‘Jordan never lost in the Finals.’ ‘Yeah, but what about those years he couldn’t get there?’ ‘I don’t care, LeBron’s longevity and his stats make him the greatest to ever do it.’ ‘I feel like Kareem is getting overlooked when discussing who the best basketball player is.’ ‘Yeah, but what do you do with Wilt’s numbers?’
We’ve heard it all guys; every single argument from the Who’s the GOAT book. And sure, there are cases to be made for all the guys mentioned, but the consensus remains that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player we’ve ever seen, at least at this point in time.
He’s the best combination of winning and individual dominance on both ends of the floor. Wilt lacks winning, LeBron had lost too many times, and Kareem was too aloof for people to seriously consider him for that title, despite having a resume that it’s up to par with Jordan’s.
Bill Russell is another one who receives a few mentions when discussing the NBA’s best player ever. Most people will tell you that Russell is the greatest champion the sport has ever seen, but the lack of individual dominance puts a cap on where people put him on their all-time rankings. That and the era he played in.
“He played against firefighters. Dudes had jobs like in the summertime. Dude’s going to be a lifeguard, go work on construction after the NBA season. They had part-time jobs, they went in summertimes and got a job bro.”Chris Bosh, The Old Man & The Three
Russell dominated the 60s – an era with eight teams in the league. One can argue that fewer jobs meant a bigger concentration of talent, but on a broader scale, the overall level of skill back then can’t compare to what it is in today’s NBA.
Having fewer teams meant having fewer postseason games in a quest for a title. Not only that, but top teams like the Boston Celtics often got first-round byes. Whereas today’s players theoretically have to play a minimum of 16 games before being crowned as champions, Bill Russell played between 10 and 14 games to win each of his first eight championships.
Shorter seasons, less traveling requirements, shorter postseason rounds, rule changes, having more than only four guys in the league taller than 6-8 – all of this makes winning eight-straight titles impossible in today’s NBA. And I’m not taking anything away from Russell; the guy dominated his respective era. But when you put in a historical context, 11 isn’t automatically more impressive than 6.
So I wouldn’t put Bill in the GOAT conversation. He’s an all-timer, one of the NBA’s greatest revolutionaries, and arguably the greatest winner this league has ever seen. But not the GOAT. That title still belongs to Chicago’s No. 23.