Stop debating GOATs and respect their legacies

Connor Youngberg, Associate Design Editor

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA career scoring record on Feb. 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. James set a record we may never see broken again, yet many fans spent the night arguing, rather than appreciating greatness.

Debating is a key component of sports culture. Whether it’s talk shows, social media or just chatting with friends, debates dominate sports conversations. However, in situations like James breaking the scoring record, fans should be giving him flowers above everything.

The Greatest of All Time debate itself is a conversation worth having. Michael Jordan was undeniably the greatest player of all-time when he retired, earning five Most Valuable Player trophies and leading the Chicago Bulls to six championships along the way. On the other hand, James has earned four MVP awards and won four NBA championships. While debating these all-time greats is understandable, the conversation has often become extremely watered down.

When James broke the scoring record, every fan took to social media to share their reactions. While some people celebrated the enormous accolade, most fans began sparking arguments about who is the GOAT.

The NBA Twitter timeline was an absolute war when James broke the record in early February, with many declaring that James is now the undisputed greatest player of all-time. This led to the other side of NBA Twitter coming to Jordan’s defense, fighting back against the claim that he is second fiddle to James.

All of this Twitter discourse was incredibly lame. We witnessed history that we’re all going to tell our grandkids about one day, yet a majority of people are on social media citing stats and accolades as to why one is better than the other. Can we stop arguing with random people on the internet for just one second and instead appreciate greatness?

This is not just a one-time thing. Every time one player gets mentioned, the other gets brought up. After  NBA on ESPN tweeted an image of Jordan with the caption “The (GOAT) turns 60 today,” the comments were a bloodbath between Jordan fans and James fans. Can we not give this debate a rest even for the man’s birthday?

I think the NBA fandom has to come to the conclusion that both players are valid choices. Jordan was purely dominant throughout his career and James has shown he’s a generational athlete with no signs of stopping. Both are legendary, but they’re not the only legends either.

Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and Bill Russell are just a few all-time greats that find themselves atop lists of the greatest players of all-time. However, because they aren’t Jordan or James, they very rarely find themselves in GOAT conversations, which is a good thing.

Those players are hall-of-famers and are remembered as such. People can have conversations about them without comparing them to other NBA legends, and that’s how it should be for Jordan and James, as well. Their greatness should be individually admired without sparking disputes between fans all of the time.

While it’s easy to see why fans debate the topic, it’s difficult to see why it’s so prominent or why fans go to the lengths that they do to argue this subject. While debating is a key part of sports, it shouldn’t blind fans from appreciating greatness altogether.

Many people who believe Jordan is the GOAT refuse to give James his credit and many people who think James is the GOAT refuse to acknowledge the impact Jordan left on the game. Why can’t all basketball fans recognize that both players are some of the best athletes to ever grace this planet?

Although not directly related to basketball, the outro to rapper J. Cole’s song “Fire Squad” contains a story about people debating who owns the rap crown. In the song, people are debating who the crown belongs to, while Cole sneaks in, snatches the crown and destroys it, seemingly putting an end to all discussions of who the greatest rapper is, saying “ain’t gonna be no more kings.”

The story written by Cole here is extremely similar to the GOAT discussion in basketball. So many fans spend so much time arguing with each other about who the greatest is, that they miss out on the opportunity to enjoy their greatness before it’s over.

The debate between the two legends has become increasingly lame as the years go by, and it’s a shame that fans cannot simply learn to enjoy greatness as they see it. As Cole once put it, “they act like two legends cannot coexist.”