In the latest installment of his show “More Than an Athlete” LeBron James stated that his 2016 finals performance solidified him as the GOAT. This latest statement by Mr. James has sparked a lot of conversation and debate on who is the greatest player to ever play the game.
Before we weigh on the debate let me first say I was shocked that LeBron was this honest in a public forum. No basketball player of James’s stature has ever come out publicly and proclaimed themselves the greatest. That declaration was reserved for most notably Muhammad Ali and other boxers in the boxing world, but never in basketball. LeBron who is seen as as a humble star, was far from humble when he made the statement.
Only in recent memory has the debate about who’s the GOAT even taken place. This discussion was reserved for the barbershop, bars, or your friend's house while watching the game. In the era of mass media, social media, and podcasting everyone is lining up to give their hot take of who is the greatest to ever play the game. This latest debate has been fueling all the talking heads on all the sports media outlets.
Is LeBron the GOAT?
The last few years the debate has waged on who’s the GOAT. In the court of public opinion, two players take center stage in this GOAT discussion. Michael Jordan and LeBron Janes are the two players that are usually at the center of this debate. The debate typical has been a battle between those born before 1990 and those born after. If you were alive to have actually seen Jordan play then that group deems him as the greatest. If you were born after Jordan had retired then that group deems LeBron as the greatest.
As a basketball historian and a lover of the game one has to ask what about the other greats to play the game? For example, Kareem Abdul Jabbar who retired as the NBA's all-time leading scorer, 6 MVP awards, and 6 championships. How about Bill Russell who finished his career with 5 MVPs and 11 championships. He won 10 as a player and one as a player-coach. He was the first African- American head coach to win a championship. Or Magic Johnson who won 3 MVPs and 5 championships. Magic was the catalyst and driving force for the Showtime Lakers of the 80s. Wilt Chamberlain who’s accomplishments is one of often disparaged because of his absurd dominance. Chamberlain holds 68 records according to NBA.com, including scoring 100 points in a game. What about Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, who all had brilliant Hall-Fame careers. Why can’t any of these players be the GOAT?
Bottom line this GOAT label does not exist. Just great players who transcended the sport and was, dominate during their respective eras. My wife says it best: “You cannot control the era in which you are born in”. I agree 100 percent with this statement one cannot control when they are born. As historians of the game all we should be asking did they dominate the era in which they played?