Mt. Rushmore: Jordan, Stojakovic, Bryant, Hammon

Published December 31, 2023, 12:00 PMYoyo Sarmenta
Yoyo Sarmenta

NBA.com Philippines writer Yoyo Sarmenta lists down his Mt. Rushmore of NBA players.

Every fan has his or her favorite players. It’s the reason why all of us fell in love with the game in the first place. They could be all-time greats or simply beloved for a variety of reasons. Other players come and go, but some hold a special place in our hearts. 

Here’s my personal Basketball Mt. Rushmore:

Michael Jordan

Whenever I think about Michael Jordan, I always recall the intro of his 1999 documentary, “His Airness.” 

It begins with, “If you were to create the ultimate basketball superstar, he would be a player of extraordinary athletic ability. A player who can dominate his sport with a vast array of skills…” The narrator goes on to list down all the things that embody the perfect basketball player from being a competitor, a leader, a tireless worker, and the like. The narration is spliced with MJ highlights and soundbites from his competitors. George Karl, former coach of the Seattle Supersonic whom Jordan beat in the Finals, says “You’re gonna have to cut Michael Jordan’s heart out to beat him.”

The intro aptly ends with “Through it all he would carry himself with an air of grace and dignity that would make him the perfect ambassador for the game he loved. It would seem impossible to find all of these qualities embodied in one player and yet there was such a player in Michael Jordan, a player of whom nothing seemed impossible. A player who was the very definition of basketball excellence.”

Whenever I think about MJ, that intro is what is seared into my brain. That’s what I think whenever I see a GOAT debate online. That’s what I think about being a complete player. That’s what I think about when people are wondering who the best player that ever played was. 

Mind you, that was only the introduction of the documentary. 

Peja Stojakovic

Watching the Sacramento Kings of the early 2000s was like watching a symphony. The five players on the court worked in one fluid movement, with each one hitting all the right notes. The ball moved around with accuracy and precision until it reached a crescendo and into the hands of their best shooter, Peja Stojakovic. Peja and the Kings played on a different level compared to the iso-heavy and athleticism-centric style of that era. 

I loved Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, Doug Christie, Vlade Divac, Hedo Turkoglu, Bobby Jackson, and Brad Miller. I even had a soft spot for Scott Pollard and Lawrence Funderburke. But if I had to pick one guy, it’s got to be Peja. He was a one-man shooting spectacle. He had that unique shooting stroke when he kind of shoots with both arms with a follow-through like he’s holding a teacup. He was also one of the pioneers to shoot transition 3-pointers. When everybody else was going to the basket on the break, he would pan out to the 3-point line and launch one. 

When you check the sports section of the newspaper every day to see if your team won, that’s when you undoubtedly know they’re your team. I liked Jordan and eventually Kobe, but Peja and the Kings remain the only guys I wholeheartedly rooted for.

Kobe Bryant 

Kobe Bryant was the player I loved to hate and hate to love. The nemesis of the Kings back then was Kobe and the Lakers and I was among the many who didn’t like the MJ-wannabe. But frustration and dislike gave birth to admiration and respect. What turned me over was his otherworldly work ethic. Even before “Mamba Mentality” became a brand, I knew this guy was different with the amount of effort he put into his craft. With Kobe, it’s not what he did, but how he did it. 

Kobe was crazy and maniacal in his approach, which was equally inspiring and dumbfounding. He made you want to be better and at the same time make you say “How in the world is he putting that much effort?” He was different for a reason. 

More than the scoring ability, championships, and memorable moments, what made me a Kobe fan was his preparation. And it was his preparation that allowed him to be confident and cocky every time he stepped on the court. There was a reason he was arrogant. There was a reason why he acted the way he did. There was a reason why he thought he was the best player on the planet. And it’s all because he prepared to be the best every single day. 

Becky Hammon

Let’s say you’re watching two teams play for the very first time. You don’t have a clue of who the players are and you’re simply watching just for the fun of it. Do you know the feeling of getting drawn to one particular player? Slowly, you find yourself glued to that player on both ends. Every shot, every dribble, and every defensive stop, you can’t help, but watch every move. 

That’s exactly how I felt when I first watched Becky Hammon play. 

Hammon had a fire in her game, a feistiness, and a competitive fury that was undeniable. She was like a tiny typhoon as she raced up and down the court, not caring who was in front of her. She was electric but also had incredible control of what was happening. She had a great grasp of the pace of the game and she made her teammates play on the same page. Her game was magnetic and I was hooked. It didn’t matter that Basketball TV only aired a few WNBA games during that time. Watching this atomic blonde go to work was worthing scouring the channel. 

Now a WNBA champion coach, one of my all-time favorite quotes is her saying, “For me, it’s not really about proving people wrong, it’s about proving myself right.” And the Hall of Famer played her way and proved she belonged among the game’s greatest players.