The NBA Finals are underway and along with it the debate has been raging over which basketball player is truly the greatest of all time or GOAT.
Given the ascension of Lebron James’ star due to his repeated trips to the finals, there are rumblings within the basketball community as to how close he is as a player to basketball’s resident deity, Michael Jordan. Some have even suggested that James has either surpassed, or will surpass, his Airness.
We all may have our own opinions on this based upon our histories, knowledge, and understanding of the game. Is there a way to quantify what we think we know? Can we somehow figure out a way distill all of the things we care about in measuring a player into something that can be applied fairly to all potential GOAT candidates?
My brother, Chance Glenn, has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Johns Hopkins and is a professor and Dean of Engineering at Alabama A&M University. He is also an avid basketball lover.
We both played quite a bit back in the day and thus appreciate what is important in figuring out what goes into being a GOAT. He wanted to apply some scientific chicanery and a bit of mathematical mumbo-jumbo to the problem, so I let him, being the good older brother that I am. He created a survey based upon his algorithm, he calls the GOAT Test, and made it available to fans via social media.
Below are a description of the GOAT factors that he derived, along with a list of the GOAT candidates. Finally, the ranked list of candidates are given with their respective scores. Let’s see how your favorite player fared.
What’s important about a player? What makes him great? What makes him the greatest? Here is the list of the factors we used and a brief explanation of it.
Winning - this is an indication of how much the player won at different levels. Did his team win championships? Did they win during the regular season? What about high school, college, and Olympic play?
Career Statistics - how good are the player’s career scoring, rebounding, assists, and other important statistics?
Impact on the Game - did this player have an impact on the game? On sports? On society as a whole? How significant was it?
Dominance - did this player dominate the game during his time? Was he the best player on the court at any given time?
Talent Level of Peers - how good were the players that played with and against him during his time? How good were the players at his position? How good was the opposition?
All Time Statistical Ranking - How highly does this player rank with the all-time statistics leaders. Is he at or near the top in important categories?
Elevating Team/Teammates - how well did this player make his team and teammates better around him? Did he elevate the play of others?
Focus/Killer Instinct - did this player have the will to put away the opposition when it counted? Did he rise during the big moments? Was he known for getting it done during crunch time?
Work Ethic/Improvement - how much did this player work on his game to get better? Did you see improvement in his game each year?
We had our participants vote to determine just how significant these factors are in determining the GOAT. If you want to participate, you can vote on the importance of the GOAT Factors by clicking on this link: (http://goo.gl/forms/GVelSwbqiM)
Who makes the GOAT candidate list? We assembled a list of twelve hall of famers, future hall of famers, all time greats, or potential all time greats.
You may argue that some of the candidates do not belong on the list as a possible GOAT, but part of the challenge was to see if the GOAT Test could suss this out and produce a true and meaningful ranking. Here are the GOAT candidates in alphabetical order:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - the ‘Captain’, the current all-time leading scorer in league history. The master of the unstoppable, never duplicated, sky-hook and the winner of five NBA championships. (click http://goo.gl/forms/GWGofUBx2X to rate Kareem).
Larry Bird - ‘Larry Legend’, winner of three NBA championship with the storied Boston Celtics. Bird along with Magic Johnson are credited with re-energizing the league with their competitive play. (click http://goo.gl/forms/EWm3ZjWFzv to rate Bird).
Kobe Bryant - still active and productive after twenty seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant has won five championship and is the player most favorably compared to Michael Jordan. (click http://goo.gl/forms/h3nlFGClEW to rate Kobe).
Wilt Chamberlain - the ‘Dipper’ was a man among boys for a large part of his career. He still holds the record for the most points scored in one game at 100. Many of his feats were legendary and could only be passed down by word of mouth. (click http://goo.gl/forms/FBRRBJM5vW to rate Wilt).
Julius Erving - the ‘Doctor’ made his house calls in the NBA in the late seventies and early eighties. Many forget or downgrade his dominance in the ABA. Dr. J revolutionized the game as was considered an ambassador for the game before the Magic/Bird era. (click http://goo.gl/forms/KWKbtdhzw6 to rate the Doctor).
Lebron James - ‘King James’ is the best player in the game in the current era. His career is still going strong and many expect him to add to his accomplishments before it is done. (click http://goo.gl/forms/orYJuxzkxK to rate Lebron).
Magic Johnson - the ‘Magic man’ ran the Showtime Lakers throughout the ultra-competitive era of the 80’s. Before his career was over Magic secured five NBA titles and revolutionized the point guard position forever. (click http://goo.gl/forms/Rrjcbz2MUe to rate Magic).
Michael Jordan - universally regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, ‘Air Jordan’ dominated the 80’s and 90’s with six championships, ten scoring titles, five regular season MVPs, and a host of other accolades. He also had a charisma and appeal unparalleled by any other athlete before or after. (click http://goo.gl/forms/1Q6nzu66O1 to rate Jordan).
Shaquille O’Neal - the ‘Diesel’ arrived in Los Angeles from the Orlando Magic and began steamrolling opponents on his way to three titles as part of the Shaq and Kobe one-two punch in Laker land. He went on to win another title with the Miami Heat. (click http://goo.gl/forms/4k75XA7BHH to rate Shaq).
Oscar Robertson - the ‘Big O’ was best known for averaging a triple-double for an entire season. He did everything on the court and dominated his position, but couldn’t reach the mountain top until Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to Milwaukee. (click http://goo.gl/forms/8Afis6Qjxk to rate Oscar).
Bill Russell - when it comes to winning, Bill Russell is the stick by which all others are measured. As the anchor of the vaunted Boston Celtics Russell averaged 22.5 rebounds per game over his 13 seasons and won 11 championships. He was celebrated for his leadership both on and off of the court. (click http://goo.gl/forms/cxkhgI4upW to rate Russell).
Jerry West - ‘Mr. Clutch’ averaged 27 points per game over a 14 year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was an all-star each season he played and was named Finals MVP in 1968-69 even though the Lakers lost to the Celtics. He won a title in 1972 with Wilt Chamberlain. (click http://goo.gl/forms/SoL80j0Z3q to rate West).
Our test group first voted on the significance of the GOAT factors. They were provided a ranking of 0 to 10.
The group’s scores were averaged and normalized into weights that will be used in the overall player evaluation. The order of importance of the GOAT Factors are:
Dominance (1.0), Career Statistics (0.99), Impact on the Game (0.97), Winning (0.85), Focus/Killer Instinct (0.85), Work Ethic/Improvement (0.82), Elevating Team/Teammates (0.81), All-time Statistical Ranking (0.77), Talent Level of Peers (0.75).
These weights were applied to the scoring of the players. For each player, our test group rated them on each GOAT Factor, giving them a score from 0 to 10. The averages of these scores were multiplied by the weights and summed up. A player receiving perfect 10s on each GOAT Factor would get a total score of 78.09.
So, here are the greatest basketball players of all time according to the GOAT Test:
1 Michael Jordan 74.58
2 Kobe Bryant 70.05
3 Magic Johnson 70.03
4 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 68.19
5 Larry Bird 66.03
6 Wilt Chamberlain 64.81
7 Bill Russell 63.29
8 Lebron James 60.70
9 Shaquille O'Neal 59.34
10 Julius Erving 58.99
11 Jerry West 58.20
12 Oscar Robertson 58.02
So how does the GOAT Test work for you? Are the players in their proper place?
All must be right with the world since Michael Jordan emerged on top. This GOAT Test algorithm provides a method to measure any player that you would want to plug into it. If ratings are objectively applied, then that player should find his proper place. Let us know what you think.