Lakers History: Why Cross-Sport GOAT Debates Are Pointless
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few months, we have seen a lot of arguments and statements in the media – both print and social – over sporting GOATs. And with LeBron James rapidly approaching the all-time NBA scoring record, we’ve only seen this amplified.

For example, back in the early fall, we learned of the retirements of Serena Williams and Roger Federer, both of whom sparked discussion on who was the greatest ever athlete in tennis. Later we saw Lionel Messi finally lift the World Cup trophy, and then it was his turn to get the GOAT treatment. Sadly, the legendary Pele died a few weeks later, and we were again asked to reflect and say it was he, and not Messi, who was the greatest.

Of course, these debates can be fun and get a little heated. Sit any modern basketball fan down and ask who they think is the greatest, and they might say, James. But ask someone a little older who has seen Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at their peak, and they might beg to differ. You ask anyone who grew up as a Chicago Bulls fan in the 1990s, and they will only give you one answer.

Difficult to Compare Different Sports

But while there is some merit in debating the best in a specific sport, given it can be backed up by metrics, it all gets a bit dumb and pointless when we argue about different sports. Do Tom Brady’s six Super Bowls titles count more than Serena William’s 24 Grand Slam titles? Do Abdul-Jabbar’s six MVP awards count more than Messi’s seven Balon d’Or trophies? Of course not.

And yet, it goes a little further than measuring championships and accolades. Athletes impact their sport in different ways and for a variety of reasons. For instance, basketball players have a more significant impact on a team’s fortunes than soccer players. For this reason, you’ll see the NBA odds shift more significantly when one big move happens compared to soccer. The journalist and pop psychologist Malcolm Gladwell has written on this topic, arguing that basketball is more influenced by individual players than sports like soccer.

In that sense, it can be futile to argue about how a team’s accomplishments are down to one player. Of course, we aren’t saying that you are guaranteed success if you sign that generational talent – Lakers fans will attest to that – but simply that the metrics are more dissimilar than most people imagine. Still, if you put Lebron into an average basketball team, he would have a more significant impact than Messi in an average soccer team.

Heated Debates

Of course, having the GOAT debate doesn’t hurt anyone. It can get a little tempestuous when it starts delving into inter-gender debates. Some soccer fans lose their minds when a female player is named the best in the world, which can happen occasionally. They then tend to veer into hypotheticals, and it becomes, as we said, pointless.

In the end, it will always be subjective. Suppose you were Argentinian-born and watched Lionel Messi lift the World Cup trophy last month. In that case, nobody will be able to persuade you otherwise if you are some kid from Cleveland or Los Angeles who has idolized Lebron all his life. He delivers the NBA title to the Lakers, so Messi won’t be able to hold a candle. The GOAT is always in the eye of the beholder.

You May Also Like

This Day In Lakers History: 2001 Team Completes Sweep Through Western Conference Playoffs

When it comes to the greatest teams in NBA history, the Los Angeles Lakers have multiple entries into the discussion…

This Day In Lakers History: Kobe Bryant Caps Off Historic Comeback With Buzzer-Beater Against Grizzlies

The Los Angeles Lakers dynasty of the 2000s was one that featured the perfect team concept. With Shaquille O’Neal…

This Day In Lakers History: Kobe Bryant Sinks Game-Winner At Buzzer To Defeat Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets

The Los Angeles Lakers assembled a dynamic rostering entering the 2003-04 season, with what turned out to be…

Lakers History: Kobe Bryant’s NBA Injuries Over The Years

(Originally published on March 13, 2014) The Lakers officially announced on Wednesday…