In South Dakota, stands the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Now, this was never meant to symbolize the greatest presidents of this Nation’s history. Albeit, you can’t deny that they did pick some pretty good ones.
"The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt." --- Gutzon Borglum
Over time, there has always been debate over which presidents deserved to be on that memorial. Most agree on two or three, but they also disagree when it comes to at least one of these great men. Whether it’s due to political affiliations, presidential résumés or the bias of current eras, the debate will continue.
In the spirit of debate, we turn our attention to sports. There are examples of each major sport having this discussion. However, that is not our concern. The question here is, which four, all-time greats, belong on the NBA version of Mount Rushmore. Recently, a certain someone has ruffled the feathers of certain NBA royalty. It can’t be emphasized enough, most agree on a couple, like Michael Jordan or Bill Russell. However, most fans do not agree on all of them. Nor do players, team’s staff or the so-called experts. So, it is debate worthy. In this instance, eras play an important role as do regional bias and team allegiance. What exactly are the criteria by the way? Is it individual greatness, championships or that player that is viewed as the best at his position? The case can be made for Wilt Chamberlain, as well as Michael Jordan. If it’s championships, then it must be Bill Russell and well…other Celtics. Did Michael Jordan change the game? Or did he have better marketing than Julius Erving? Magic Johnson, Chamberlain, Pete Maravich and Allen Iverson affected change, did they not? If it’s greatest at their position, then that becomes a separate debate altogether. (Power Forward-Timothy Theodore Duncan, no debate!)
The carryover of this debate naturally brings us to the team debate. Specifically, our very own San Antonio Spurs. Who does belong on the Mount Rushmore of San Antonio? Current fans may say Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and David Robinson, but not necessarily in that order. Others might say George "The Ice-Man" Gervin is a lock to make the memorial. Yet, with the impact Coach Gregg Popovich has had on the team, can he be left out of the debate? If that’s the case, what about R.C. Buford or even me, the greatest Spurs fan ever? If I may so say myself: There is no Spurs Mount Rushmore.
The Spurs are clearly not a simple memorial of glorified faces, alongside a mountain. If you brought in the Spurs and posed to them the following statement:
Stand up if you belong on the team’s Mount Rushmore.
I could easily see this question being posed to various teams and see Magic Johnson standing up, as well as Kobe and ditto for LeBron James. In regards to the Spurs, I think this would be as well received as asking them about a winning streak in the middle of February. I could see David Robinson asking Duncan to stand up. I could see Timmy telling David, ‘After you’. Tony Parker would refuse to stand up if certain players didn’t stand up with him. Ditto for Manu. Once they realized they would have more than four players, I’m fairly sure they would all just sit back down. It would turn into a round-robin of finger pointing, in regards to crediting others. In that same token, it would probably be quite a bit of deflecting, in regards to accepting credit.
If it pleases the court, may I introduce Exhibit A-The Spurs are the Iwo Jima Memorial. Now, let that soak in a little bit. Soaked? Good, let’s move on. In a sport that loves to market individuals, with me first athletes, the Spurs have always been the consummate, team first professionals. They are the ultimate team, lack of egos, guys that can get over themselves, international representation, etc. Six individuals represent the Iwo Jima War Memorial. Sure, we all know the names (or could look them up), but they represent us all. They are no one and yet they are everyone. A team of individuals, banding together to achieve one goal. They are raising the flag (banner), accomplishing the mission and moving in unison. Who takes the credit for the end state of the flag flying high, or the championship banner being raised into the rafters? Just take a look at the memorial itself – here. It’s no coincidence that the Iwo Jima War Memorial has the individual’s backs to the audience. No one person was bigger than the goal or the team. What mattered was not that they were being photographed, but that they were raising the flag. In regards to the Spurs, their names are on their backs, but the most important aspect of their uniform is the front. That would be the portion that is emblazoned with the logo and name of the franchise.
Now instead of debating who needs to be prominently displayed on Mount Rushmore, we now have another option. We can look at the Iwo Jima Memorial and project our own definition of the ultimate Spurs. The faces shall remain neutral, the uniforms remain the same and the names shall be forever interchangeable. Personally, I see George Gervin, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich. The world will always see the ultimate team. You? Well, you can see who ever you want to see up there.