Players nowadays actively chase GOAT status. Either they try their luck to win six rings or try to impact the game the way Michael Jordan did. But Jordan himself, widely known as the greatest of the sport, cringes whenever people call him the GOAT. He offered a pretty simple explanation of why he doesn’t want this label.
“I cringe a little bit”
Jordan isn’t just one heck of a basketball player; he’s also a diligent student of the game. He didn’t just study the moves of those that came before him and integrate them into his toolbox. The Chicago Bulls legend also studied the history of basketball itself.
He knows that the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Bill Russell paved the way for him. In addition, he has never played against any one of them. And so he cannot claim he’s the greatest of the sport when he only played with the best of his era.
“I don’t want it in a sense because I think it disrespects Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West -- you know all the guys that prior to me I never had a chance to play against. What 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 little bit because it’s a little bit embarrassing because no one knows. I never had the chance to, once again, to play against those guys,” Jordan said, per ESPN.
Jordan’s stance on the matter completely goes against the grain of players’ and analysts’ discussions. They pit Jordan against LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others. They discuss the number of rings, finals appearances, who they faced against, etc. They never discuss the actual state of the game where these legends played.
Too many differences
Bill Russell presents an interesting case. While the man had 11 rings, there were not more than eight teams in the playoffs when he was collecting jewelry. Today, a total of 16 teams battle it out in the playoffs. The NBA even introduced the play-in tourney and announced that it’s now a permanent part of the postseason.
Another significant difference is the play style. We’ve all heard stories from old heads about how the 3-pointer wasn’t seen as a lethal weapon then. They only used it in clutch situations — if they needed a 3-pointer to tie or win the game.
Also, there are various eras in the NBA where the traditional big man reigned supreme. Nowadays, if you’re a big man, you must possess a reliable shooting stroke and decent handles. Some fans even think that if Tacko Fall played in the 90s or early 2000s, then he would’ve commanded respect.
Jordan dropped his thoughts on the GOAT debate in 2009. Obviously, it fell on deaf ears. No one wants to say that “no one is the GOAT,” what would talking heads use to fill up airtime between commercials?