By Nancy Armour |
LeBron is the greatest! No, MJ was better! You’re both wrong, it was Kareem! Are you crazy? How can you forget Bill Russell?
How about we all just relax? As much fun as it is to debate who is the greatest in NBA history, it’s pointless, a question for which there can be no definitive answer.
For as many arguments as can be made for LeBron James — and that number keeps growing after he dragged a marginal Cleveland Cavaliers team to yet another NBA Finals — there are just as many that could be made for Michael Jordan. Or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Or Russell. Or Kobe Bryant. Or – well, you get the point.
The list of players who could be considered the G.O.A.T. is long, and each one is worthy in his own right. To settle the debate or come to a consensus, there’s simply no objective way of doing it. Even stats can be spun any way you want to make a case. You point to MJ’s three-peats, I point to James’ titles with different teams.
Besides, trying to categorize players from different eras is like comparing apples and oranges. Oscar Robertson was an amazing player, and nothing can ever take away from what he did. Heck, that it took 50-plus years before Russell Westbrook joined Robertson as the only player to average a triple-double for the season shows what a force he was.
But the game has changed — drastically — since Robertson played, and I doubt he would wreak as much havoc today. This is not meant to slight him. At all. It’s just that the competition is better and the rules are different. The same could even be said about Jordan, whose weakness as a perimeter shooter would be amplified by today’s defenses.
The truth, unsatisfying as it might be, is that the G.O.A.T. is a matter of personal preference, with everyone having a different “answer.”
If you grew up in the Jordan era, no one will ever top MJ in your mind. If you got hooked on basketball during the Celtics-Lakers heyday, it will be either Kareem, Magic, Wilt Chamberlain or Larry Bird, and no one is ever going to be able to convince you differently. If you think this is the golden era of the NBA, then LeBron is the man – though you might be willing to consider Steph Curry after another title or two.
There’s another, unseemly side to this G.O.A.T. argument. In order to elevate someone to the highest status, you have to find reasons to diminish the others, too.
James might be able to reach the NBA Finals with a team plucked from the Akron Area YMCA, but he’s got only three rings to show for his previous eight appearances. Jordan won six championships and a record 10 scoring titles, but he also had the game’s greatest sidekick in Scottie Pippen. Bryant is a five-time champion, but he had help from Shaquille O’Neal for three of those and likely would have won even more if he hadn’t run the Big Fella off.
And on and on it goes.
Bryant is by no means a disinterested party, but he had a point Sunday with his tweet in response to the renewed debate over where James should be in the G.O.A.T. rankings.
“We can enjoy one without tearing down one,” Bryant Tweeted. “Don’t debate what can’t be definitively won by anyone #enjoymy5 #enjoymj6 #enjoylbjquest”
That’s the closest to an answer we’ll ever get. LeBron isn’t the best to ever play the game, and neither is MJ.
Nobody is, because the G.O.A.T. doesn’t exist.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.