For years, sports fans have always been what seems to be obsessed when it comes to defining who is the greatest player of all-time, otherwise known as the “GOAT”. In the NBA, this debate has been heated lately, as Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James has quickly surpassed Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan in a handful of statistical categories. While it’s easy to stand on one side of the fence, why not sit back and acknowledge that the term “GOAT” is overused, as well as exaggerated? Here is why:
Different Styles of Play
How do we, as fans, define greatness within the NBA? On one hand, it’s a firm belief that James does not contain the “killer instinct” that Jordan had when it comes to scoring. In their careers, Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game on 21 less games started than James, whereas James averages 27.1 points per game currently.
On the contrary, James could very well be the best all-around player of all-time. Averaging more rebounds, assists, and minutes per game than Jordan, while shooting the ball less, and having essentially the same regular season success Jordan had.
This is where the debate get blurry though, because neither Jordan or James were the best in many areas. Could either shoot from beyond the arc like Reggie Miller or Ray Allen? Do either compare to the likes of Magic Johnson when it comes to passing the ball? Were James or Jordan dominant in the paint like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O’Neal? Of course not.
Each individual great has a completely different style of play, and the debate of who is the greatest of all-time all depends on what attributes you seek within a player.
In the 2004-05 season, the NBA took away the ability to hand check opponents when on defense. The definition of a “hand check” would be “an illegal form of defense in basketball in which a defending player uses one or both of his hands or his arm to impede the forward or lateral movement of an offensive player”.
While this is just one of many rule changes the NBA has made over the years, fans need to realize that the rules do effect the stats of those playing in the current era. It’s all speculation, but some, including former NBA players, believe that James could not thrive in the days where physical contact was allowed on defense.
I don’t find that side note to be relevant whatsoever to the debate, but I do believe that players such as Johnson, Larry Bird, and others had to earn their stats more than individuals within the newer age.
Different Eras Result in Evolution
Much like society as a whole, the game of basketball is always changing, for better or worse. The three-point shot has become the biggest weapon for players nowadays, but in the 90’s, teams looked for elite perimeter shooters and passers to thrive. At one point in time, franchises within the NBA seeked dominant big men such as O’Neal and Tim Duncan.
How can we compare players from completely different eras? Jordan was undoubtedly the greatest player of his era, whereas James has represented the NBA for the past several years. No one ever mentions Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and his 11 rings, and that is because the NBA was not at the same competitive level as it was in different eras.
It’s always fun to compare and contrast players, but with no real answer to who the greatest of all-time is, it’s about time we stop labeling the legends, and appreciate greatness when it falls in our laps.