Every organization has their own rich history, their own pantheon of basketball heroes. Here’s a look at the Mt. Rushmore for every NBA franchise.
Heroes are subjective and when it comes to an NBA franchise, greats are measured against all those who have come before them. As the offseason crawls toward it’s inexorable conclusion, I’ve taken a stab at trying to select the four most memorable players in each NBA franchise’s history — their own personal Mt. Rushmore.
I tried to avoid a straight search for the four greatest players in each franchise’s history and tried to spread things out as much as possible to capture the full history of an organization. I used NBA stats only and used official team histories as they are recognized in Basketball-Reference, which combines the Thunder and Sonics and leads to some weird mental gymnastics around the Hornets Bobcats, and Pelicans.
Of course, I also got plenty of things wrong so feel free to tell me what they are. Otherwise, grab your chisel and hammer and get to work on those blocks of granite.
Bob Petit was the original face of the (then Milwaukee and St. Louis) Hawks and one of the NBA’s earliest stars. He played 11 seasons for the Hawks, from 1954-1965, and led the franchise to their one and only NBA title, in the 1957-58 season. Petit was the first player to win an MVP Award, the first player to hit 20,000 career points, and is still the only player in NBA history to have averaged at least 20 points and 12 rebounds in every season they played.
Dominique Wilkins was famous for his highlight dunks but he was also one of the NBA’s best all-around scorers during his era. From a span of 11 full seasons with Atlanta, he averaged less than 20 points per game just once, and the led the Hawks to the playoffs eight times. Wilkins waged some memorable playoff battles with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and is still the team’s all-time leader in minutes played, games played, and points scored.
Zelmo Beaty was a stout yet mobile center who helped lead the Hawks after the end of the Bob Petit era. Beaty, who was inducted to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016 averaged 17.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 1.5 assists across seven seasons with the St. Louis Hawks. The team won .563 percent of their games with Beatty and made five trips to the Western Division Finals.
Al Horford was often part of the backdrop with Atlanta Hawks’ teams that featured Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Paul Millsap. His numbers were never eye-popping — 14.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game across nine seasons in Atlanta. Still his versatile offensive and defensive ability were the back bone of many solid teams, including the 2014-15 team that won a franchise-high 60 regular season games. It’s no wonder that Horford is fifth in franchise history in Win Shares.