By Max Zavidow
People love the idea of a Mount Rushmore in professional sports. The idea of grouping together the four best athletes in their respective game and engraving their faces in the side of a mountain to say “You four players did it better than anyone else” is exciting. It’s enticing. And best of all, it always stirs controversy. This is my all-time Mount Rushmore of NBA players. Now listen, I get it, you’re probably thinking “What does this guy really know about the greats, what validates his opinion if he’s only been watching for the past 12 years?” But here’s why you will trust my list of the four greatest players to ever touch the hardwood; up until a few years ago, all I watched was old tape. I watched the legends play, and I know the game of basketball, from the start. It was just what I did growing up; it was what I knew. Some kids played Pokémon or watched cartoons, but not me. I spent all my free time watching old film from every era of basketball, getting to know the game on a level few kids my age would. I loved it; I watched the greats, researched their stats, and collected their cards. The game of old-school basketball— from its inception to the early 2000s— is what I love, and it’s why you should hold faith in this list.
Let me preface this by making a few things clear— Lebron James will not be on this list, if for no other reason than he is still playing. Kobe, on the other hand, will not be on this list because he just shouldn’t be. And, I know most would disagree, but people put far too much emphasis on championships when talking about the G.O.A.T.s. Yes, that is why some play the game, but no one single player can win a championship. Look at Allen Iverson, pound for pound one of the greatest to ever play the game, and he could not do it. Nobody can do it alone, and therefore individual legacies should not solely be cemented by how many championships one player has won. I’m not saying that they are not incredibly important, but to put it in comparison, I feel that it is a greater honor to win the MVP award. Think about that logically. There’s roughly a dozen champions each year; how many MVPs are there? Obviously winning is a big part of the game, but it is a TEAM game. Not to say winning championships hurts legacies, because of course it doesn’t, it’s just that “experts” and analysts and fans all weigh to heavily on the argument that “blank player won blank amount of titles.” Slater Martin (yes, he is real) won FIVE championships, but would you even think to mention him in the same breathe as Karl Malone or Charles Barkley? No, be honest with yourself, you wouldn’t. Titles are great, and if two players have similar stats/accolades and one happens to have more rings, then that one would have the edge. And I would never argue against the idea that ‘chips help to solidify any resume and legacy. But they aren’t the key factor. Championships are won by the whole, not the individual. Alright fans, ya ready?!
Magic Johnson- Magic Johnson makes the list for a number of reasons. His stats speak for themselves. 20 PPG, 11 APG, 7 RPG, and 2 SPG. The man nearly averaged a triple-freaking-double (he had 138 of them BTW)! He was the NBA MVP twice and the Finals MVP 3 times. He was a champion 5 times (6 if you include college), but his greatest impact on the game came off the court. When he entered the league in the late 70s, it was nothing like the NBA we know and love today. Stands were hardly filled, nobody would watch the games, and to be honest, you couldn’t fault the fans for it. Plain and simply, basketball was not a spectator sport. Cue Magic Johnson. Cue the Showtime Lakers. Cue a new era of basketball. The way Magic played the game was unseen before. He played the game with such flash and energy, fans could not help themselves but watch. Johnson ushered in a new era of basketball, one where the game mattered on a large scale. The game will forever be indebted to him for this, and it is a big part of why he makes the list.
Oscar Robertson- There will probably never be a player that can do it all as well as Oscar Robertson did. No player can ever say that he can shoot, pass, and rebound as well as the Big O did simultaneously. Robertson is miles and miles away the most complete player to ever handle the rock. His first 4 seasons, from a statistical standpoint? Hold on to your enchiladas ladies and gentlemen— 31 PPG, 10 RPG, 10 APG; 31 PPG, 13 RPG, 11 APG; 28 PPG, 10 RPG, 10 APG; 31 PPG, 10 RPG, 11 APG; 31 PPG, 10 RPG, 10 APG. From 2008/09-2103/14 not a single NBA player had more than 6 triple-doubles in a season. OSCAR ROBERTSON AVERAGED THAT EVERY YEAR FOR FOUR STRAIGHT YEARS. Mix that together with an NBA MVP and championship ring and you have yourself one of the greatest players of all time. Kevin Durant gets paid to score. Chris Paul gets paid to dish dimes. DeAndre Jordan makes bank to get boards. Oscar Robertson got paid to literally do it all, and there never will be another player who can do what he did for as long as he did it. For that reason alone he makes his way onto this list.
Michael Jordan- He’s Michael Jordan. I probably don’t need to qualify this one, because, ya know, he’s Michael Jordan, but I’ll give it a try. Career numbers? 30 PPG, 6 RPG, 5 APG. MVPs? 11 total (5 regular, 6 Finals). NBA Titles? 6. But forget about all that for a moment, and think about not only about the fact that he played, but also how he did it. Nobody played the game with the same fire. Nobody played the game with the same passion. There’s no way around it— Michael Jordan played the game, mentally and physically, on a completely different level. Also try not to forget that this is the same guy who actually retired twice because he was so much better than everyone else. Jordan has also kinda sorta made the Forbes’ List of Billionaires. Michael Jordan is a big deal. He’s done so much in his career that his Defensive Player and Rookie of the Year awards, as well as his gold medal in the Olympics, are nothing more than a side-note for the most storied player in the history of the association. For God’s sake, he has ice-cold blood running through his veins. He’s Michael Jordan, and he’s in my Mount Rushmore.
Wilt Chamberlain- No ifs, ands, or buts about it, Wilt Chamberlain is far and away the most dominating individual to grace the court with his presence. Standing at over seven feet tall, Wilt made a living out of being the greatest scorer and rebounder of all time. Chamberlain averaged over 30 PPG AND 22 RPG for his entire career. He casually owns 5 of the top 6 best scoring averages for a season, including a 50 PPG season. Like I said, casual. He’s also the title holder of 6 of the 7 best rebounding averages for a season. Oh yeah, there was that one time he scored 100 points in a game, but it’s whatever. None of that enough? Well he also happened to win 4 NBA MVPs, 2 rings, and a Finals MVP. He was a master of his craft and a captain of industry. He was Wilt the Stilt and he now resides on my Mount Rushmore.
Not satisfied with my picks? Feel like your precious (insert Celtic left off list here) was snubbed? Let me know in the comment section below so I can formally school you in the art of Basketball Legends.