Late last week during an interview part of the 2014 All-Star Weekend hype, Miami Heat forward LeBron James was asked about who he would include on an NBA version of Mount Rushmore. The National Memorial features the faces of only four iconic US Presidents, leaving James a tough task to chisel down all the legends of the hardwood to four that he would hypothetically carve into stone. James said his memorial would include Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. Obviously, the argument for and against these players could be made. There is, without question, an assortment of players that could be in contention to be on the monument, if one was ever erected.
The idea of choosing only four players out of a pool of every NBA legend makes my head hurt, so I opted for an easier assignment: A Cleveland Cavalier Mount Rushmore. I compiled a list of roughly 10 candidates then dwindled them down into four finalists.
Lenny Wilkens - 1972-74, 1986-93
This one might turn some heads at first, but to me, you cannot tell the story of Cleveland Cavalier’s basketball without including Lenny Wilkens, just like you cannot tell the story of the United States without George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, or Abraham Lincoln. He only wore Wine and Gold for two seasons but he wore a suit and tie and coached those who wore Wine and Gold for seven highly successful seasons. As a player, even though it was near the end of his playing career and the young teams he was on were below average, he still had career averages of 18.5 PPG and 7.7 APG as a Cavalier. But the main reason I put him on the hypothetical memorial was due to his coaching days. When he left the Seattle front office to become head coach of the Cavs, he inherited a young squad, with rookies such as Mark Price, Hot Rod Williams, and Brad Daugherty. Wilkens was instrumental in developing them into solidified NBA players and the franchise experienced their first ever long-term success with him at the helm. Three times they won over 50 games, including a then franchise record 57 in 1988-89 and 1991-92. Had it not been for Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Lenny Wilken’s Cavaliers could definitely have made, at least one, trip to the NBA Finals. Nonetheless, Wilkens was the architect of several basketball teams that established themselves as legitimate contenders and he deserves to be sculpted in fictional granite for that.
LeBron James – 2003-2010
This might be a tough one for a lot of Wine and Gold faithful’s to swallow but to me, the choice is clear. Regardless of how he made his exit from Northeast Ohio, his time here was beyond spectacular. As soon as the Ping-Pong balls fell in the favor of the Cavs, LeBron put the franchise back on the map. During his seven-year tenure, James became the first Cavalier to win NBA rookie of the year as well as the team’s first ever league MVP award, which he won back-to-back seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The team made their first appearance in the NBA Finals with James on the roster, albeit a four-game sweep by San Antonio. Although no longer a Cavalier, his value to Cleveland during his stay cannot be disputed. Prior to being selected No. 1 overall in 2003, the franchise was valued at $222 million. During December of 2009, in the midst of his final season in Cleveland, the team was valued at $467 million. The falling out between “The King” and Cleveland may have been sour, but his stay was eventful. I was in elementary and middle school during the height of the LeBron Era and he made Cleveland sports exciting and relevant. Northeast Ohio’s relationship with him may be broken as of now, but if a large granite memorial was ever created to honor the Cavs, I have a hard time believing LeBron’s face and receding hairline would not be on it.
Austin Carr – 1971-1980
Yes, he has the nickname “Mr. Cavalier” but that is not why I put him on the memorial. It had to do with his entire body of work with the franchise. In 1971, only their second year in the NBA, the Cavs selected him No. 1 overall out of Notre Dame. He averaged an impressive 21.2 PPG as a rookie. For most of his career, he battled with injuries that no doubt affected his production. But still, he was a very good player for the franchise. In 1974, he was selected as an NBA All-Star. The team reached the playoffs three times with him on the roster. His number 34 jersey, although it was stolen briefly a few weeks ago, hangs in the rafters of The Q – one of six retired numbers. Like I said, I included him for reasons beyond just what he did on the hardwood. Carr is truly an ambassador to the game, and by all accounts, a nice guy. He, as you probably know or have had at least heard, serves as the color commentator for the team’s games on Fox Sports Ohio. Whether or not you enjoy his comments and antics, he truly cares about basketball and specifically, Cleveland Cavalier basketball. In addition to working with FSO, he serves as Director of Community and Business Development, according to the team’s website. He will never be an NBA Hall of Famer, but that is irrelevant here. “Mr. Cavalier” loves this franchise and will be around for years to come. His commitment on and off the court to them is why I gave him a spot on the Cavalier version of Mount Rushmore.
Mark Price – 1986-95
As I talked about Wilkens’ coaching days, I mentioned that his Cavalier teams were some of the most successful in franchise history. I do no think that a Cleveland Cavalier’s Mt. Rushmore is complete without one of the players from the late 80’s and early 90’s teams. Mark Price was the leader of those teams. Considered by many as one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA, his best days were spent with the Cavs in the Richfield Coliseum. The team acquired Price, a high second round pick, in 1986, from the Dallas Mavericks on draft day. His rookie year was spent coming of the bench, but in his sophomore campaign, he took over the starting point guard role and never looked back. The Cavs made the playoffs and won at least 42 games in every year that Price was the starter. In 1990-91, he tore his ACL and only appeared in 16 games. That year, without their leader, the team struggled and won only 33 games, and did not qualify for the postseason. Individually, he made four All-Star teams with the franchise. In 1992-93, he was All-NBA First Team and averaged 18.2 PPG and 8.0 APG. He also represented the organization well during the all-star festivities, winning the three-point shootout back-to-back years in 1993 and 1994. He is second in NBA history for career free-throw percentage, just decimals behind Steve Nash. Price was traded by the franchise prior to the 1994-95 season to the Washington Bullets. Injuries riddled him after his exit from Northeast Ohio, but while he was here, Price was spectacular. A true marksman shooting the ball, he left his mark on the organization and on the league. His body of work speaks for itself and is why I carved Price into the final spot on the Cleveland Cavaliers Mount Rushmore.
Dwindling the list of ten down to four was a struggle. These next three names just missed the cut, but still are incredibly important to the history of the franchise.
Brad Daugherty - 1986-94
Taken by the franchise No. 1 overall in the 1986 NBA Draft, the same class as Price, Daugherty was a force in the middle. He was an integral piece in the franchise’s success in the late 80’s and early 90’s. A back injury in the middle of 1993-94 campaign ended his career. Had it not been for the injury, Daugherty not only would have been on the hypothetical Mt. Rushmore, but possibly one of the better centers to ever play the game.
Joe Tait – 1970-2011
The voice of the Cavaliers, Joe Tait, is a Cleveland sports legend. I was torn on this one. I really considered putting him in the top four and I wish I could have, but there were only four spots. There is not much I can say about him that Cleveland fans do not already know. There are few things more enjoyable then listening to this man call play-by-play and I wish he was still around doing it. Heck, he even coined the phrase of this very website’s name, describing a player driving in the paint as going “right down Euclid.” Whether or not he made my top four, his legacy and importance to the franchise is already set in stone.