Athletes’ legacies difficult to compare


Following NBA All-Star Weekend, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the NBA’s “Mount Rushmore,” as superstars and future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Kobe Bryant both revealed their own preference for which NBA legends would adorn the fictitious mountain honoring the league’s history.

LeBron and Kobe agreed on three that seemed to be fairly obvious choices — Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. They would disagree on the fourth member, though, as LeBron elected to go with Oscar Robertson, aka “The Big O,” while Kobe chose former Celtics great Bill Russell.

Both Kobe and LeBron had reasons to choose their respective players, as Robertson is the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season (1961-1962) while Russell has more NBA championships (11) than anyone else.

Since there can only be four greats on the landmark, however, the important takeaway here is that there will always someone inevitably left out, regardless of how prominent or dominant that person was as a player.

In other words, someone’s feelings are going to be hurt no matter who is chosen.

Just like he did as a player, Russell got defensive and fired back at LeBron for leaving him out.

“Hey, thank you for leaving me off your Mount Rushmore,” the 80-year-old Russell told TNT’s Craig Sager. “I’m glad you did. Basketball is a team game. It’s not for individual honors. 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. That, Mr. James, is etched in stone.”

Russell’s true wisdom spoke out against the ignorance of a young superstar, who one day also thinks that it will be his face up on the mountain.

All of this NBA “Mount Rushmore” talk, nonetheless, can also be translated to USC football, where people have debated for years over who would make the cut.

There are simply too many different factors to consider, and creating the perfect “USC Football Mount Rushmore” could indeed be considered an impossible task.

It’s tough, but I’m going to give this a shot — and just to clarify, I’m using players only.

Looking at just the past 50 years of  ’SC football, I would have to start off with running back Marcus Allen, who former USC head coach John Robinson called one of the greatest players he had ever seen. Allen reminds me a lot of the nation’s first president, George Washington — Mount Rushmore’s most prominent character.

Next, I would have to go with a player who is widely regarded as one of the best defensive backs in NFL history: Ronnie Lott. He’s definitely a lot like our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who also held down the fort for the betterment of the Union.

The third slot on the monument belongs to the one player who always seems to be forgotten, similarly to 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt: quarterback Matt Leinart, who won two national championships and a Heisman trophy with the Trojans.

And last but not least, with a big asterisk because he technically never won anything at USC (or even took the field), the one and only Reggie Bush, who was probably one of the most dynamic and exciting players with the ball in his hands at any level — a lot like our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who inspired democracy around the world.

Allen, Lott, Leinart and Bush — there’s my “Mount Rushmore” of USC football.

But wait — why am I comparing former football players to past U.S. presidents? I sound pretty silly, don’t I?

For some reason fans and sportswriters, myself included, continue to put athletes and former heads of state on the same pedestal in order to analogize them. And more than ever, this “Mount Rushmore” conversation is getting out of hand.

This needs to stop, and quickly, because I don’t know how much longer athletes and fans alike can continue to put up with seeing their favorite players left off a mountain initially meant for presidents.

Not only are these unnecessary and outrageous foils being made, but time also goes into the discussion as well. All of our perceptions of players inarguably change with time.

There is really no true way to juxtapose players when most of them were at their primes in different eras, especially because the game has evolved so much over time with rule changes.

Do you think that Wilt Chamberlain would score 100 points in today’s modern game? Probably not. But he was one of the league’s most dominant players in the 1970s.

Mount Rushmore was built to enshrine some of our nation’s greatest leaders, not our most beloved and successful athletes.

In sports, we also have a place for enshrinement called the Hall of Fame, and we have a system in place to make sure that those who rightfully deserve to be elected are.

Yes, the Hall of Fame has its disputes as well when it comes to voting but at least it doesn’t involve attempting to select four players to represent the entire history of a league or sport.

I’m not going to lie, it is fun to do sometimes, but all of this “Mount Rushmore” talk in sports lately has just been too much.

I think it is more amusing and appropriate to compare athletes to movie stars, anyway.

 

Darian Nourian is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Dishin’ Darian,” runs every other Friday. To comment on this story, visit dailytrojan.com, or email Darian at dnourian@usc.edu.