The NBA Has No GOAT
As LeBron James steadily approaches his fifth NBA Finals loss in eight appearances, his chances at earning the "Greatest Of All Time" crown continue to weaken. He's at that weird place in his career where a win in this Finals would've made him hard to ignore as a serious GOAT contender, but a loss will set him back significantly. It's deductive reasoning that only makes sense to sports fans - and even then, it's tenuous.
It was the same way that people felt about Tom Brady after he lost his second Super Bowl in 2012. Three wins out of five just couldn't top Joe Montana's 4-0 for a lot of people. Then the last three years happened, and now it's not even an argument. Even Brady's former detractors roll their eyes when someone tries to return to the debate.
"Is Brady better than Peyton Manning" and "has Brady finally surpassed Montana" and "is Brady just the product of Belichick's masterful coaching" were all constant NFL talking points not so long ago. Now Manning isn't even in the conversation. Brady stomped out whatever small chance Manning's regular season stats had of trumping his postseason success when he won his fifth Super Bowl in seven tries.
At the age of 39, years after most assumed he'd won his last championship, Brady had one of the most impressive seasons in the history of the league. "Never say never" doesn't actually apply to much in life - but in sports, it very much does. So if you think LeBron has no shot at ever surpassing MJ's legacy in the court of public opinion, you're dead wrong.
Sure, LeBron isn't the GOAT yet - but Jordan is the GOAT no longer.
Nothing lasts forever, right? The world is always changing, as are our memories of the past, perceptions of the present and expectations for the future. As time goes by, and the generation that actually watched Jordan continues to have kids who only know him for his eponymous sneaker, someone else gets the chance to take over. That's how it works.
However the only way that someone can be given the title of GOAT is if we all mostly agree on it. That should be obvious, but instead it's complicated. The game continues to evolve with every generation that plays it, and that makes things confusing. So we all scramble to decide which version of the game was "better" or "harder" - and if rings really are the final word. If they are, isn't Bill Russell the GOAT? And if they aren't, can't LeBron swoop in any day now?
And if Brady is a GOAT, then why isn't Jordan?
Well first of all, we don't consider Brady to be the greatest football player of all time - just the greatest quarterback. No one in their right mind even tries to qualify any one player as the greatest football player of all time. More importantly though, it's because we mostly agree on it. As time goes on, maybe Brady's GOAT status will reveal itself to be as fragile as Jordan's now is, but for this moment in time, it's decided.
A GOAT doesn't have to be permanent, they just need to have a significant majority consensus. Jordan wore the crown for a very long time, but when LeBron made it to his seventh consecutive NBA Finals, things changed. We can't talk about Jordan as the undisputed King of Basketball anymore, even if we think there's a chance he still might be. Once that consensus is gone, so too is the crown - and it doesn't just automatically go to someone else.
Sometimes the throne is empty.
LeBron has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in his career, and he's about to lose to the New York Giants for the second time in a row. So things will go one of two ways from here.
One way ends with Jordan bursting through the castle doors to reclaim his forcibly abdicated kingship. The other way ends with a 39-year-old LeBron overcoming a 25-point deficit to hit a three-point buzzer beater and win Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Never say never.
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