron has made 16 All Star appearances in 17 seasons, and has career averages of 27.1 points per game, 7.4 boards, and 7.4 assists, along with 1.6 steals and just under one block. Lebron has also been an amazing leader on and off the court, as a member of the Cavaliers, Heat, Cavs again and now Lakers. He is a four-time league MVP and three-time finals MVP. Give him a couple more seasons of dominance, a couple more all-time records, and a couple more titles, and he will without question be the GOAT.
1. Michael Jordan, SG: Air Jordan dominated the 90’s. He won six titles in two three peats, interrupted by a brief retirement and foray into baseball inspired by the untimely passing of his father. Had he not retired (which allowed Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets to sneak in two championships of their own), it is almost unanimously believed that Jordan would have won 8 in a row, which would have put away any questions of his role as GOAT in basketball. Jordan is a Rookie of the Year winner, 5-time regular season MVP, and six-time Finals MVP. He retired with the all-time best career scoring average of 30.1 (it was 32.3 before he came back for a two-year run with the Wizards). He added career averages of 6.2 boards, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals and just under a block. In his prime, he was the best player on both ends of the floor. While Lebron is still giving chase, Jordan is still number one on the list of greats.
So, there you have it. Let’s get carving on the side of Mount Everest and start chiseling out the 12 faces above for the true Mount Rushboard or Mount Hoopsmore of the league (sorry, that was some bad, bad puns). And heck, let’s leave a little room for Hakeem and Isiah. I also wouldn’t sleep on Kevin Durant and Steph Curry climbing these ranks before all is said and done. And f*** it, let’s throw in the greatest pound for pound player (all 160 lbs of him), the great Allen Iverson. So again, long story short, finalizing a list of just 4 all time greats for a Mount Rushmore is an exercise in futility, or at least b******t. All these guys deserve their place.
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know! And as always, thanks for reading!