OK, let’s dive into it: Who really is the NBA’s GOAT?
OK, I know.
I don’t have much need for a barbershop these days. I get it with this bald dome.
But I love the debates for which barbershops were so famous.
And today is the perfect time for one.
I stayed up and watched four-time MVP LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers score his 38,387th point on a step-back jumper against Oklahoma City to become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.
Was a great moment. Former scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was there to pass the crown. The stars were in attendance to witness NBA history being made.
I posted some of the action on social media, sent congrats along and wrote, “Perhaps the best ever.”
Which was like striking a match around gasoline.
“Nope!! MJ ALWAYS,” wrote friend Kim Grinstead.
“With all due respect, no!” wrote Jay Mace.
On and on it went. Friend Kyle Lovern said he “can think of several” better than James.
Of that, I respectfully disagree. I can’t. And if you really sit down and study it, I think you’ll agree.
There was Michael Jordan. There’s James. There was Abdul-Jabbar. There was Kobe Bryant.
For NOW, that’s about it.
Understand that none of the above were my FAVORITE. I’d rank my all-time favorites as 1) Jerry West, 2) Larry Bird, and 3) Magic Johnson. Watching Steph Curry is fun. I loved watching big men like Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan.
Also, Bill Russell was the greatest winner in all American sports. Oscar Robertson almost invented the triple-double. Julius Erving introduced flair. Wilt Chamberlain introduced dominance before Shaquille O’Neal moved over every player on the court.
But c’mon. The greatest ever? We can whittle that down.
On the way into my Wheelhouse Creative office, I heard some debate on ESPN radio. And my ears perked when Mike Krzyzewski, who coached five U.S. Olympic teams, spoke.
He said this of James: “He and Kobe, I thought, prepared harder than anybody. He’s in unbelievable shape. Everybody wants to win; not everybody wants to prepare to win. He does.”
He praised James for his basketball mind.
Then he covered some of the other greats.
“Michael and Kobe, I thought, when they looked at you, you knew they were going to beat you. Jordan was the greatest competitor. Who knows who the greatest player was?”
As with most fans, Coach K kept going back to Jordan and the competitiveness, the ability to raise his teammates’ level of play.
“Obviously, Michael,” Krzyzewski said. “Bird is there. Jabbar, there’s the case he’s the greatest. Kobe was that natural scorer. And LeBron has broken this record when you always thought of him as the facilitator. He’s’ a complete player. And Curry has to be right there. There has never been anybody like him.”
Yet we keep going back to Jordan. Hard not to, correct? He won three championships, left to play baseball for goodness sake, then returned and won three in a row again. Won five MVPs, six Finals MVPs, etc. For many, watching ESPN’s “The Last Dance” sealed the deal. Mike is the best.
But as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said, while no one can ever touch Jordan’s excellence from 1991 to 1998, James has been doing this for 20 years. TWENTY. And he’s still excellent at age 38. He’s still in peak physical condition.
Jordan lifted his teammates, but didn’t James also do that in Miami? In Cleveland, of all places? And, of course, in L.A.?
I’ll never forget when James led the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win Golden State Warriors in 2016.
In the end, OK, OK, I’ll cede the point. While James is the NBA’s all-time scorer, Jordan is still the best ever. I realize Kevin Durant could one day surpass James’ record. Same with Steph or, heck, Luka Doncic.
James is still making his case as the best ever.
Yet we may never see anyone again be like Mike.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.