It’s the classic bar conversation, the most pure of sports arguments. Who is the greatest ever, the GOAT?
In basketball it’s some combination of Jordan, Lebron, Magic, Bird, Russell, Kareem, Chamberlain, Robertson, Kobe.
In football it’s Montana, Elway, Manning, Brady, Rice, Sanders, Taylor, White.
In baseball it’s….ah who cares, it’s baseball.
I’m sure there’s a hockey version too but my hockey knowledge is limited to players featured in NHL 94 Sega Genesis.
Regardless, finally we can put this issue to bed as I have the definitive answer.
There’s no such thing as the greatest ever, it doesn’t exist. There are great players, there might be greatest player of his era, but there is no such thing as the greatest of all time.
There are a litany of reasons this is the case.
First off, in the case of the major sports, they are all team sports, and although we’ve come a long way with advanced metrics there’s really no way to measure the way an individual and his team mesh as opposed to how he theoretically would have meshed with another group of teammates, and coaches.
Different eras had different levels of competition. Sometimes this was just attributable to luck, like being in the Western conference rather than the Eastern. Sometimes it was due to the advent of free agency or expansion diluting the competition. Sometimes it was just due to when transcendent players happened to be born.
Another factor is rule changes. You obviously can’t compare the stats of today’s NFL Quarterbacks to those of the past as rule changes have made racking up gaudy stats infinitely easier. There have also been massive advancements in sports medicine, training regimens, diet, exercise, etc. There’s also tremendous luck and variance in results, but that’s a topic for another time.
Even in the sports most amenable to these debates, namely Tennis and Boxing, the true head to head, one on one sports, it’s difficult to assess. Federer vs Sampras in their primes? Djokovic vs Borg? One guy was using a wood racket, who the hell knows how they would have fared if they were in the same era. Watch Chris Evert lollipop the ball around and think oh god Serena would murder her, but it’s impossible to really know what would have happened if one were transported to the era of the other.
In Boxing there’s many of the same issues, plus there are weight classes, that’s why they have to invent the “pound for pound” title, as if there’s any way to really assess that. Honestly, if these guys couldn’t come to a consensus how are we supposed to?
The root of this age old debate, the enduring nature of it, is generally just, the guy who i loved in my particular era was the best and better than this new guy that you people love, or this old guy you geezers keep talking about.
How on earth is someone supposed to have an intelligent conversation about whether Bill Russell was better than Lebron, when 80 percent of us have literally never seen one game Bill Russell played?
Comparing players in the same era is a fraught enough task. Unless they played the same position and were the same type of player, (think maybe Kobe vs Dwayne Wade) then you’re just making stuff up.
But to compare players to guys you never actually saw play? Why?
How bout the next time this debate sparks up you just say something really boring like, Gee i dunno, both players were pretty great, one had more skill in this area the other a tad more in this area, blah blah blah. This probably wont get you a PTI spinoff show but it will make a lot more sense.
I saved the best for last. The ultimate fake trump card in these debates. RINGZZZ. Jordan’s got six, end of discussion. Brady has 4, end of discussion.
Except it’s not because Russell’s got 11, and Bradshaw has 4 too, and Eli has 2 and Peyton has 1. But you’ll tell me no see that’s different because…..and whatever you say next it doesn’t matter because you’re just making my point for me.
There is no definitive metric, there is no trump card, there are just opinions soaked in personal bias and nostalgia. There’s no such thing as the Greatest of All Time.