The endless GOAT conversation between LeBron James and Michael Jordan is as prominent as ever with “The Last Dance” coming out in April and James going to the finals for the 10th time.
Sports fans, we, for some reason, feel the need to compare. We compare everything. People will feel the need to bring up “LeBron versus MJ” in every situation ever — even when it does not apply.
The debate, for some reason, is structured to make one person love one player and hate the other. There is no reason for that. There is nothing wrong with loving Jordan and James. Why people leave Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out of the conversation is beyond me.
As basketball fans, it is time to end the debate and appreciate James while we have him — because his time will soon be up.
Before “The Last Dance” aired, I understood what was coming. A barrage of Jordan versus James takes and opinions. Why Jordan is the best and James sucks and vice versa. I knew it was coming, and that is why I removed myself from the conversation.
Remember when Kobe Bryant tragically passed away and everyone started saying, “Why were we even comparing players and not appreciating greatness?” Remember when Bryant expressed his dislike for comparing players and everyone was circulating that clip, saying, “You know what? He’s right. Let’s just appreciate greatness.”
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) May 28, 2018
Yeah, that lasted about five minutes because basketball fans feel like comparing players is an absolute necessity and their heads might explode if they can’t tell you five reasons why player A is significantly better than player B, when in reality, both players are still part of a group that can be considered the greatest athletes in the world.
“To me, the GOAT qualifications do not end on the court — it’s about the overall impact an athlete has on and off the court.”
I am glad that the young adult who has never witnessed Jordan play other than watching his highlights and a documentary structured to make the man look like a god can tell me I am wrong for thinking James is a good basketball player. That’s why I have been saying for years that this comparison is impossible unless you watch every single Jordan game ever. Maybe not ever, but go watch his bad games and good games.
Most people cannot even formulate an argument for both sides, meaning they haven’t thought enough about the topic and are not willing to even give the other side a chance. That is the epitome of what’s wrong with this debate.
I will mostly be talking about each of these incredible athletes’ off-court achievements with some on-court mixed in. Everyone who follows this debate knows a lot about the accolades from these players, so there is not much need for it right now.
To me, the GOAT qualifications do not end on the court — it’s about the overall impact an athlete has on and off the court. But not everyone thinks that way, and that’s fine.
Abdul-Jabbar is often left out of the conversation, and I still do not understand why. He was so dominant that he was speculated to cause the NCAA to ban dunking. This honestly worked out for him because he was able to perfect his skyhook, allowing him to become the leading scorer in NBA history.
For you ring sticklers, he has six of them (nine if you count the ones in college). Or does the ring conversation only matter when discrediting James?
He also has six MVPs and made the all-defensive team 11 times. One of his greater on-court achievements is that he played all three years of college and played 20 years in the NBA, showing his longevity that plays into the GOAT conversation as well.
“I can do more than stuff a ball through a hoop; my greatest asset is my mind,” Abdul-Jabbar says on his website.
Abdul-Jabbar founded the Skyhook Foundation, which allows children from all different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to thrive. The mission of the foundation is to “give kids a shot that can’t be blocked,” according to the website. The foundation helps these children get proper educations and learn science, technology, engineering and math.
Abdul-Jabbar won the Double Helix Medal for his cancer research and awareness in 2011. Former President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his social contributions and had this to say at the White House ceremony, “The reason we honor Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) is more than just a pair of goggles and the skyhook. He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy and wasn’t popular. He’s as comfortable sparring with Bruce Lee as he is advocating on Capitol Hill or writing with extraordinary eloquence on patriotism.”
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) September 19, 2020
He also put four of his NBA championship rings — along with other things — up for auction to help with the Skyhook Foundation charity.
“My sports memorabilia also have a history,” Abdul-Jabbar said in his announcement. “My history. My life. And, oddly, since my life is still happening and ever-evolving, I am less personally attached to those items than I am to my desire to create a new history for myself — and futures for others.”
I could write eight more paragraphs about how good of a guy Abdul-Jabbar is, but unfortunately, I have a word count limitation and this is already a large piece.
6-0 in the finals, never playing a game seven to win a title. Pure dominance. He was a five-time MVP and, of course, a six-time Finals MVP. Something that always really impresses me about Jordan are his defensive accomplishments: one defensive player of the year award and nine-time all-defensive team.
Jordan revolutionized the shoe game and that is his greatest impact. Nike was not a thing when Jordan was coming up. It was all about the Converse. Well, all of that changed when Jordan signed with Nike and started making his signature shoes.
Jordan had little kids believing they could fly because of his shoes. He brought up a generation of hoopers that wanted to be “like Mike.” The players Jordan inspired were able to inspire the current generation. Pretty simple, Jordan inspired players like Bryant and Allen Iverson.
Then Bryant and Iverson have had such an impact on the current NBA — Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Trae Young, Luka Dončić and so many more. All of that can reasonably be attributed to Jordan.
Jordan just recently announced he was going to be a NASCAR team owner with Bubba Wallace driving for the team. Which is great right now in a country of civil unrest because it will have a Black majority team owner and the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top level.
Jordan is also involved with several charities listed here. A pretty incredible amount of charitable giving he has done or is doing is one of the most important reasons he can be considered the GOAT.
As of Saturday, James is heading to his 10th NBA finals, which proves that he will find his way to the biggest stage of the NBA no matter what — even in his 17th season at age 35. Longevity matters. James has won three NBA titles, four MVP awards and three Finals MVP.
Similar to Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan, James should have more MVPs, but unfortunately, there is a thing called voter fatigue.
James has made a large impact on the court. He uses his voice and platform to advocate for social justice. One of the biggest things he has done is open the I Promise School, which is “dedicated to those students who are already falling behind and in danger of falling through the cracks,” according to their website.
He also has the LeBron James Family Foundation, which serves over 1,400 Akron-area students with resources to succeed in school and beyond. The foundation has also pledged to provide Akron’s students with full scholarships to the University of Akron, which could accumulate to $41 million.
Here is a list of some more charities James donates to.
You can have your GOAT and that’s fine. But why limit yourself to one of these guys when you could just appreciate their impact on and off the court and have three GOATs?
Guess what? You are allowed to like Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar and James. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The GOAT conversation needs to be done because it is the most toxic debate in the NBA. Sports allow us to escape an everlasting negative reality for brief windows of time. By having these debates, it brings negativity to a place structured for happiness. That seems like a waste of time to me.
Tyler Meguire can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TMeguire.