The defining debate of the modern NBA is which player is the greatest of all time, the GOAT, Michael Jordan or LeBron James? The conversation ebbs and flows, but never really goes away, as fans and media figures endlessly debate about which man deserves the title, with some contrarian options — Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar among them — occasionally entering the conversation.
Without any new basketball debates (or games) to talk about and The Last Dance dominating the conversation, the GOAT debate is heating up again. The latest to weigh in is Carmelo Anthony, a forward for the Portland Trail Blazers. His hot take? Stop asking the question.
“I don’t like it. And I say that because whenever we do that, we fail to appreciate what we have in front of us,” Anthony told CBS Sports. “Any time these comparisons are made, whether it’s anybody — old school versus new school — it’s like, why can’t we just appreciate everybody for what they bring to the game?”
Still, that doesn’t mean that Anthony doesn’t know who he thinks the GOAT is.
“You know, M.J. is the GOAT. He’s the greatest ever. We all know that and we all agree to that. Why can’t we say that, but also give LeBron his flowers while he’s here too?” Anthony said. “Why can’t we say, ‘M.J. was very great, LeBron is very great, Kobe is very great?’ We’re not allowed to say those things today, because it’s always this or that, and that’s just our society — you have to choose one.”
It is one of the artificialities of sports that there is (almost) always a winner and a loser, and it’s tempting to extend that logic to debates about sports that, ultimately, come down to matters of opinion. In this case, you can choose to evaluate the number of championships, championship records, MVP awards, scoring titles, advanced metrics, the era in which each player played, and a million other factors.
There’s no hard and fast definition for what makes a player the greatest, which means that debates about players turn into debates about criteria that similarly lack resolutions.
Hopefully, the long, unexpected hiatus means that when basketball finally returns formerly jaded fans can (re)discover the joy of watching the game as it’s played in front of them.