Welcome to Round 2 of Questions, Goorjian. I wanted to keep this more about current NBA events, but at this point of the offseason I didn’t think anyone would be that interested in which team was going to sign Kyle Singler or whether the contract for Memphis’s new assistant coach was 3 years or 4. So instead this round is themed, very subjectively, about the G.O.A.T, or Greatest Of All Time.
How this works is I pose a number of questions, and collate everyone’s answers together here. Sounds easy, right?
At the round table today we have Dan Kelly (LAL), Troy Goostrey (IND), Jarrod Cotton (BOS), Ryan Spears (GSW), David Ashman (DEN) and Jesse Cotton (ATL).
How can LeBron reach/pass Jordan as the G.O.A.T, if he’s not already there?
Dan Kelly: Title in LA – maybe back-2-back needed for some? I was all in for Jordan, but now Lebron is with my Lakers I could be persuaded… 🙂
Troy Goostrey: He’s certainly right there now in my opinion. Yes, he hasn’t won 6-for-6 like MJ did. He hasn’t had the 18 month break like MJ and still come back to dominate. But MJ didn’t move away elsewhere and win in multiple cities with different supporting casts. MJ didn’t lead his team to a win against arguably the best regular season ever (by the 73 win count anyway). And the effort LeBron put in this past season to take a team probably on par with an MJ-Oakley era Bulls all the way to the final was an awesome effort – albeit in a weakened Conference. Probably my bias for the era I grew up in watching NBA stars in the 80’s and 90’s makes me lean towards MJ still. If LeBron can jag another title (definitely if he gets two) in his stay in LA now, I think we’d have to seriously reconsider the GOAT argument as it would give him 9 or 10 finals appearances with 4 or 5 wins, and that overall body of work is pretty amazing.
Jarrod Cotton: I’m going to try to answer this by starting with Bill Russell. Russell has the most titles as the best player on the team. Wilt Chamberlain’s statistics are mind boggling (like Bradman), some never to be matched. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had the titles on all levels and a trophy cabinet full of awards (6 MVPs etc…) , but still Jordan is the last hurdle to overcome. Why? (I’ll get to that).
Ryan Spears: It would be difficult as Jordan won 6/6 finals, but if he did win 6 championships, even with the losses, he would have a genuine argument. Championships aside, I don’t believe he was the BEST played of the two. In my opinion, the stats, championships, and eye-test show that Jordan was the GOAT. I think the one argument for LeBron in that he has been so good for so long, but I do think that may have a little to do with modern medicate advancements.
David Ashman: LeBron can become GOAT if he wins more than 6 championships. I see that as the measuring stick in regards to being better than a Jordan. And Jordan would have more if he hadn’t of taken up baseball.
Jesse Cotton: This question is tough because they are both completely different players, but I think when all is said and done, Jordan will still be looked back on as being the better overall player.
The amount of scrutiny players’ lives are under these days with social media and the 24-hour news cycle is no small thing. I don’t think Jordan would be as revered had we been constantly hearing about what he got up to – we already know about the gambling and the long golf sessions before playoff games, but I think Jordan was able to build his brand a lot easier being able to hide his general dick-ness towards people out of the public eye. LeBron’s life is way more under the spotlight, and he has handled that a lot better than Jordan would have. “The Decision” aside.
As far as on-the-court, it is often said that it’s amazing that LeBron is playing so many minutes at such a high level at his age. Jordan at the same age was playing in the “flu” game, and averaging 37.9mpg while playing all 82 games, as opposed to LeBron’s 36.9, also playing all 82. The next season, Jordan also played all 82 games, while upping his minutes to 38.8, and leading his team to another title.
Jordan also played all out, every play, while LeBron has learnt how to rest in-game. This is not a knock on LeBron at all, I think that’s smart. But Jordan was not only a superstar on offense, he was also an elite defender, winning DPOY and being 9x All-Defense. LeBron, while being a good defender, does not come close, and his teams have often stunk it up on that side of the ball.
It’s also often said that LeBron has no help and single handedly takes teams to the Finals. You could make a case for this early in his career, when he had Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden and Big Z. Sure, without Irving there’s no Pippen, but you can’t tell me the latest version of the Cavs, or the Lakers next year for that matter, have guys like John Paxson and Bill Cartwright/Luc Longley both in the starting lineup and Stacey King in the rotation. They were all decent players, and mainly ones LeBron handpicked himself.
In closing, the opposition team’s strategy against LeBron is to let him do what he wants as long as no-one else on the team beats you. Jordan would destroy that, and it’s that individual dominance which LeBron can’t match.
Which player(s) had the potential to be in the conversation for G.O.A.T were it not for some circumstance? (eg injury, bad situation, lack of work ethic etc)
Dan Kelly: Shaq if he had stayed in LA.
Troy Goostrey: A very tough question which I think needs 2 categories of answers – injury vs work ethic/mental shortcomings.
To be considered GOAT, you not only have to be a great player of your generation, but to get to that pinnacle you have to have the mental focus and drive to keep other lures at bay and away from impacting your career. Since retirement, we know more about MJ and those vices away from the game which impacted his life and he’s had the mental strength to still be able to separate those from stopping him under perform on the big stage. So 2 players we’ll never really know if they would be in the GOAT conversation or not due to their inability to separate social life and basketball would be Earl “The Goat” Manigault and Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell. For Manigault, heck he has the nickname “The Goat” so he has to be included here!! One of the other GOATs in conversation – Kareem – said upon his retirement that Manigault was the best player he ever saw or played against – so that’s a pretty good summary of someone who could have been from someone who was. Similar with Hook Mitchell – when you have two of the best PG’s of our generation in Gary Payton and Jason Kidd saying this guy made them both look pedestrian, then you have to think what he might have been if he’d stayed out of trouble and got into “The Show”.
From the injury front, I’m going to call out a dark horse to start with and say Bill Walton. Honestly, not sure he would have been GOAT but he was a lock to average a double-double, then was the best passing big man ever seen when he entered the league which – if he stayed healthy – could have led to amazing stats, championships, and a place amongst immortals in the game. However two safer bets who would be close to GOAT if they stayed healthy would be Larry Bird and Grant Hill. Bird had an amazing career anyway, and if his back held out another 5 seasons or so, who knows if a) Lakers go back-to-back b) Bad Boys even win one and c) MJ loses one or two more from his resume. By his age 24 season, Grant Hill was averaging about 21p 9r 7a per game with steals and solid percentages. He was on his way towards joining the Big-O in the season triple double group and 2 decades before Westbrook has done it. There is no doubt his mind was in the right place to keep other distractions at bay, so overall he’s my pick of the injured guys who would be in the GOAT conversation with some more injury luck.
Jarrod Cotton: So many potential players in this list but Arvydas Sabonis is my pick for this one.
Ryan Spears: I can’t think of an injury to a player that would have affected the GOAT argument. Bad situation would probably mean bad team and I believe that all GOAT candidates would attract talent over the course of their careers, and anyone with a bad work ethic would also not be in the conversation.
David Ashman: Potential GOATs could have been mmmmm probably Tracy McGrady. He definitely had the skills and scoring prowess. He was unfortunately cut down by injuries in his prime. Such a shame for what could have been. Him and say a Shaq together would have won multiple championships in my opinion. It was a case of what could have been with Tmac. Also Magic Johnson is up there. If it wasn’t for his HIV, would he have won more championships? Possibly yes and he was the Ben Simmons like player were he is team first, scoring stats second. I’m looking and talking at you Kobe, ya ball hog big head!
Jesse Cotton: There are players we never saw the best of, or at all, such as Oscar Schmidt and Arvydas Sabonis. I’m not going to comment on those because I don’t know enough about them. Schmidt was probably no more than Brazil’s Andrew Gaze.
I’m also sure there are players in the past who would have been good in their era, especially with how injuries which are now considered minor would have been debilitating back then. So I’ll stick with the era I know best, and also, like Troy, break it up into injury and attitude.
Injury – Grant Hill. This guy had all the tools: gifted scorer, passer, defender, and very coachable. I could see him becoming a worse-shooting-but-more-athletic Larry Bird, where he really didn’t have a weakness and had the work ethic to keep getting better.
Attitude – Allen Iverson. He played with so much energy like Russell Westbrook, was an unmatched scorer, and would be considered one of the top 50 or so players of all time. But the guy didn’t practice. Imagine how much better he could’ve been if he developed the parts of his game that was lacking. Or if he even acknowledged there were parts of his game which were lacking.
Who would you have considered that Jordan was chasing as the G.O.A.T, and when did he pass him?
Dan Kelly: Magic. Got to go off guys that I have at least seen play (so rule out Russell and Chamberlain). Honourable mention to Kareem. Are you seeing a bit of a Lakers theme with these answers? Lavar Ball would have you believe he still is G.O.A.T.
Troy Goostrey: Kareem. And Kareem passed Russell. It’s a very elite group of 3 in my opinion. Even the likes of Dr J, Magic, Bird, Duncan, West, Wilt, Oscar, Mikan and others are on a step below these 3. LeBron is certainly knocking on the door to seek entry to this trifecta and make it 4. Then who knows who (if anyone) from generation next?? Be interesting to revisit this question and answers in another 20 years!
Jarrod Cotton: I always thought it would’ve been Wilt Chamberlain just going on stats but I think it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (even though I find it hard to look past the old man Jabbar of the late 80’s)
Ryan Spears: Probably Wilt, Jabbar and West as individual players. I believe he would have passed them after the first three-peat. I did not get to see these players much or at all, so am going of highlights, stats, reputation, etc.
David Ashman: Jordan was probably chasing either a Wilt Chamberlin or a Bill Russell at the time. This I think is based on their number of championships and status at the time. But also at the same time these guys were centres and not guards so maybe a bit of a difference in styles of play. Also around the time of Jordan joining the league, Dr J remember was all the rage. I don’t know if he was considered the greatest but certainly he was the most popular and was seen as a once in a generation player soon to be outdone by MJ himself.
Jesse Cotton: It’s hard to tell with growing up through Jordan’s career, it was like he was always considered the best ever, but in reality he probably only got that title after coming back from baseball, getting 72 wins and winning more titles.
So who was the best prior to that? It’s either Kareem or Wilt for me. Both big guys who revolutionised the game, but at the same time I don’t consider either of them to be title winners on their own. Wilt needed the logo (not that he would’ve ever passed to him!), and Kareem needed Big O or Magic. But I’m going to go with Wilt for the simple fact that he is the reason the 3-second rule was brought in. When a single player changes the rules of the game against him, then you know he must have been just too dominant.