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A Crash Course For NBA Bandwagon Fans: Who is the GOAT?

Updated on August 11, 2022
Gregory Vic profile image

Greg de la Cruz is a software technical writer, a content strategist, and the author of the novel, "Green Light."

Kobe Bryant (left) and LeBron James (right) playing against each other in a basketball game. The GOAT debate should no longer just be Jordan versus LeBron.
Kobe Bryant (left) and LeBron James (right) playing against each other in a basketball game. The GOAT debate should no longer just be Jordan versus LeBron. | Source

Let's dispose of the notion that the greatest of all time title can be settled by the question: "Who's better, Michael Jordan or LeBron James?"

Over the years, as fans both casual and die-hard became worn down of constantly pitting the two against each other, the names of legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Russell have deservedly found themselves in the discussion.

And congrats to you, because if by any chance you're not defaulting to either Jordan or LeBron, you're already halfway through this mindset of opening up your mind into the rich history of the highest level of basketball ever played.

These days, debating about who's the GOAT is an evergreen topic. Headlines about NBA player movement, or even just rumors, always find a way to fill your basketball newsfeed. Since I'm a firm believer that the general public ought to educate themselves enough before they engage in social media to promote their "greatest basketball player of all time", without even knowing other significant players worthy of the said title, I took this liberty to send a gentle reminder that we shouldn't take for granted the significant 'others' who aren't mentioned often enough.

Below are some of what I hope to be enlightening questions, and the answers to each will simply be the name of a player worthy of the discussion of 'Who's the G.O.A.T.' And I promise you, I will not bore you with stats—despite their indispensability when making a case—instead I'll describe these players to you as if I was talking to a golden retriever.

Who is the most athletic NBA player of all time?

Again, this isn't an article about LeBron James, even if he deserves to be in the conversation. The simple, without-even-giving-it-much-thought answer is Wilt Chamberlain. You might know him when you googled 'who scored 100 points in a game' or when your retirement-worthy gym teacher in high school asked you to do a little homework on who he thinks is the best player of all time.

I apologize for being biased, but Wilt is not only the most athletic player of all time, but in my opinion he is the very best. If he were alive today and the media would bring up questions on who's the NBA's GOAT, he'd certainly be invited. And then Jordan would be invited too, where he'd annoyingly argue that having more rings gives you a better ranking as a player. Wilt may not have won more championships than MJ did, but his incredible leaping ability, his speed at his height of 7'1" and his unmatched strength puts him at a higher consideration. Yes, Mike was super athletic himself, but please do me a favor and search for Wilt Chamberlain highlights on YouTube, and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Who's is the most important player of all time?

This is again another question that can be answered with either LeBron or MJ. And then the floodgates would open for endless bashing and bandwagoning. But the true answer to this is Julius Erving. Doctor 'J'.

Not only was Dr. J the most athletic player in his generation and definitely top-5 all time, but he was the most important one. The reason for this is simple - there wouldn't be a 30-team NBA league without him. Let us not forget that the NBA as we know it didn't have as much teams back then, and there was the American Basketball Association, which originally introduced the three-point line, with their most marketable team the New York Nets.

And why were the Nets great back then? Because of Julius Erving. He was a dunking god and remains to be the slam dunk god, but we don't give him enough credit for his importance in today's game. Because let me reiterate - the ABA had a three-point line. The NBA did not. The NBA today loves the three-point line. Without the three-point line, we would not be calling the Golden State Warriors today as a super team.

Therefore, not only was the artful expression of the slam dunk infused into the NBA due to the NBA-ABA merger, but at that moment when the NBA decided that Julius Erving was so important that they had to bring over an entire league just to have him in theirs, the NBA actually created a future league where Steph Curry would be a two-time champion and be the first unanimous Most Valuable Player.

Who is the most iconic player of all time?

The word 'iconic' seems so vague and I won't waste your time giving you a Wikipedia definition. Contrary to popular belief, there is a right answer to this question, and once more, it ain't 'his airness' nor 'the chosen one' who deserves to be the answer. It's none other than Mister Icon himself, Jerry West.

And you might ask, 'Who the hell is Johnny West - I'm sorry - er, Jeremy West?' Jerry West is the guy who supposedly is behind the NBA logo, or is the logo himself. That silhouette of the league's insignia - that's the silhouette of Jerry West's body. Not today of course - he's incredibly old! So old that, as general manager he was already old when he acquired Shaq to play for the Lakers back in 1996.

Jerry West deserves everyone's respect and regard both as a player and as person connected with the NBA because he was basically Kobe back in the 60's and 70's. He made an incredible number of big shots, and he was a long-range beast, if you would just watch where he shot the ball from. There was no three-point line back in his day, but if there was, he would have won several more games than he actually did.

As a front office boss for big-city teams, it would seem that anything Jerry West touched would turn to gold. He was responsible for building the Kobe-Shaq duo that won three titles. He was one of the builders of the Warriors super team that we now see today. And he's now part of the La Clippers organization - the most cursed team of all time - hoping to leave a touch of his magic dust and finally destroy the Clipper's string of bad luck.

Who is the most unstoppable player of all time?

Not MJ. Not LBJ. But hey - in the same draft class as Michael Jordan was in 1984! What's more - this player was picked before Michael Jordan. You can thank this player for the great improvement in post-play of several NBA players because he's the guy they call when they need help in low-post footwork.

Hakeem Olajuwon. The Dream. Watch him on YouTube, and his footwork will blow your mind. Just when you thought Dirk Nowitzki invented the one-legged fade-away jumper, be sure to watch Hakeem's highlights and then you'll see how Dirk only makes it look more awkward.

Hakeem as a basketball player can be considered the very best. His footwork in the post was emulated by Kobe Bryant. The simple technique of not establishing a pivot foot after backing down and going for your 'move' was popularized and mastered by Hakeem Olajuwon. Many consider his footwork to be even better than most players playing the guard position in today's NBA. His remarkable footwork makes him the most unstoppable player in the post because of a combination of fakes, change of direction, hesitation, good instinct, and above all, mastery.

He's one of the many examples of players who show that hard work and trying to master your craft can lead to very beneficial results. You see, not only was he unstoppable in the sense that nobody could guard him at his spots - but he is unstoppable in the sense that you can see players in today's game using the moves he popularized. You can see his moves embedded in the very nature of the basketball game itself. As context, watch the game-winning shot of Kyrie Irving in the Christmas Day game of the Cavs versus the Warriors in 2016. That finishing move by Kyrie was without a doubt influenced by Hakeem the Dream.

Who is the most hardworking player of all time?

This is where, finally, the answer won't sound so surprising. Finally I can talk about Kobe Bryant, who I recently wrote an article about.

Just why do put Kobe above everyone else in terms of hard work?

Because he overcame a lot of odds. Not only did he shatter the timetable for the recovery of a player who tore his Achilles, but he overcame a million other injuries way before that. Talk about knee surgeries, thumb dislocations, ankle sprains. Indeed, every player goes through injuries and pain. And further, Kobe brought these injuries mainly because of the way he played when he was a young NBA player. He just didn't have as good mechanics as LeBron and Westbrook have in today's game. Nonetheless, his mechanics weren't as bad as Derrick Rose's.

Kobe is the nearest guy basketball's ever seen to Michael Jordan because of the way he played and the way he just competed and put everything on the line - whether it was in an actual game or in practice and preparation. Yes, Kobe has MJ's fade-away jumper, which Kobe mixed with Hakeem's footwork and took to another level. Yes, Kobe scored 81 points. Yes, Kobe's just one NBA title short of MJ. But to say that Kobe had all the inherent attributes that made Michael Jordan successful would be a straight lie.

First of all, Kobe Bryant does not have Michael Jordan's unbelievably big hands. The guy can palm a pumpkin. Watch here:

Second, Kobe was not as athletic as Michael Jordan. Please do me a favor and compare Jordan's slam dunk title and Kobe's win in 1997.

Third, Kobe certainly did not have Jordan's speed and agility. Watch highlights of Jordan in the 80's and you'll see just why MJ was referred to as basketball Jesus back in the day.

In short, Kobe did not have most of Jordan's gifts from the beginning, but he still was able to put his name, by the end of his career, right beside Michael Jordan in the GOAT discussion. I won't be talking about Kobe's 4 a.m. practice habit or his staying undefeated at one-on-one, as these would be great topics for a Kobe article. All I'm really saying is, like all the players I just mentioned, he deserves to be in the discussion of Greatest-of-All-Time alongside Lebron James and Michael Jordan.

So who is the G.O.A.T.?

At least now you'd have more to contribute on social media rather than just climb on Jordan's back just because you have a nice collection of Jordan sneakers, or ride LeBron's crew just because you think being the most complete player gives you the right to be called the best.

Being the most complete player or being 6-0 at the finals don't really tell the full story on who exactly the greatest player of all time is. It would not do justice to greats who came before and in between these two players whom we love to debate about so endlessly.

So let me end this article with some honorable mentions:

  • Who is the smartest? - Larry Bird
  • Who is the most complete? - Magic Johnson
  • Who had the most unstoppable shot? - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Who was either basically LeBron or Jordan in his prime but was just unlucky? - Charles Barkley.

Disagree with me? I'd love that even more. That means there are more names I've missed and we can finally stop the exhausting Michael Jordan versus LeBron James debate (that has made ESPN and the NBA millions).

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Greg de la Cruz


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