A common challenge often handed out in pro basketball chatter is to name your “NBA Mount Rushmore”. I assume this means the four players you think were the best, who won the most, and had the largest impact on the sport. I’d ask who you would choose, but it doesn’t work anymore. Too many legends have come through to fill just four spots.
I believe there are ten guys with a case SO STRONG, they can’t be left off this massive South Dakota sculpture.
SHAQUILLE O’ NEAL
Smart arguments could also be made for Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Dr. J, and Hakeem. Elgin Baylor or Havlicek would be legit choice for an older fan. I’d get your pioneer angle if you just had to add Mikan or Cousy. Give KD and Steph some more years of domination, and wow. I know it’s just for fun, but we need a bigger mountain.
LeBron James has been the best basketball player on the planet for at least the last eight seasons. He just literally, carried his Cavaliers to an Eastern conference title. Now, on a daily basis he is compared to the best baller I’ve ever seen. James lives in the social media era, where he is praised and ripped on every single play. LeBron is the ultimate hot button topic with NBA fans. Some hate him, and try to belittle his place in history. Some love him so much, they are foolish enough to rip on Jordan. “King James” is a beast times one thousand. I think these four criticisms of him have to die.
#1- “JAMES WAS NEVER CLUTCH.”
Relax LeBron haters. I know James collapsed in the 2011 Finals. I know that he was too passive late in games often times in the first half of his career. My buddy Tony Abbott loves to remind me every time he splits a pair of big free throws. At the apex of LeBron’s “clutch struggles” (mostly invented by Skip Bayless), I thought he was a very good in pressure. Today, he’s one of the greatest clutch players of all time.
#2- “DRAYMOND GREEN WAS SUSPENDED FOR GAME 5.”
So a high level player in an over heated moment gets himself kicked out? So what! Draymond got himself suspended. He also was there for six of the seven games. On the road to rings, guys get hurt, ejected, or caught in foul trouble. LeBron being without Kyrie and Kevin Love for the 2015 Finals was a much bigger deal. That’s life. The Cavs beat a 73 win Warriors team. Period.
#3- “RAY ALLEN SAVED LEBRON’S LEGACY WITH THAT THREE.”
Ray Allen hit one of the biggest threes in NBA history in the 2013 NBA Finals. That part is true. It came on the heels of crucial mistakes made by James. The part where James goes on to make up for it in-game seven is not even my point. Every legend has messed up. All of them needed teammates to help them win and many times bail them out. This shot by Allen has become a micro managed subject in the Twitter universe, to take jabs at LeBron.
#4- “LBJ WAS WEAK FOR NEVER BEING IN A DUNK CONTEST.”
This one fascinates me. I heard a well-known 70-year-old sportscaster recently say, “I’m still holding out hope that LeBron completes his resume by entering a slam dunk contest.” Really? Have you not got your fill over his 37,000 combined points? I’ve never needed to see James in that circumstance. I don’t think the league needed it either. What Dr. J did helped shape the NBA. MJ and Dominique put themselves out there to duel in 1988. Vince Carter was, well Vince Carter. We need to give those players credit. James not being in that contest, is irrelevant to his story. He’s one of the elite dunkers to play the game.
I miss my brother Rusty. He was born 40 years ago today. I’m thinking of all of you who loved him. At this time of year he and I would be talking and arguing with each other every day about the NBA. Sports were everything to him. I dedicate this piece to his children Madalyn, Jayden, and Samantha.
#1 DON CRIQUI WAS HIS FAVORITE FOOTBALL ANNOUNCER: He had attachment to Paul James and Greg Wrubell. He really liked Keith Jackson. His favorite announcer was Don Criqui. While Russ was growing up Criqui was a play by play guy for college and pro football. Russ would say, “his voice is classic bro.”
#2 HIS FAVORITESPORTS SHOW WAS “INSIDE THE NBA” ON TNT:He always looked forward to Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley. He developed a sentimental attachment to the show and thought it was a perfect way to end an evening. Russ enjoyed the segment “gone fishin.” He thought Barkley was hilarious and would note how sad he was every year after the last episode.
#3 HE GUESSED RIGHT ON JASON ELAM: Russ told me, “keep your eye on this kicker Jason Elam. I’m not into kickers, but you’d want this guy.”Elam played 15 years in the NFL. He won two rings, played in three pro bowls, and once kicked a 63 yard field goal.
#4 HE HAD TO GO IN THE BYU BOOK STORE NO MATTER WHAT: Before every BYU home game, Russ had to stop in the BYU book store. It didn’t matter if he had a thousand dollars on him or no money at all. He thought it was duty to hang out in this store where people are piled in like sardines. He may buy another t shirt or hat, or he may just exchange something. He would make fun of me on the times I decided not to go in. We would meet in the hall and he would say something like, “Jay, scared of the book store.”
#5 KOBE BRYANT TOOK UP A LOT OF RUSTY’S TIME: Because of his battles with me, Russ was consumed with Kobe Bryant conversations for about 12 years. I can not stress to you how much of his time was spent talking about this athlete. My favorite Russ/Kobe moment came in the middle of the night in the gold medal game for the “Redeem Team.” It was August 24th 2008. The situation was unique because Russ and I were cheering for the same team but we always had personal agendas. His guy LeBron and my guy Kobe were on the floor together late in the game. The game was very close and only a few minutes remained. Russ texts me: “If Kobe is the best player in the world, this is on him.” I wrote, “that’s unreal and unfair of you.” He wrote “GIVE IT TO KOBE.”Bryant did come through as the hero in the end with multiple buckets, and Team USA won the game. It was classic Russ to hedge his bets. He had him self set up that if Kobe was the hero he could say, “See, told you Kobe should shoot.” But if Kobe failed he could prove how serious the failure was. We fought about Kobe to no end. This was one of few I felt like I won.
#6 TY DETMER WAS HIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL HERO: Rusty took that Heisman trophy personal. In his room he had a blue “Heisman Ty” on his wall. He claimed he was a bigger fan of Detmer after three years than I was a fan of Magic Johnson after seven. Russ thought Ty was the greatest college football player of all time.
#7 A NEARLY DROPPED BASKETBALL CARD GAVE HIM COMEDY GOLD: In late 1991 Rusty, Chris, and I were trading sports cards in my room. Chris was trying to walk across the room and fell backwards in clumsy fashion. All Rusty and I saw was a leg and a hand in the air holding up a valuable card. We heard Chris go, “I didn’t drop the card.” Rusty was in tears laughing. You did not want to do anything that Russ would perceive as “uncoordinated.” It was too valuable to his comedy storage. This moment was funny to Riggs the rest of his life.
#8 RUSS SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS TALKING ABOUT THE DALLAS COWBOYS: What I provided Russ in a listening ear for his BYU games, he provided me with his Dallas Cowboys takes and mostly support every morning after Dallas had played. He knew it was my passion so he gave a re cap over several messages every single time they competed over the last 20 years. In the first 10 years of knowing me he was a bit more against Dallas. Being a Steve Young fan was a factor in that. Over the last 10 years he was more supportive regarding my team. I believe it was his way of thanking me for supporting his Cougars.
#9 HE FOLLOWED THE 1993 AMERICAN FORK HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM UP CLOSE: Rusty proudly stood behind the gate right near the field of every game of his senior season. The team was very good on defense and Russ was it’s biggest fan. In class, he would tell the players things to keep them motivated. He always took his teams serious. He had full access to this one.
#10 HE MADE JOHN BECK TALK AND THEN SAID NOTHING: By cool circumstances Russ and I were both assigned to do some interviews after a late summer BYU football practice in 2004. We were interviewing a young John Beck and only Russ and I remained. We turned our recorders off. Russ said to John, “Dude you know your’e better than these guys. I expect to see you starting soon.” Beck went instantly to his level and said, “ya coach has told me in private I’m the guy and I just have to put on a happy face.” As we walked away I told to Russ what a story Beck had just handed us. Russ said, “ya, I’d never do anything to hurt the team.”
#11 HE WAS A BIG PATRICK EWING FAN: He was a “Ewing guy” while I was an “Olajuwon guy”. Russ loved the big mans ability to turn and shoot. He would use a couple of Ewing’s pet moves when he played. We were stoked Patrick and Hakeem went head to head in the NBA Finals in 1994. I came out on top as Olajuwon out dueled Ewing and won in a classic seven game series. Russ (who was a master at any argument) used for the rest of our lives that the battle between those two players meant less in our arguments because Russ did not see it because he was on his mission. If Ewing would have won, it would have counted 100%.(FYI)
#12 LEBRON JAMES WAS HIS FAVORITE NBA PLAYER THE LAST 7 YEARS OF HIS LIFE: Russ called LeBron “the most unselfish super star of all time.” He enjoyed his blend of power and finesse. He also used James as a weapon to battle with me over Wade, Bryant, and even Michael Jordan.
#13 RUSS BELIEVED NCAA FOOTBALL WAS THE BEST, THE BADDEST, PERIOD: He adored college football. He loved the tradition, the names and mascots of the schools, polls, bands, and the rivalries. Even as college football developed more flaws, he would defend it at all costs.
#14 HE WATCHED OSTERTAG OUTPLAY DUNCAN UP CLOSE: Russ sat in the second row as promising big man Greg Ostertag out played future legend Tim Duncan. Rusty always used this as his “every dog his day” example. As the years went on Russ thought it was cool how close up he was to the action.
#15 HE COULD THROW A FOOTBALL: Playing football was not his forte like basketball was. Russ threw a nice football. I saw him many times jump into four on four football games, and play QB for both teams. He would start hot and end hot. He remembered every pass I’ve ever dropped in his presence.
#16 HE BELIEVED BEING AT THE GAME WAS BETTER THAN TELEVISION: He looked at being at the game as a badge of courage. He thought if a fan lived within a reasonable distance of a stadium and had the means to go, there was no excuse to not be there.
#17 RUSS GAVE ME CRAP ABOUT MY “NBA LOYALTY”: He was a true Utah Jazz fan. I’m a fan of individual players. I loved Michael, Hakeem, Wade, Stockton and others so my NBA love is distributed different than most. He thought my thinking here was complete garbage. Two of my favorites are Magic and Kobe so I spent a lot of time invested in the Lakers. He went out of his way to let me know, “you are not a Lakers fan, you are a Lakers observer.”
#18 HE WAS ON THE BLAKE GRIFFIN BANDWAGON FOR THE LONG HAUL: He said early in 2012 “Blake Griffin will be more than a show dunker. He will be a super star, mark my words.”
#19 HE WOULD NEVER FORGET ABOUT MY BAD SPORTS PREDICTIONS: I’ve made so many bad predictions. He remembers them all. I said Brian Griese would be a Hall of Famer. While Griese was a competent pro, I missed badly. Any time in later years Russ did not like what I was saying in an argument he would often go, “what’s that Griese?”
#20 FOR FASHION, EVERY TEAM WAS HIS: Remember his big, poofy Atlanta Falcons coat? How about the Orlando Magic or Howard University cap? He once saw a random Kendall Gill jersey down town he thought about for years. For him to own Lakers shorts screams how un bias he was when it came to fashion.
#21 HIS FAVORITE PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER WAS STEVE YOUNG: Detmer was his favorite pro, but Young was so good Russ had no choice but to become attached to Steve’s journey. Russ knew Steve made BYU look good. He celebrated the 49ers beating the Chargers in the 1994 Super Bowl. It was a huge deal that Steve Young had gotten out of the shadow of Joe Montana. Russ was in sheer joy.
#22 HE WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN LOCAL SPORTS RADIO: Even though Russ was not in awe, he was always so curious of local sports radio happenings. If someone was changing a time slot, or someone new was hired at a station he wanted to know or to tell me. He was like the “TMZ” of caring about it.
#23 IF ATHLETES WERE OUR AGE, HE WOULD FOLLOW THEM: He was bonded to athletes that were our age. It’s like he was tracking his athletic mortality. I often heard the names Alan Iverson, Ray Allen, and Alex Rodriguez as his examples.
#24 HE LOVED A SHOW CALLED “SPORTS BEAT SUNDAY”: It used to come on Sunday nights on channel five at about 1035 pm. It was a 30 minute show that ended with a segment called the “Highlight Zone.” It was hosted by Craig Bolerjack. Russ loved the beginning where Boler would say, “pull up a chair.”
#25 IF YOU MADE HIM MAD, HE WOULD PULL THE “MAILMAN” SIGNATURE MOVE ON YOU: On the basketball court Russ was a pretty calm character. When he got involved in an occasional trash talking session with someone or the competitive juices were extra high, I have a distinct memory. Russ would usually win and in the end of finishing someone off he would put his hand behind his head in cocky fashion before laying the ball in the hoop (like Karl Malone would).
#26 HE CALLEDIT EXACT ON BEN ROETHLISBERGER: In April of 2004 he called and left me a voice mail about Ben Roethlisberger who had just been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Hey bro, since we both know you know nothing about college football, I wanted to give you a heads up. Ben Roethlisberger will be a Hall of Famer 10 years into his career.” Russ was right.
#27 A GAME CALLED STRAT-O-MATIC WAS KEY TO HIM: A game he played as a teenager called strat-0-matic helped shape how he judged and rated players. He would play this game with his Father, Spencer Smith, Ryan Standifird, Aaron Ellswood, MiKael Renae, and John and Gavin Jensen. He was way into this game. It was his video game, before video games.
#28 BEATING UTAH WAS ALWAYS IMPORTANT, BUT 2006 WAS HIS FAVORITE: November 25th, Salt Lake City. It was John Beck’s last chance to beat Utah. On an amazing play that seemed to last forever, John Beck hit Harline in the end zone. This was one of the top victories in this rivalry. Russ stayed after the game as long as they would allow him to. He celebrated with the players and said some meaningful things to them. He was happy to admit he cried. This was the victory I heard Russ talk most about.
#29 HE WANTED TO THROW THE BASEBALL WITH HIS SON: In his last couple of years Russ was having health issues. He would say, “I want to play catch my with my son. Baseball and a couple of mitts are all we need.”Russ and I were way more likely to have a football or basketball in our hands. He kept saying “I need to throw a baseball with Jayden.”
#30 HE ATTENDED THE FIRST EVER NBA ALL STAR JAM SESSION AND HELD IT CLOSE IN MEMORY: February 19th and 20th 1993. We left school at 11a.m. on Friday. We picked up my brother Jared Adams on the way to the Delta Center and attended the NBA’s first ever Jam Session weekend. Russ was in NBA heaven! The entire city was everything pro basketball.We met Julius Erving, Will Smith, and Jaleel White (“Steve Urkel”). Most importantly for Russ he met his favorite singer of Boyz 2 Men Shawn Stockman. Rusty said , “I need that second album baby.”Shawn pulled Rusty’s shirt with affection and said, “you gonna love it big boy.”
#31 THE 1992 DREAM TEAM IMPACTED RUSTY: The Summer of 1992 was Rusty’s most memorable summer. The Dream Team was at the center of the sports universe and attracting an entire globe to the game of basketball. We thought it was cool John and Karl were playing with Magic and we could not get enough coverage. We would also collect everything regarding this team. Russ claimed I liked to collect the McDonald’s Olympic cups for “an extra place for Jay to take a leak.” He felt lucky to witness a documentary on the Dream Team that was made in the summer of 2012. It was a nice rarity for him to say some good things about Scottie Pippen.
#32 HE GAVE HIS DAD CREDIT FOR HIS LOVE OF SPORTS: Rusty told me on his mission that his dad was the main reason he loved sports. Initially he brought up going to BYU football and basketball games with him. He went on to say that his dad participated in everything. From attending his games at school or church or playing together, Steve was always part of it.
#33 HE HAD A COOL CONNECTION TO CRAIG BOLERJACK: A few times after BYU basketball games we would wait after the game and talk to TV star Craig Bolerjack. We would get advice from him. The third time we met him it was almost like Russ was saying “I’ll see you in the business someday my friend.” Russ became a TV anchor and always had a soft spot for Boler.
#34 RUSS WAS A SPORTS ANCHOR AND HE WAS AWESOME AT IT: Have you seen Russ do his sports broadcasts in New Mexico? He was as smooth of a pro as you can get. I am so proud when I see him do this work. He was born to do it, and proved it.
#35 HE WOULD END UP IN POST GAME LOCKER ROOMS: As paying fans, Russ used to lead us down to the locker rooms after BYU home games in the Marriott Center. We would literally devise plans, have excuses ready for security etc. We would get down to the locker room and usually come away with a coaches stats sheet and gum that had been intended for players. Years later we spoke of how dangerous that was and that these days you would not get away with it. Russ just wanted to be around it. He loved it so much, just standing where the team had been moments earlier. Of course he did not eat the gum, it was something to remember his memory.
#36 THE LAST NBA GAME HE WATCHED WAS MAY 31st, 2014: The Spurs beat the Thunder 112-107 in overtime. He text me by mocking that Kevin Durant had fallen down and the Thunder had lost. He liked KD, but was programmed to compete with me through our favorite athletes or predictions etc.
#37 HE WANTED TO HEAR MY INTERVIEW STORIES OVER AND OVER: He enjoyed hearing the encounters that I’d had with NBA players. He loved the NBA so much that he had no problem hearing a cool story for the ninth time. He knew me meeting these players was him meeting them as well.
#38 RUSS HAD A NICE RAY CLAY IMITATION: Ray Clay was the public address announcer for the Chicago Bulls. Russ had a staple imitation, “Starting at center, “BIIIILLLLLLL CARTWRIGHT!!!!!!”
#39 HE WAS A FAN OF THE YOUNG VINCE CARTER: When Vince won the February 2000 slam dunk contest Russ called me as hyped as he could be. He was screaming per the air show Carter put on. Russ then adopted Carter to challenge me with two things…The hope Carter could become better than Bryant, and that Carter was a better dunker than Jordan. Russ loved the NBA as much as he loved competing with me.
#40 I REMEMBER A FUNNY THING HE SAID ABOUT MARK JACKSON: I was starting to appreciate Jackson as passer and told Rusty, “I am starting to like Mark Jackson”. He quickly responded, (laughing) “Liking Mark Jackson is the same as liking lettuce. You don’t really need to tell me.”