More than any other sport, basketball offers itself up to the "Who's The Best of All Time?" debate. There is baseball, which has practically cornered the market on debates, but, because of the different positions and leagues, it's rarely an argument centered on who's the best. And while football is America's 'pasttime,' you're more likely to get a debate about which team is the best of all time, not something focused on a specific player.
As for hoops, there's still a large contingent that says the best ever, or the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T) is Bill Russell. Nearly just about everyone else not in the Russell camp says the true G.O.A.T. is Michael Jordan.
"I've always thought Michael Jordan was the best player that I've ever seen. I always have and and I didn't think it was close. I'm not so sure any more. And I love Michael Jordan. I'm not so sure anymore. This guy is 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, and he's getting better. He works on his game. His shooting is getting better. He's a phenomenal, phenomenal basketball player. I love this game, I love the history of this game. I know we've had great, great players through the years. He's like Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan-type skills as well."
The talk shows, message boards, and Skip Bayless' face all lit up after Jim Boeheim said that to ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd. After debating Boeheim's merits, the conversation has shifted to whether or not James really could end up being "better" than Jordan.
But the thing is, read Boeheim's words up there again, they're not controversial, they're not worthy of days of debate, even for August. Boeheim said something that we've all thought, deep down in places we don't talk about; James may end up being the best of all time. And if Boeheim said it, and it's about basketball, we should all listen.
Look, to me no one was better to me than MJ. He had the skill set, the athleticism, and this insatiable drive to win, at everything. Jordan was the first player that I actually took time to truly appreciate. I would literally stop what I was doing and watch him and his Chicago Bulls teams, no matter if it was just a game in February, and that game was in Milwaukee. I was all in. Jordan was the rarest of the rare, a special force combined with flare and swagger.
To mess with Jordan's legacy, to question what he was and what he still means is nearly sacrilegious to the members of the Church of Basketball. I mean, we've heard and read that other "Jordans" were coming. Remember Allen Iverson? Remember the drama around Kobe Bryant? None of those players truly captured us and the game the way Jordan did.
Yet, "Air" didn't win his first title until 1991, he didn't become most everyone's G.O.A.T. until after Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson came aboard and realized their Hall Of Fame future. And while that shouldn't diminish Jordan's successes, it should put into perspective what we have in James.
As Boeheim alluded to, James has the power of a runaway freight train with the finesse of a ballet dancer. He can be Dr. J one minute, Bob Cousy the next. Yes, titles define athletes the way elections define politicians, but who's to say James isn't just getting started? I seem to recall a lot of talk about how Jordan was only a scorer, a terrible teammate, someone you just couldn't win with. Then things changed. Maybe that's happening now with James.
Maybe. Not definitely, but perhaps. Perhaps James will surpass Jordan in terms of rings, star power, and meaning. I don't think it's likely, but of all the people we should listen to on the subject, I'll take Boeheim's word for it. In Syracuse's leader we have someone who has nearly 900 career wins in division one basketball, a national championship, a Hall of Fame ring, and, maybe more importantly for this argument, Boeheim is a basketball junky.
The man stays up until all hours of the night to watch a West Coast Conference game. Not because his Orange may play one of the teams playing in the game, but because he simply wants to see the game. That love for the game is why Boeheim is still coaching. He's a fan of basketball, of the players he gets to see and coach, and that includes as an assistant on Team USA. Basically, over the last three or four decades, Boeheim has coached, coached against, or repeatedly watched the best basketball has to offer.
So when he says James is, "a phenomenal, phenomenal basketball player. I love this game, I love the history of this game. I know we've had great, great players through the years. He's like Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan-type skills as well," we should listen. It's a thought on basketball, not about decisions or marketing or hairlines, just hoops. Something few people know better than Boeheim.
For most of us, our eyes show us James isn't there, our minds say James will never get there, but Boeheim's warning us to not let our biases cloud our vision of James' talents. Jordan's time is done, James' clock is still ticking and we should all be open to whatever lies in his future. It's not an endorsement that James is better than Jordan, it's just some advice to tell the basketball debater that soon James' name may need to be included in the discussion of basketball's G.O.A.T. Whether we like it or not.