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Is naming any player the GOAT an unfair comparison?

Michael Jordan-LeBron James-GOAT

Michael Jordan-LeBron James-GOAT

Whether you follow the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL, every sports fan at some point has had the same conversation: Who is the Greatest of All Time? The pool of names in the hat usually remains identical no matter who you speak to; it's either LeBron, MJ, and Kareem. However, it is not often that you can have a cut and dry debate with your buddies where everyone agrees on that one single player, and frankly, it can even get a little heated.

LeBron James or GOAT James?

It is no surprise that millennial fans often point to Lebron James as the man above the rest. After nearly two decades of dominance in the league, many declare him the greatest of all time; it seems he is only strengthening the argument. Betting odds on NBA indicate that his Los Angeles Lakers are 21/10 favorites to top the NBA Western Conference this year, and he is one of the driving factors behind this.

One of the biggest sways for fans when naming Lebron as the GOAT is his extraordinary records. He is the only player in the league history to rank in the top 10 for both points and assists. He has more postseason points than any player ever. He holds the record for the most triple-doubles in the NBA Finals. He was even in the new Space Jam movie, a nod to Michael Jordan's fictional appearance in the original.

However, many will tell you that basketball is much more than a game of numbers, and there are players who are more deserving of GOAT status. Perhaps none more so than Michael Jordan.

MJ's case

MJ is arguably Lebron's biggest competition in the debate. The man has one of Nike's most successful designs named after him. While statistically speaking, Lebron's accomplishments outweigh Jordan's; their awards are almost neck and neck.

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It could be argued that Jordan's resume is more impressive— he has six championship rings to Lebron's four, and each of them has an MVP performance per ring. MJ has more regular-season MVP awards -- five to LeBron's four -- but three fewer All-Star selections. Of course, all these numbers remain beatable as Lebron still has a few good NBA years.

But why compare?

The conversation could go on for hours, days even, and most would still not be able to agree. But it comes down to much more than personal opinion. In fact, the argument is almost unwinnable. You see, the sport and, in turn, the debate over who is the GOAT does not exist in a bubble. The league itself is now ¾ of a century in age, has been home to thousands of players, and most importantly, has welcomed changes to the rules and playing styles tenfold. Stats become almost meaningless in these debates when you realize, for example, that there was no three-point line until 1979, nearly 50 years after the league's inception.

The way basketball was played in the 1960s is almost unrecognizable when compared to today's style. Towering centers were every franchises' most prized asset, with legends such as Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell dominating the court. The merger in the 70s increased the pool of players and teams in the league, and by the end of the decade, we were starting to see the game evolve into a sport that was ever so slightly similar to what we see in 2021. Even still, it was not until the 80s that the sport was certifiably mainstream.

The way the game has evolved makes it virtually impossible to name one single GOAT. You can speculate all you like about how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would fair in the game as we know it, or what kind of average Lebron would be putting up pre-merger, but the fact remains that we can't know. The conversation is essentially doing a disservice to those who came in eras that many of us were not even alive to see.

The passing of the late, great Kobe Bryant opened the eyes of basketball fans everywhere for just a short while, at least. Millions mourned as they recalled a spectacular career and asked themselves, "Why compare when we can just appreciate?". This even echoes a sentiment put forth by Bryant himself, who, constantly faced with the question of where he ranks himself among Lebron and MJ, said, "We can enjoy one without tearing down one. Ilove what he'sdoing. Don't debate what can't be definitively won by anyone."

Although it is far, far easier said than done, perhaps it is time then that the conversation is put to bed, and the way that is done is not by choosing a definitive 'winner.' Instead, it may be time to put aside our differences and tell each other that life is too short to get hung up on labels— appreciate greatness while we have the chance.

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