Who is the GOAT of basketball?


Hima Thota

LeBron James broke the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s all-time scoring record on Feb. 7, reaching a a total of 38,388 points in his storied career. In today’s professional sports column “Game Talk with Gabe,” Aquila Assistant Sports Editor Gabe Sachse discusses his thoughts on the “Greatest of all time” in basketball debate.

by Gabe Sachse, Co-Assistant Sports Editor

LeBron James broke the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s all-time scoring record on Feb. 7, shooting a turnaround midrange jumper in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder team, which gave him a total of 38,388 points in his storied career. James passed the record set almost four decades ago by the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after years of speculation surrounding Lebron’s approach of the 38,387 mark.

From stunning scouts as a high school star to growing into an icon during his first stint as a Cleveland Cavalier, to winning multiple titles with the Miami Heat, then going back to Cleveland and redeeming his hometown team with a title and to his current Los Angeles Lakers stretch that features another title, James continues to cement himself as one of, if not the best player in basketball history. He dominated the league in such a historic manner that it has sparked what might be the most intense debate in sports — who is the greatest of all time (GOAT) of basketball?

While fans mention greats like Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Kobe Bryant, the debate usually narrows to James and Michael Jordan. Jordan influenced athletic culture more than almost anybody in history, from the Air Jordan Jumpman logo representing one of the biggest brands to his movie being a cultural benchmark in the world of sports. His accomplishments on the court  include six championships, all coming in three peats, five MVPs and 14 All-Star appearances — all virtually unmatched across the sport. 

On the other hand, with James, you have the picture of longevity. Despite being hailed as a pass-first player, and sitting fourth on the all-time assists leaderboard, he now holds the record for total points scored. He also sports four MVPs, four championships, 13 All-NBA first team honors, and 19 All-Star appearances, one of the few resumes that can compare to Jordan’s somewhat favorably. On top of all of his on-court success, James also holds a popular shoe collaboration with Nike, as well as a sequel, in which he stars, to Michael Jordan’s Space Jam movie, a production company and a school for disadvantaged children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. He reached a billionaire status while playing, the first in the league’s history to do so, and the second to reach that mark at all after Jordan, displaying his influence outside of the game itself.

Even with both players’ impressive stats, accolades and achievements in all areas of the game, the debate as to who is the GOAT comes down to a tiny sliver lining of their careers: the playoffs. Both players have had star-studded teams around them. Jordan played with the likes of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman during his time with the Bulls, and LeBron played with Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and Anthony Davis. Jordan’s six championships also compare better to LeBron’s four, although the latter player appeared in more Finals. Others argue that Jordan’s teams couldn’t win without him, since the Bulls didn’t win a championship without him or after he left the team. However, LeBron’s teams suffered greatly without him on the floor as well — the Cavaliers went into a full rebuild without him, and the Heat never returned to the championship-winning level they were at with LeBron on the team. 

Overall, without a head-to-head matchup between LeBron and Jordan, there is no clear way to determine who the greatest player in basketball is. A more accurate depiction of the debate is to acknowledge that in each era, there is a select group of players, spearheaded by a megastar like Jordan, LeBron, or even Kareem, that dominates and personifies basketball in that time period. Until a player dominates the league enough to create a resume that proves itself superior to every other player in history, this debate will remain fierce, and undecided.