Steph cements himself on NBA’s all-time Mount Rushmore originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
BOSTON — Rattling off a list of the greatest players in NBA history is a conversation of non-stop debate. It has been for years, it continues to be and it always will be. The same goes whenever the Mount Rushmore of said sport is brought up, among media circles or around your favorite bar.
The point of that debate, though, usually always is wrong. That talk shouldn’t be a topic of the four best players the game has ever seen. What it should be is choosing the four who have made the greatest influence.
When it comes to basketball, Steph Curry, with his fourth championship and first NBA Finals MVP — an award that was far from needed for his legacy — should have his spot secured and etched in stone on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore. The Warriors superstar joins Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
To embrace debate, let’s start with the facts. These are the four presidents who actually are represented on Mount Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. They were chosen to represent America’s birth, growth, development and preservation.
And that’s exactly what Russell, Jordan, James and Curry represent for basketball.
Andre Iguodala Thursday night at TD Garden sat at the podium after the Warriors took down the Boston Celtics over six games in the NBA Finals and declared Curry has solidified himself as the best point guard of all time. As far as Steph being one of the four faces that represents the past, present and future of basketball, there wasn’t a second of doubt in Iguodala’s answer when I asked him that same question.
“100 percent,” Iguodala said. “You talk about his size, you’ve never seen a guy his size dominate the league like this and just to put the weight of everything on his shoulders throughout a Finals series. You know, like we all saw what he was doing to them boys. Normally you get a guy that’s a center, like an [Hakeem Olajuwon] or Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, those guys are 6-7 and taller and they can get to their spots and shoot over guys.
“But a guy his height who is vertically challenged, they would say, just, you saw it, we all saw it. It was just incredible. He had a pull-up in the third quarter from deep. He had a look-away three, pardon-my-back three, he’d shoot it and walk away. That’s probably my favorite part — one of my favorite parts of my career, being drafted and playing the Olympics and all these things is seeing talent like that.
“I’ve said it time and time again, we’re getting away from appreciating — I call them gods, but you know, that very unique talent, generational talent, because we are so close to them, we don’t appreciate them as much. When he’s gone, we’re really going to miss him and forget how much of an impact, not just on the Warriors or the NBA, but on the entire globe. You know, like he made the world move.
Russell, whose family moved from Louisiana to Oakland when he was eight years old before he slowly but surely became a legend at McClymonds High School and then the University of San Francisco, played in the NBA for 13 seasons from 1956 through 1969. His entire career was with the Boston Celtics, and he wasn’t even the most dominant player of his era.
That honor belongs to Wilt Chamberlain. For his dominance on the floor and there having to literally be changes to the rules because of him, he very well has his own argument to be part of this group. His numbers look alien-like. Comparing them to a video game doesn’t even do it justice.
On the court, what separates the two iconic giants is what always will matter most: Wins. Russell won a record 11 championships, two of which were as a player-coach. Chamberlain finished his 14-year career with two rings. He lost to Russell’s Celtics seven times in the playoffs. They faced each other twice in the Finals, and Russell was crowned a champion both of those times.
No player’s numbers compare to Chamberlain’s. Russell’s list of accolades weren’t too shabby himself. Chamberlain was a four-time MVP, Russell won five. Chamberlain played one more season than Russell and was named to the All-NBA team 10 times. Russell made it 11 times.
Off the court is where Russell truly stands above the rest. From the day he was born to the time he was a start on the hardwood and beyond, Russell has fought a lifelong battle of racism. The championships he brought to Boston didn’t matter to the worse of the worse. All those repugnant people saw was the color of his skin. They showered in the Celtics’ accomplishments and dismissed the man responsible for them, one who was the only Black player on the team when he arrived in 1956.
In 2011, Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, America’s first Black president. “I hope that one day in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man,” Obama said when presenting Russell with the award. On Nov. 1, 2013, a statue of Russell was unveiled in Boston on City Hall Plaza. The man, not the player, is who should be remembered most when people walk past it.
His place on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore is forever.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are the godfathers of what the NBAs’ popularity has become. Without them, without their rivalry and without former commissioner David Stern, who knows what the league would look like today. They set a new floor and a new ceiling of possibilities. Michael Jordan took to heights unimaginable.
Jordan famously once said, “the ceiling is the roof” when addressing UNC’s football, causing a commotion and starting a Twitter roast on the greatest basketball player of all time. No debate there. He blew the ceiling and the roof off any hypothetical basketball building.
The story of Jordan not making his high school’s varsity basketball team as a sophomore will always be used as a motivational tactic. The truth is, the moment he stepped foot on UNC’s campus, everything changed. He hit the game-winning shot in the national championship as a freshman while playing on the same team as Sam Perkins and future Hall of Famer James Worthy, both of whom were older than Jordan.
He set the league on fire as a rookie, averaging 28.2 points, winning Rookie of the Year and leading the Chicago Bulls to the playoffs one year after the franchise won 27 games. Jordan in his second season broke his foot in the third game of the year, came back with a vengeance despite his minutes restriction and the front office’s hopes of a high draft pick, was held to only 18 regular-season games and was the best player on the court in the first round of the playoffs against a 1986 Boston Celtics teams that featured five future Hall of Famers.
“That was God disguised as Michael Jordan,” Larry Bird said when Jordan at 23 years old scored 63 points against the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs.
The list of Jordan’s awards and accomplishments is too long to type. He was an All-Star every year he wasn’t playing baseball, coming back from his brief baseball career or enjoying one of his retirements. Jordan’s Bulls completed two three-peats, he won six titles and was named Finals MVP every time he won a ring. Air Jordan won five MVPs, won the scoring title 10 times and even took home a Defensive Player of the Year.
His impact off the court for his shoes, style and apparel is above any of his competition. Every kid wanted to be like Mike, and he’s the reason the next player on the list, and so many others, wore No. 23.
The G.O.A.T.’s place on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore is forever.
Nobody tried to emulate Jordan more than Kobe Bryant. It’s part of what made him so successful and part of why he falls short. Kobe forever will be mentioned among the greatest players ever. His biggest fans will argue where he lands on a list of the best of the best.
Just as Kobe became a one-name entity, so did LeBron. That started in high school, or even before. The same goes with Kobe. But while Kobe showcased his MJ impersonation down to the smallest details, James is the ultimate mixture of basketball icons. Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Dr. J and even Bird. There’s names missing there, but that’s not the idea.
LeBron is incomparable. Trying to play like him is impossible. He’s too big, too fast, too strong, too smart to even give it a go.
James also is the best example of a prodigy living up to the hype, perhaps in any sport. Dubbed “The Chosen One” at 17 years old as a junior in high school on the cover of Sports Illustrated, LeBron was put in an impossible position. As a teenager and as he has grown into a man, he pulled off the unthinkable and lived up to the label placed upon him. Really, he exceeded it.
Born in Akron, Ohio, the hometown hero completely changed the Cleveland Cavaliers as a franchise. He brought the Cavs their first championship after a four-year stint in Miami. James has been named MVP four times, went to eight straight Finals, is a four-time champion and four-time Finals MVP between three different franchises.
His impact off the court continues to grow, opening a public school in Akron in 2018 and he became the first active NBA player to be a billionaire earlier this month. For years, those in basketball circles have been searching for the next Jordan, and they still will. At 37 years old, though, everyone now is doing everything in their power to discover the next LeBron.
Whether you like it or not, The Chosen One’s place on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore is forever.
It just so happens, the final piece to this puzzle was born in the same hospital as him.
Even with a father who played 16 years in the NBA, Steph Curry was never supposed to be here. Every major college overlooked him out of the Charlotte Christian School, including his father’s alma mater of Virginia Tech. At tiny Davidson College, the sharpshooter looked like a kid drowning his dad’s old jersey.
March Madness put Steph on the big stage, and he amazed us with each upset he led Davidson to. Then in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves passed on him twice for two different point guards. He envisioned himself starring at Madison Square Garden for the New York Knicks. The Warriors didn’t let that happen.
They took him with the No. 7 pick, one spot ahead of the Knicks. One franchise continues trying to climb out of the gutter, the other was changed forever. The championships, the star additions and even Chase Center — all is naught for the Warriors without Steph.
“I think the thing with Steph is, you know, without him, none of this happens,” Steve Kerr said following his fourth title as Curry’s coach. “That’s not taking anything away from [Joe Lacob] and [Peter Guber’s] ownership, because they have built an incredible organization. Bob Myers, hell of a GM. Our players, we have had so many great players, but Steph ultimately is why this run has happened. Much like [Tim Duncan] in San Antonio.
“So I’m happy for everybody, but I’m thrilled for Steph. To me this is his crowning achievement in what’s already been an incredible career.”
While Michael Jordan propelled basketball to heights that seemed more like fiction than anything else at the time, Curry has taken it to new distances that weren’t even thought of before he showed up. He became the first player to ever make 200 3-pointers in a season, and did so one year after ankle issues held him to only 26 games, making many seriously question his longevity in the league. That started a streak of seven straight seasons of splashing at least 200 3-pointers. In that span, he even hit 402 threes in 2015-16 during his unanimous MVP season, a record that stands today and will continue to be chased.
The only thing that stopped his streak was another injury, this time a broken hand that kept him out for all but five games. The last two seasons, he has made 337 and 285 3-pointers, which led the NBA each of the past two years.
Curry this season broke Ray Allen’s all-time 3-point record in his 789th career game. Allen played 1,300 regular-season games.
Crowned for years as the greatest shooter of all time, Curry has grown into more than that. He’s now 34 years old, with three kids and a beard that hides his former Baby Faced Assassin nickname. Everything that’s asked of a basketball player, Curry can do. Kerr said it best back in 2017, though.
“The way Steph plays puts the fear of God into defenses like nobody I’ve ever seen.”
From the moment Curry steps on court, everything changes. That can be said for his time in college, the start of his career and when he won his first championship and his first two MVPs. It can be said for when Kevin Durant came through the Bay Area for three years. It remains true today and it will until Steph laces his sneakers one final time.
Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity. Steph Curry brought them to a basketball court. He’s now a four-time champion, giving him as many as LeBron and Shaquille O’Neal — just to name two — and one more than Bird. For his fourth championship act, Curry scored 34 points in the series-clincher and averaged 31.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 rebounds. He shot 53 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from 3-point range. His 43-point, 10-rebound performance in Game 4 saved the Warriors’ season, and was one of the all-time Finals performances we’ve ever seen.
As he first lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy and then the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award, Curry joined Magic, Jordan, LeBron, Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players ever to win four rings, multiple MVPs and a Finals MVP.
“He’s changed the game, I think everybody knows that,” Kevon Looney said after Game 6 in Boston. “We call him the greatest shooter for a reason. He’s singlehandedly kind of changed the center and power forward position because of the way he plays the pick-and-roll, the way he plays in space.
“Since I’ve been here, he’s done something amazing every year. I’ve got to see him win a unanimous MVP. I’ve got to see him break the 3-point record. I’ve got to see him win three championships and win back-to-back MVPs. It’s a long list, he has a great résumé. He’s considered one of the best ever for a reason.
“He’s impacted the game, and when I go back home to Milwaukee, I watch my AAU team play and practice — everybody wants to be Steph. Everybody wants to shoot threes, and like, ‘Man, you got to work a little bit harder if you want to shoot like him. I see him every day.’ It’s an honor to be able to play with him and call him my teammate. I’ve learned so much from him and got to experience so much just being on this team. I want to thank Steph for that.”
Everybody should strive to win like Russell and change the world like him as well. Everybody wanted to be like Mike before they wanted to start tossing chalk in the air like LeBron. Now, it’s Steph who kids and pros alike only wish to have his powers. He’s the epitome of joy of competitiveness, a coach’s dream and an opposition’s nightmare.
Steph Curry changed basketball. It will never be what it was before he arrived.
The game’s greatest chef should have his place on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore forever. End of debate.