Another opinion in the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James GOAT debate has surfaced. This time it’s James’ former Miami Heat teammate Ray Allen. The Hall of Famer and 10-time All-Star got into a discussion with Tyriek Weeks, a hooper from Commonwealth Academy in Rhode Island. Weeks, a big-time LeBron fan, said because the four-time MVP is an elite scorer and passer, that makes him the GOAT. Allen offered a rebuttal.
“Is he a great free throw shooter?” James’ ex-Miami Heat teammate fired back. “Is he a great 3-point shooter? Is he a great dribbler? So, you’re saying he’s the GOAT, but he ain’t even the greatest in all them categories.”
Ray Allen explains why LeBron is not the G.O.A.T
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) July 11, 2022
Maybe Allen feels that his clutch shot in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals “saved Lebron’s legacy.” Maybe for Allen, born in 1975, entering the league in 1996, Jordan was his apex as a kid growing up playing basketball.
This debate is pointless. There is no definitive way to say who is the GOAT. NBA championships are a team award. Why should one individual get sole credit for something you can’t win alone? Individual accolades are one measure, but other biases and factors play into that.
We should think about reframing how we look at this and put players in tiers as opposed to ranking them. Jordan, LeBron and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are in the ultimate tier of all-time great players. As of today they are the only three. Maybe other players can join them or even accomplish things that surpass this tier. But in 2022 this is the ultimate.
A few quick qualifiers. Comparing players across multiple eras is really difficult. The game has evolved so much in the last 20 years, let alone the last 75. In order to be ranked in these tiers the majority of your career had to take place after the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.
With those qualifiers, only three men have won at least four NBA titles and four league MVPs post merger. Want to guess who they are?
Between the three of them they have 44 All-NBA selections. 33 first-team honors. 26 All-Defensive selections. 18 first-team honors. 15 league MVPs and 12 Finals MVPs.
They are the best of the best. Arguing who is better is literally splitting hairs.
Abdul-Jabbar is the superior defender barely, Jordan the better offensive player barely, LeBron the better offensive creator barely. All three impact winning (WS/48) about the same. Jordan is ahead by three hundredths of a percentage and James and Abdul-Jabbar are separated by about 1/1000th of a percentage point.
See. Splitting hairs.
There is a saying. Comparison is the thief of joy. It’s true in many respects. While the GOAT debate fuels talking head shows and the sports content machine, it robs people of appreciating the greatness they’re currently seeing and what came before.
This becomes about proving that your guy is the right guy and anyone else with a different opinion is just wrong. It also makes the discourse between fans of different generations unnecessarily hostile.
If you love basketball, how could you not enjoy watching Abdul-Jabbar dominate with the sky hook and elite defense? Or Michael Jordan soaring through the air and later dominating from the mid-range? Or LeBron’s full floor mastery?
All three players are great. These three facts can be true simultaneously. It doesn’t matter who the GOAT is. It’s all subjective.