Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is undoubtedly one of the greatest players ever to grace a basketball court.
The former Bucks and Lakers center is engrained in league history forever as a six-time champion, six-time MVP, 19-time All Star and the leading scorer in NBA history with 38,387 points.
The seven footer dominated the league for well over a decade and was part of arguably the greatest team of all-time, starring alongside Magic Johnson on the Showtime Lakers in the eighties.
The now 71-year-old is considered by most critics as a top five player in history, and some would even call him the greatest of all time (GOAT).
His accomplishments speak for themselves, but Jabbar isn’t a fan of the GOAT debate.
Michael Jordan is the answer that most will give when queried on that topic, though the LeBron James camp is certainly a growing one.
But, the argument as Jabbar rightly points out, is completely subjective based on the era and circumstances in which each contender played.
Thus, he argues that the debate is entirely futile because there won’t ever be a way to compare the prowess of Bill Russell playing in the 60’s with less teams and in a completely different era of playing style, to the era’s of Magic, Bird, Chamberlain, Jordan, Kobe and LeBron.
“These GOAT discussions are fun distractions while sitting around waiting for the pizza to be served,” Abdul-Jabbar told The Undefeated. “But they’re on a par with ‘Which superpower would you want most: flight or invisibility?’ Whether I’m included or not in anyone’s list doesn’t matter. I played my hardest and I helped my teammates. That’s the most important thing I walked away with.
“The reason there is no such thing as the GOAT is because every player plays under unique circumstances. We played different positions, under different rules, with different teammates, with different coaches. Every player has to adapt to their circumstances and find a way to excel. This isn’t Highlander. There can be more than one.”
The two-time scoring champ has an excellent point that the league differs enormously from one era to the next, and that a better way to distinguish those in the GOAT argument would be to define them by their separate era’s.
There’s no way to know how LeBron would’ve faired in a league with the hand check, or how Jordan would’ve adapted to a three point-centric NBA, or how Russell and Wilt would deal with not always being the biggest or most athletic on the court if they played today.
Each great player excelled in their own set of circumstances and we should celebrate that, not bring them down to push another up by talking in hypotheticals about how they would or wouldn’t be able to do certain things had they played in a different time.
There is no way to ever know who would come out on top if all the best players in history played at the same time, so why are we so obsessed with trying to reach a defined answer as to who is THE greatest.
It’s impossible to find out. Each player has their own attributes that make them great, and they should all be heralded for them. Comparing the skillset of a center to a guard is futile, and comparing the work of a starting forward in 2018 to a starting forward in 1970 is too.
Circumstance dictates what anyone is able to achieve, and no set of circumstances is ever the same.
Jabbar is right, the debate shouldn’t exist and it should come to a halt, But, it just won’t.
MJ is still the GOAT though right? Or shall we hold off on that until LeBron soars past him in every statistical category and wins another title to become the first man to lead three different teams to a championship?
Then we’ll anoint the King as the GOAT…until the next GOAT comes along.