Here’s our Hawks Mount Rushmore — feel free to differ

Credit: Guy J. Sagi

Credit: Guy J. Sagi

We wonder, did Gutzon Borglum work in clay?

The creator of Mount Rushmore used chisel and blast to carve the faces of four great American presidents in South Dakota granite. We here in Atlanta are looking for a more malleable artistic medium.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continues a series of who should be the Forever Four of each Atlanta sports franchises, our exercise to pass the days without live sports. And who hasn’t had this debate at a sports bar or family cookout?

The Braves' Four have been revealed. We've come to the second installment and present the Hawks, who in their 52 seasons of play in Atlanta give us reason for great question, debate and a bit of controversy. There are two, maybe three, locks for our fictional immortalization. That fourth spot is a work in progress, so to speak. It certainly could change with the future NBA seasons and the passage of time, which erodes much faster than the Black Hills weather.

A point of clarity: we have not included franchise greats and Basketball Hall of Famers Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan, who never played in Atlanta. A Hawks Mount Rushmore, they are on it. An Atlanta Hawks Mount Rushmore, the purpose of our exercise, that’s a different story.

We started with a list of 10 candidates for fan voting, a list trimmed from 20 names. There was somewhat of an internal debate to finalize the group. The last on the list of 10 was Doc Rivers, who was chosen over the likes of Tree Rollins, Dan Roundfield, Walt Bellamy, Steve Smith and Josh Smith. Wouldn’t you know, Rivers finished fifth in fan voting.

In all, 1,044 voters registered a total of 4,319 votes. Don’t do the math. It’s part of what makes this poll unscientific. (Shout out to the individual who cast eight single votes for Dominique Wilkins. Don’t worry, he made the cut.)

The two shoo-Ins

You can start carving, metaphorically, immediately with Wilkins. That’s a no-brainer. The Hall of Famer is the franchise all-time leader in points, games, minutes, field goals made, field goals attempted and 2-point field goals. Wilkins scored a franchise-record 23,292 points, almost 2,500 points more than Pettit. A quick listing of the resume for the Human Highlight Film includes nine-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA and 1985-86 NBA scoring champion. Wilkins was named on 98% of the ballots. New rule: If there is a statue of you outside the arena, you make the Hawks Mount Rushmore.

“This statue stands for so much more than your accomplishments on the court and all the great human highlights and all the great dunks,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in March 2015 at the unveiling. “It’s a symbol of the fabric of the community that you’ve become and all that you’ve accomplished.”

Lou Hudson is the next franchise lock. Sweet Lou played first two seasons in St. Louis, where he was All-Rookie in 1966-67. All of Hudson’s six All-Star seasons were in Atlanta, including his second season in 1969-70 when he was named All-NBA. He is the franchise’s third all-time leading scorer behind Wilkins and Petit. Hudson was named on 65% of fan ballots.

Both Wilkins and Hudson have their jersey numbers, Nos. 21 and 23, retired by the Hawks. Not a guarantee that you make the Mount Rushmore, by the way.

Little debate

Pete Maravich is an NBA legend, no doubt. He is one of the best skill players ever to play the game. But does the Hall of Famer belong as one of the Atlanta-era Hawks top four of all-time? Pistol Pete played just four seasons in Atlanta, the first of his career that is notably known for the years he spent with the Jazz, mostly in New Orleans. He was a five-time All-Star (two in Atlanta), a four-time All-NBA (two in Atlanta) and All-Rookie in 1970-71 with the Hawks. With the Hawks, Maravich averaged 24.3 points, 5.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds in his 303 games. His No. 44 was retired by the Hawks. Maravich was second among the AJC balloters at 73% of the vote.

Maravich was what the Hawks needed in Atlanta after their move from St. Louis. He joined the Hawks after a career at LSU in which he led the nation in scoring all three of his seasons. He is still the NCAA’s all-time leader in points (3,667) and average (44.2) despite not being able to play varsity as a freshman and not having a 3-point line. He was a draw when the Hawks selected him with the No. 3 pick in 1970, two seasons after the move.

Let the real debate begin

Joe Johnson? Yes, Joe Johnson. Perhaps another player will come along in due time to change our fictional landscape. And yes, we are aware that Johnson finished ninth, next to last, in fan voting at 17%. There is a case to be made for Johnson, who finished behind Dikembe Mutombo (44%), Rivers (31%), Lenny Wilkens (27%), Kevin Willis (19%), Mike Fratello (19%) and ahead of Al Horford (14%).

Remember, this is an imprecise exercise.

Mutombo is a Hall of Famer and had his No. 55 retired by the Hawks. However, he played just 4-1/2 seasons in Atlanta. He was an All-Star in 3-1/2 of them and 2-1/2 of his four Defensive Player of the Year awards came in Atlanta.

In the end, it’s Johnson that adorns our fictional mountain. Johnson spent seven seasons with the Hawks. He made the All-Star team six consecutive times, a year after joining Atlanta. He was All-NBA in 2009-10. The Hawks made the playoffs in five of his seven seasons, advancing to the conference semifinals in three of them.

With the Hawks, Johnson averaged 20.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 508 games. Here’s the stat that perhaps may catch you off-guard. Johnson ranks sixth on the Hawks’ all-time scoring list with 10,606 points. Take away Pettit and Hagan, and Johnson ranks fourth behind only Wilkins, Hudson and John Drew in Atlanta-era Hawks history.

So that last spot is a matter of debate. Pick any of the remaining six candidates, and a case could be made for their inclusion. That’s why we wondered if Borglum worked in clay. Let the carping commence. And just wait until next week when the Falcons’ Fab Four is revealed.

Atlanta Hawks Mount Rushmore

In our AJC reader poll, 1,044 respondents cast a total of 4,319 votes. The results are as follows:

• Dominique Wilkins: 1,088 votes, 98%*
• Pete Maravich: 762 votes, 73%
• Lou Hudson: 682 votes, 65%
• Dikembe Mutombo: 462 votes, 44%
• Doc Rivers: 319 votes, 31%
• Lenny Wilkens: 284 votes, 27%
• Kevin Willis: 202 votes, 19%
• Mike Fratello: 198 votes, 19%
• Joe Johnson, 176 votes, 17%
• Al Horford, 146 votes, 14%

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