Math has an amazing way of clearing out all the noise in a discussion and boil down to the point. The question on who is the GOAT comes down to 6 > 3 or 8 > 6? Both statements are true. So how do we decide which one is “truer”? MJ has a solution, but it’s probably not going to work in today’s Twitter-debate era because it has that annoying quality of nuance.
Comparing players from different eras is an impossible task. How do you ponder the pre-three-point line effect on stats? Playing in the hand checking era and today? We see the effect rule changes about freedom of movement have on scoring this season. That’s why most debates only reveal what kind of traits you prefer in a player.
6 > 3
If you are the 6 > 3 person you want peak performance. The GOAT is the best when it’s toughest and your guy won in all 6 Finals he played in, always rose to the occasion. He is invincible (except when he takes a two-year vacation or plays without Pippen), does whatever it takes to win(sounds kinda suspicious, how far is that?) and always takes the last shot. Sounds like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, right?
8 > 6
If you are the 8 > 6 kind of guy or gal, you value consistency, the long-term view. Your guy went to 8 Finals in a row and that is an insane achievement (even if it’s through a much weaker Eastern conference), he is a spectacular playmaker (but if you don’t make that shot after he passes you the ball, expect a tweet), won one of the Finals against possibly the greatest team ever assembled (without their balls-kicking defensive anchor and with a younger stud making the last shot, something you do have issues at time). Oh yeah, he is also a leader in his community off the court, funding schools for at-risk kids and he turns every investment into gold.
Who is right?
Did I make my point? Every argument has a counterpoint and we just get lost in a forest of examples, not to mention we are judging and ranking individual performance in a sport where there are 10 players on the court playing 5 v 5!! Yes, these superstars make a difference more than the average player but every Jordan needs a Pippen and every LeBron needs a Wade or Kyrie.
In an interview with Michael Wilbon before his Hall of Fame induction, MJ commented on whether he wants to be called the GOAT: “I don’t want it in the sense that I think it disrespects Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West…you know, all the guys prior to me that I never had a chance to play against. Whatever everybody is saying I am, I never had the chance to compete against other legends that were prior to me. When I hear it I cringe a bit because it’s a little bit embarrassing because no one knows. I never had the chance to play against those guys. I Would’Ve loved to play against them, but I never did, and for you to say I’m better than him, it’s your opinion, it’s their opinion, I accept that as their opinion. If you ask me I would never say I’m the greatest player.”