Editorial: Who is the G.O.A.T. of the NBA?

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artwork by Zinnia Wery

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and Lebron James on Mount Rushmore as they battle for the title of "greatest of all time."

Pavle Ristic, Sports Editor

G.O.A.T. — greatest of all time. A conversation familiar to every sports fan, especially in basketball where drawing comparisons is so easy: who is the greatest basketball player of all time? A simple question that has sparked debate since the sport’s inception. Opinions and bias have run rampant in GOAT conversations for too long, and now I will try to put an end to it for once and for all.

   When deciding the greatest basketball player of all time there are three factors, pure basketball skill, cultural and social impact, and the person’s effect on basketball as a whole. There is a short list of basketball players who I feel have enough in each of the three categories in order to be in the conversation: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and Lebron James.

   The argument for Michael Jordan is clear. Pretty much every basketball fan is taught from a young age that Jordan is the single greatest player of all time, and he does have a strong claim. In the first category, pure skill, Jordan’s capabilities were incredible. Scoring points was something everyone knew Jordan could do as he led the League ten times, but what set Jordan apart was that he was likely the best defensive guard of all time and is one of four players to win a Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season as well as the only guard to accomplish that feat. Jordan showed that every position can have an impact on the game.  The second category is where Jordan moves clearly ahead of the pack. To this day, Jordan shoes are some of the most popular there are. Michael Jordan was the reason that millions across America and the world fell in love with the game of basketball. The legend of Michael Jordan elevated him to demi-god status and is definitely the strongest part of his claim to being the G.O.A.T. Thirdly, Jordan was able to accomplish everything which he did in the time of “the big man.” The NBA was run by seven-plus foot tall giants, while he was 6’6”. 

   Kobe Bryant is the Michael Jordan of this generation. Skillswise, he is the closest thing we have seen to Jordan as he modeled himself after him. For the same reason that an original painting will always hold more value than any copy, Bryant just isn’t on the same level as Jordan. In terms of his social impact, Bryant is on Jordan’s level. As social media rose, Bryant was right there with it. If Jordan inspired millions to play basketball, Bryant inspired hundreds of millions. His impact spread further than just the basketball court due to his iconic Mamba Mentality. Bryant had a similar impact on basketball itself as Jordan; Also 6’6”, he further proved that you do not have to be a giant in order to be great.

  Somebody who is often overlooked, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, was a game-changing player. Jabaar invented a new way to shoot the ball and is the all-time leading scorer in the NBA. Rules were changed in order to give the rest of the League a better chance against him. Nobody has been able to replicate his shot or his continued dominance. In this conversation, Jabaar’s large drawback is his more fundamental, less flashy, charismatic playstyle. For these reasons, Jabaar doesn’t come remotely close to the impact of Bryant or Jordan. 

  Finally, there is Lebron James. Dubbed “The Chosen One” from the time he was a high schooler, James was destined to take the title of G.O.A.T. from Jordan. Lebron James is 6’8” and 240 pounds, the perfect size to do anything he wants on a basketball court. James has played in the NBA for 17 seasons — since he was 19 years old. In every single one of those seasons except his first, Lebron has been one of the top three, if not the single best player, in the League. In terms of social impact, you can tell what James has accomplished by looking at the feet of youth basketball players across the country. There is rarely a game played without a pair of James’ sneakers. Jordan’s line may be unmatched, but James has come as close as possible. 

   Compared to Bryant, James separates himself in that he made himself instead of using someone else’s blueprint. He wasn’t simply another iteration of Jordan. Another important part of James’ career is that he has adapted perfectly to all the changes basketball has seen. The changes have made the game practically unrecognizable compared to how it was played in the ’80s, and a majority of these changes have occurred in the last 20 years. The one constant amongst these changes? LeBron James remains the best. Amongst all of his great qualities, there is one trait which James possesses which is unmatched — his ability to make anyone great. Lebron James has dragged players who would struggle to find employment in the rest of the League to greatness. When looking at Jordan’s Championship teams you see huge names like Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. Lebron James bore the weight of Matthew Dellevadova and Drew Gooden. Whoever James touches becomes miles better.

   In conclusion, there have been several players who have been incredibly skilled, and had huge impacts on the world apart from basketball, and even changed the game of basketball itself. Each of the players who have been listed has the qualities to be the single greatest player of all time, but there can only be one. Bryant was as close to Jordan as we have ever seen but was not able to eclipse him, Jabaar did not have a following or social impact anywhere near that of the other three, and Jordan could not stay the greatest forever in the constantly changing game of basketball. For these reasons, in my opinion, Lebron James is the G.O.A.T.