Let’s just say that all this talk about Lebron, Jordan, Kobe and Scalabrine has me thinking more about all-time greats than I probably ever have. To offer my own conclusions to that debate, I have recently succumbed to the sad reality that I can not justifiably call Lebron James the best basketball player of all-time, one because I never saw Jordan play, and two because he probably just isn’t. With that being said, I have found it more practical to grant titles without going to any real extreme.
Lebron is the best athlete in NBA history, Kobe the best shot maker, Jordan the best all around player, and Scal the best redhead with nine letters in his last name. Easy MJ, you can stay retired.
But despite my own realizations that have led me to rational thought, this talk of all-time greats in the NBA has me itching to find, within myself, the greatest athletes that the world has ever seen. I also recently told a friend, who was very weirded out, that seeing Mt. Rushmore is at the forefront of my bucket list. Putting two and two together, here are my Mt. Rushmores of sports.
Deeming four athletes worthy of one “Mt. Rushmore” wouldn’t do sport justice, as there are so many factors that come with being a fan that play into separating the legends from the greats. Therefore I will give you numerous Mt. Rushmores that will give many athletes the opportunity to be held in such high regard, and also give you a look into my heart as a fan of sport.
As a general disclaimer, I have limited knowledge of hockey. You will see Wayne Gretzky‘s name below, and possibly Gordon Bombay’s, but I apologize in advance to any puck fan who may find their sport underrepresented. Same goes for soccer, and with that fellow Stoop Sports’ administrator Kevin Israel sheds a tear.
Starting off with The Mt. Rushmore of Sports, it seemed right to chisel the heads of the best athlete from each of the big U.S. sports. Babe Ruth was not only a phenomenal hitter but a 100-win pitcher, who displayed versatility at the plate and on the mound in different parts of his illustrious career. Like I said, I have limited hockey knowledge but due to the fact that Wayne Gretzky is referred to as “The Great One” and that his #99 is retired throughout the sport I understand his dominance. There is a strong argument against deeming Bo Jackson the best athlete in NFL history, but his strength and speed in the backfield coupled with his abilities on the baseball field made him an easy choice. And lastly Michael Jordan, who has cracked every major NBA tabloid as of late, is the indisputable owner of the throne atop basketball’s Mt. Olympus.
This column is entitled “The Fan” because it is where I put down my journalistic hat and write as the fan that I am. With that, it wouldn’t be right to outline these legendary groups without touching on the city that I pledge my allegiance to. Two things may stand out to you right away about my Mt. Rushmore of Philadelphia Sports. One, Allen Iverson beats out Julius Erving, and I have no problem admitting that that decision stems from a generational bias that I simply cannot shake. I would now consider myself a fan of baseball above any sport, but basketball was my first love thanks entirely to Iverson’s reign with the Sixers. The second thing you may notice is that Bobby Clarke didn’t make his way onto the mountain and I will reiterate that my hockey knowledge is extremely limited. I fully understand that my decision to replace him with a fictional character in Rocky Balboa is one that can easily be put into question. Balboa may have never fought in an actual boxing match but he is one, a member of the boxing Hall of Fame, and two, everything that Philadelphia sports stand for; hard working, tough, resilient, and above all else, an underdog. Mike Schmidt and Chuck Bednarik were easy decisions that need not be explained. No one can touch either of them in Phillies’ or Eagles’ history, respectively.
Babe Ruth was on my Mt. Rushmore of Sports so it’s only right that he coast onto this list as well. After him, decisions for my Mt. Rushmore of Baseball were far from easy. Robinson’s impact on the game (despite assertions that Fleet Walker Toledo broke baseball’s color barrier before the turn of the 20th century) puts him in an elite class of baseball players. His #42 will never be worn again once Mariano Rivera retires, and his exceptional play only adds to his legacy. There is a strong argument that Hank Aaron is the best baseball player of all-time, and certainly no argument against him being the most productive hitter in the game’s history. Runs win games, and no player produced runs at a higher rate, or hit the long ball with such ease and consistency. Lastly, I would place Walter Johnson ahead of Cy Young in the “best pitcher ever” debate, but Cy Young’s 511 wins give us 511 reasons why he belongs with these three. There’s a reason why pitchers aspire to win an award that is given in his name.
Like Ruth, MJ cracks his owns sports’ Mt. Rushmore because he is the best the game has ever seen. Chamberlain is often overlooked when discussing basketball’s best of the best, and for no good reason. At a height that was abnormal for the time, Chamberlain was a versatile center who could score (100 points in a single game), rebound (averaged 22.9 rebounds over the course of his career), pass (led the league in assists in 1967-8), and played with discipline, never fouling out of a game. As a prelude to Jordan changing the game in the 90′s, Magic Johnson led a star studded Laker team into the NBA history books by bringing “showtime” to the hardwood. Johnson coined the no look pass, and was virtually unstoppable on the break with uncanny quickness and a 6’8” frame at the point guard position. As for Russell, he may have been the easiest choice, as the game of basketball may never again see such a winner. Russell won 11 NBA championships as a player and player-coach for the Boston Celtics, and is now one of the game’s most respected ambassadors. There was a slight temptation to consider Kobe Bryant or Lebron James here but I refrained. That would be like replacing Thomas Jefferson with Bill Clinton or Barack Obama; I guess I just revealed where I sit on the political spectrum.
A lot of my love for Bo Jackson comes from the phase “what if.” Had Jackson not gotten hurt his name would be all over the NFL record book and in all likelihood, the MLB record book as well. Based on talent and athleticism alone, he is a part of the NFL elite. It is incredibly hard to choose four football players to be represented in a Mt. Rushmore because different positions do such different things. I decided not to place a quarterback up there because it is simply too hard to distinguish between the greatness of Marino, Elway, Montana, Unitas, Favre, Young, Brady, Manning, and so on. Jim Brown is one of the greatest overall athletes in the history of sport, as he was a four sport varsity athlete at Syracuse in football, basketball, track, and lacrosse. As a senior, he was a first team All-American in both football and lacrosse, and he carried his success to the NFL where he would become one of the best running backs in league history. Jerry Rice is the best receiver in NFL history, and there are an immense amount of numbers, records, and intangibles to prove that. And lastly, Lawrence Taylor’s ability to change the game from the defensive side of the ball with uncanny speed and pass rushing ability makes him the most impactive defensive player the league has ever seen. It pains me to place a Giant ahead of Reggie White, but Taylor does hold a slight edge.
The Mt. Rushmore of Coaches- Jon Wooden, Bill Walsh, Pat Summit, Phil Jackson
I couldn’t put a baseball coach here because most of those who have a lot of wins also have a lot of losses, which proves that quantitative coaching success in baseball is about longevity more than anything else. I’ll start with Bill Walsh because he is the only one here who didn’t coach basketball. Walsh revolutionized professional football with his “west coast” style offense, was behind the success of Joe Montana, and brought three championships to San Francisco. Walsh passed away in 2007 and is a member of the pro-football Hall of Fame. In a 12-year period from 1964-75, John Wooden led the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team to 10 championships, including seven in a row. He finished his coaching career with a 664-162, good for an .804 winning percentage. Not only is Pat Summit’s recent fight with dementia an inspirational story but she is one of the most decorated coaches in the history of all sports. Summit is the all-time wins leader in both men’s and women’s college basketball with 1098 victories and only 208 losses. She led the Tennessee Volunteers to 8 National Championships, 16 SEC Championships, was an 8-time SEC coach of the year, and a 7-time National coach of the year. Phil Jackson can be held responsible for the success of Michael Jordan in the 90′s, and the success of the Lakers in the 2000′s. Utilizing the “triangle offense” to perfection, Jackson won six championships with Chicago and five more with LA, and even won two as a player with the Knicks in the early 70′s.
The Mt. Rushmore of Sports Actors- Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes
In the near future I am planning on releasing my top 30 sports movies of all-time and these names will certainly make an appearance. Kevin Costner stars in two of my favorites in “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams”, and plays Bill Chapel in “For Love of the Game” which was a decent flick. Gene Hackman plays two totally different coaches in “Hoosiers” and “The Replacements”, and does a great job in each. Denzel Washington plays Herman Boone, one of my favorite characters of all-time in “Remember the Titans”, and is also a very believable Hurricane Carter in “Hurricane.” Lastly, Wesley Snipes may seem like an odd choice for this one but he was incredible in both “Major League” and “White Men Can’t Jump.” We spend a lot of time getting the chills when it comes to sports movies, but Wesley helps us laugh a little too.