In the Black Hills of South Dakota there are four 60-foot granite sculptures. The heads of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln were used to represent the most influential presidents in shaping American history. Mount Rushmore is therefore an iconic symbol of U.S. history. In discussing icons or the greatest of a particular subject, the question is usually asked, “Who is on your Mt. Rushmore?” Basketball is no different.
LeBron James just won his third NBA championship this summer. It was the first professional championship for the city of Cleveland in 52 years. You would think that winning one in Cleveland was like winning two or three anywhere else. Apparently, LeBron didn’t think so. He told Sports Illustrated in an interview this week, “My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago. My career is totally different than Michael Jordan’s. What I’ve gone through is totally different than what he went through. What he did was unbelievable, and I watched it unfold. I looked up to him so much. I think it’s cool to put myself in position to be one of those great players, but if I can ever put myself in position to be the greatest player, that would be something extraordinary.” LeBron needs three more titles to tie Jordan. At age 31 and getting ready to start his 13th year in the NBA, the clock is ticking. The physical wear and tear of playing 82 regular season games and the equivalent of two more seasons due to the playoffs and the Olympics, means he has about four more years left. To surpass Jordan he would need to do the unthinkable, win the next four NBA championships. Not going to happen! So does that mean LeBron is on basketball’s Mt. Rushmore?
The first person on the mountain is definitely Michael Jordan. He is the best, not just one of the best. He won six NBA championships, none of which went to a game seven. He was the MVP in each of those. During his 15 seasons, he was named to 14 All-Star games. About 10 of the 50 greatest players named by the NBA don’t have a ring because of him. Everyone wanted to “be like Mike”. ‘Nough said.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s face would be on the mountain. He is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history with 38,387 points over 20 seasons. He was a six time NBA champion with two of those resulting in being named the MVP. He was also named the league MVP six times. He possessed the most unstoppable move ever – the sky-hook.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson is on Mt. Rushmore. For 13 years in the NBA he averaged 19 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a 12 time All-Star and three time league MVP. He was a five time NBA champion and three of those times he was the MVP. He was the only one that could play all five positions on the court.
Bill Russell played during the Civil Rights era and was the first black NBA coach and superstar. He averaged 15 points, 22 rebounds, and 4 assist a game. He was named an All-Star 12 times while being named the league MVP five times. One minor detail, he only has 11 NBA championships over 13 years. He won two of those championships as player/coach. Russell also played during an era where NBA Defensive Player of the year award and many other defensive awards were not even around. Blocked shots were not even calculated. This would have vastly added to his accolades. He is one person who by his own admission can say, “I won back-to-back state championships in high school, back-to-back NCAA championships in college. I won an NBA championship my first year in the league, an NBA championship in my last year, and nine in between.”
There are a few players who would be honorable mentions in the discussion. Oscar Robertson was the only player ever to average a triple double for a season in 1961. Allow me to repeat myself. He averaged more than 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists for the whole year. He was a 12 time All-Star and NBA champion. Kobe Bryant was an 18 time All-Star in his 20 seasons. He has five NBA championships and was named the MVP in two of those. He is third on the all-time leading scorers list. He is the closest thing to Jordan thanks to his plagiarism of him. Larry Bird was a 12 time All-Star and league MVP three times. He was a three time NBA champion and named the MVP in two of those.
LeBron is as gifted an athlete that has ever laced up some basketball shoes. His height, size, and quickness all rolled up into one, is something out of a laboratory. He is a 12 time All-Star and four time league MVP. He only has three NBA championships, and two of those were with a proven NBA champion and another All-Star player. His career is far from over, so he has a small window to add to it. However, as of right now, he doesn’t make the mountain.