Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 1997

Steve Lipofsky

Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 1997

LeBron James recently won his fourth NBA Championship and fourth NBA Finals MVP Award. James was and is already established as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and these accomplishments simply cement that further. But James has been someone who is mentioned very often in the “G.O.A.T” (Greatest of all time) discussion. In the past 10 years, the debate of “Who is the G.O.A.T of Basketball,” has mostly simmered down to LeBron James or Michael Jordan, and many are arguing that LeBron’s recent accomplishments give him that title. I’m here to give my own take on this debate, and flip it on its head.


The first question I want to put out there is this: Is the greatest player of all time the same as the best player of all time? I would say no. I look at greatness as being defined by accomplishments, accolades, and legacy, and best being defined by skill. It is here where I would say that the G.O.A.T is either Michael Jordan, or Bill Russell, and the B.O.A.T (Best of all time) is LeBron James. Here’s why.


On the accomplishments side of things, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan are neck and neck. Jordan holds the record for most Finals MVPs with six, is top ten in most NBA championships won with six again, and is six for six in finals appearances (he has won all six of the NBA Finals he has been too). Bill Russell had the Finals MVP award named after him and played before it was awarded, holds the record for most NBA championships won with eleven, and is eleven for twelve in finals appearances.


Now with these stats, it seems as if Russell is the undisputed winner of this category, right? Not quite. It has to be taken into account that Michael Jordan played MUCH better competition in his era than Russell did, and had a less dominant supporting cast around him. With this information, it is very easy to make an argument that Jordan’s six for six record is as, if not more, impressive than Russell’s 11 for 12 record in his era. So who’s the G.O.A.T? I’ll let you decide for yourself.


Skill is basically unquantifiable, which makes the B.O.A.T. conversation very dicey. A second piece to take into account is that basketball is a position-based sport, meaning that “the best player” is a different thing for each position. But that is part of the reason that LeBron James is the best player ever–his versatility. I don’t doubt that James could at least be a passable player at every position on the court. 


This past year he led the league in assists while averaging over twenty-five points a game and almost eight rebounds. James traditionally plays at the small-forward position, but his assist and shooting numbers (49% from the field and 35% from three) give us reason to believe that he could start at either guard spot. His size and rebounding suggest that he could be a mismatch at either the power forward or center spot, while not being that much of a defensive liability.


Another factor giving LeBron an edge in the B.O.A.T. category is how long he has played. James just finished his 17th season in the NBA while still looking like one of the best players in the world, if not the best. He finished 2nd in MVP voting behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led his team to the best record in the league and won Defensive Player of the Year. James barely fell short of Giannis while being 10 years older. This combination of versatility, longevity, and obvious skill and dominance give James an extremely impressive resume, and put him as my B.O.A.T.


The G.O.A.T has been an ongoing debate for years and I felt like it needed updating. Due to basketball being so position-based, there will almost certainly never be a definitive greatest or best player of all time. Basketball is also always changing, with defense becoming less important, and the three point shot almost being a necessity for every position in recent years. And the odds are good that basketball will continue to change and evolve for years to come, further muddling the G.O.A.T. debate.