Mt. Rushmore: Van Exel, Kidd, Davis, Jordan

Published December 31, 2023, 10:00 AMJon Carlos Rodriguez
Jon Carlos Rodriguez

NBA.com Philippines writer Jon Rodriguez lists down his Mt. Rushmore of NBA players.

The game is unique and special in that there’s always something for someone. Whether you’re in it for the freakish athletic powers of demigods disguised as dudes in jerseys or for the scientific, technical, and systematic (code for boring) elements of Xs and Os, hoops can and will entertain you.

You could be hooked because of either the beauty of team play or the gorgeousness of hero ball – or both. It could be something much deeper, like how basketball can foster parent-child relationships, or something not too profound, like sneakers. 

Whatever it is, the game’s gravitational pull is simultaneously romantic and violent, tugging away at our heartstrings with every dunk and game-winner, with every upset and heartbreak. There’s always something for someone – moments that forever play in our heads on loop; players who are forever etched in our memories. Here are four of those players permanently carved in mine:

Nick Van Exel

There’s one Nick Van Exel move that could pretty much sum up who he is as a basketball player. It’s not his smooth left-to-right crossover that grossly loses defenders, not his slick behind-the-back and no-look passes, not his disrespectful pull-up 3s with a hand in his face.

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what made Van Exel a memory hero. Could be any of these things: his fancy dribbling, the audacious 3s, the ever-present snarl on his face, his shaved eyebrow, the boxing celly, the rockstar name.

Or maybe it’s all of those things, making up a creative hooper who’s simply ahead of his time. That’s it. Nick Van Exel lured me into the game way back in the early ‘90s because he was a time traveler showing us a glimpse of what the game would look like 30 years later. He was a disruptor who did things like take free throws the way Steph Curry takes 3s now.

Jason Kidd

Mid-90s NBA was an odd time. With MJ off trying to hit home runs instead of game-winners (more on him later), a big void was left and the search was on for the next Michael Jordan.

Then came Grant Hill. He was the perfect God-send, in an almost exact MJ-mold, with a polished game designed specifically to be the league’s face. 

Then, also, came Jason Kidd. He was the antithesis of Grant Hill, representing all the things Hill wasn’t. Kidd was a can’t-shoot, pass-first point guard who plays at a reckless, breakneck speed. His game exudes a vibe that resembles more of a football touchdown than a basketball highlight. He was more interested in grabbing tough rebounds and getting a crafty assist than getting buckets.

For someone who was aching to fill the MJ-shaped hole in the soul, a game-changing rebel like JKidd was exactly who I needed.

Baron Davis

Baron Davis is on this list purely for video game reasons. BD was that guy, a hybrid of Van Exel and Kidd, except he can dunk with the explosiveness of a power forward. 

We’re talking Hornets Baron Davis, not the We Believe version, when he was a full-blown, legit superstar making big plays for a big market team in the playoffs. Back when he was a Hornet, Davis was an often overlooked fringe star on a mid-team – not a greatest hit but a deep cut.

On the court, BD was an underrated great. On NBA Live 2001, BD was my all-time GOAT. 

Michael Jordan

Any basketball-related Mount Rushmore list without Michael Jordan won’t feel right. He was the first player ever that got me, at first, intrigued about a game I don’t understand, then later on, infatuated. Much, much later, it was undeniably, most definitely love. 

I’ve picked up a couple of things from MJ’s story, a few parts art and other parts science – about gravity, in particular.

The laws of gravity in basketball can’t be broken, even if it appears — in posters and slow-mo replays — as if MJ could fly. He hangs in the air, body suspended gracefully, longer than the average mortal. Then he comes back down.

Yet for brief, fleeting seconds when his feet the leave earth, gravity is “defied.” Imagine watching that as a clueless kid hungry for a hero.

Then there’s another facet of gravity in basketball. It’s one that pulls you, both romantically and violently, back into the game the moment you try to escape it. It has nothing to do with floating nor with attraction. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both? I don’t know.

What I do know is that while I will never experience MJ-like hang time and there’s no timeline in the multiverse where I summon double, and triple teams, gravity still plays a role; it’s a law that’s bendable but not breakable.

The funny thing about gravity and basketball is that when you’re dangerously close to drifting into the blackness of space, it’s an undeniable, inexplicable force that pulls you back into loving the game. That force of nature can result in you simply enjoying the game as a fan or writing a few hundred words for the local official NBA website.

Here’s hoping for a shot at a hundred, a thousand, a million more.