Before the Wizards took on one of the best players of all time in LeBron James in Los Angeles on Monday night, NBC4 news anchor Leon Harris joined the Wizards Pregame Live crew to debate the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats.
Harris's criteria was simple yet sound. It mattered not only what these generational stars did on the court, but how they helped transform the game off it as well.
"First and foremost you gotta go with championships and that's Bill Russell. You can't go wrong with 11 championships," Harris said. "And what he did by using his platform for civil rights as well, that for me, places him above everybody else hands down."
From participating in the 1963 march on Washington to his civil rights advocacy to his public support of Muhammad Ali's refusal to be drafted into the army, Russell's well-documented character blazed the trail for today's stars to take stances against police brutality and all forms of racism. Having the most titles in league history with 11 in 13 seasons certainly helped Harris' case, too.
"No. 2 is the GOAT, Michael Jordan," Harris continued. "I mean how in the world can you be both the Defensive Player of the Year and lead the league in scoring? That means he's the best player on each end of the floor, and he did it multiple times. And what he did business-wise, and he transformed the game by taking the game off the floor, and taking it up to the air. That transformed the game forever."
Jordan's worldwide fame and distinguished brand was well-documented in ESPN's "The Last Dance" series last summer, and it helped him become the owner of his home state Hornets because of those business dealings. A common choice for the "greatest of all time" label, Jordan certainly wasn't getting left off Harris' list.
"After him, it's gotta be Magic Johnson because of the way he transformed the game. He saved the game. Everybody gives him credit for that, him and Larry Bird, for what they meant to the NBA when they came in," Harris said. "But he turned showtime into something that became the lifeblood of the league. And he introduced this whole concept of 6-foot-9 inch guys who can handle like John Stockton.
That's the reason why we have Anthony Davis, that's the reason why we got guys like Zion Williamson now. We got guys we never would've dreamt of having just because of what he did the way he transformed the game."
While NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller argued his list couldn't leave Larry Bird off his list because of how much he and Magic pushed each other during that era, Harris - as an Akron, Ohio native himself - made sure not to forget another Lakers star.
"And then I got to go with my homeboy, LeBron James - pride of Akron. What he did, besides the championships, the fact that he took the game and he transformed it by giving players leverage. That is the envy of every single athlete in every other sport across the entire globe," Harris said. "You combine that with the fact that he did win championships - though he did break our hearts by leaving to go to Miami and win his first one down there - what he did for the future of this game is something that's going to be felt for years to come, that's why he's on my Mount Rushmore."
Brendan Haywood was adamant Miller's list was "fraudulent" since he left James off his Mount Rushmore, though Miller did explain his criteria was based on players he'd seen the start to the end of their careers. While Haywood and Jason Smith both added James and Kobe Bryant to their personal Mount Rushmores, Harris left the pregame show with a bang.
"How many guys on your guys' lists dunked on you?" Harris asked Haywood and Smith with a chuckle.