As we draw closer to Lebron James overtaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time all-time leading scorer, the question arises as to who is the NBA’s all-time greatest (GOAT
The GOAT debate is always a lot of fun, but first we need to define the criteria for determining the GOAT. Is it just NBA performance, which includes MVPs, championships, All-Pro selections, All-Star appearances, points scored, rebounds and assists? Does it include influence on the game of basketball outside of the NBA, such as B. High school and college basketball? And should it involve sports business implications or even social activism.
I would argue that each of these 3 has a legitimate claim to the title of GOAT depending on the criteria you use. For Michael, he won 6 championships and was a 6-time MVP. He never lost in the Finals and was always Finals MVP. Michael was the ultimate “winner” and competitor whose philosophy was “give no quarters and seek no quarters” from opponents or even teammates.
He also single-handedly boosted the NIKE brand with his nickname “Air Jordan” and along the way, NIKE became the ultimate pitcher for brands from Coke to Gatorade and McDonald’s to Fruit of the Loom.
Michael’s charisma was also largely responsible for the NBA’s thriving. He fitted David Stern’s image of the NBA athlete perfectly: well-spoken, elegant and remarkably athletic. During Michael’s tenure, the NBA grew in popularity to such an extent that David Stern once whispered to me, “How are we going to survive without him?” Somehow David and his successor Adam Silver found a way to do this. By the time Michael retired, the NBA had approximately $2 billion in revenue, while Adam Silver recently announced that NBA revenue would surpass $10 billion in 2022.
Lebron came at a time when high school athletes could go straight into the NBA, and he did so with much fanfare. From the start it was clear that he was a man among boys – tall, extremely athletic and an almost indestructible body. He developed an exceptional feel for the game and was the model of consistency…Maybe he didn’t have Michael’s passion and tenacity to win from the start, but Lebron developed more of that killer instinct over time and was able to show it in many key moments, won 3 NBA titles and 4 MVP awards and a record 18 All-Star appearances. Lebron is close to beating Kareem’s goal-scoring record, a testament to long-term consistency and at the age of 38 playing some of the best basketball players of his career. Lebron has been reported to spend $1 million a year to maintain his physical condition using the latest technologies and everything he does works. Off the pitch, Lebron has also had a huge impact. His sports marketing degrees are numerous and he has built a hugely successful entertainment business. Lebron has also led a movement to shift the balance of power in the NBA more in favor of the players and is known for his social and political activism. Some applaud him for his brave stance on social justice issues, while others believe he sometimes fires off social media posts that reach judgment without full investigation and due consideration of the facts.
Though Kareem is rarely mentioned in this GOAT conversation, his accomplishments are exceptional and his impact on the game of basketball unmatched. By the time Kareem was in high school, he was so dominant that the NCAA changed the rules of the game to prevent basketball from dipping because they thought he would dominate the game so much if allowed. Kareem adapted to this rule change and developed his famous “sky hook,” the most unstoppable shot in NBA history. Also, when Kareem was playing, nobody was allowed to play in the NBA until his college class graduated. So Kareem played 4 years at UCLA before coming to the NBA. 2,325 plus about 750 as a freshman, so around 3,000 points. With 4 more years in the NBA, Kareem would certainly have extended his scoring record well beyond the current one, probably over 40,000 points. He may even have expanded his tally of 6 MVPs and 6 NBA championships to go along with his 15 All-Star appearances. People may not remember, but Kareem predated Lebron in social activism. He was photographed with Martin Luther King at the age of 17 and was the focus of many gatherings protesting racial injustice. He remains an accomplished author, social commentator and respected intellectual.
As the GOAT debate continues to smolder, I feel it cannot really be resolved objectively. No one can agree on the criteria, the context, or what matters most in settling this debate. Let’s just celebrate, as Kareem says, “The Evolution of Excellence” and appreciate the one thing these amazing athletes have in common: that they are truly remarkable on and off the basketball court.