Last week, former Chicago Bulls small forward Scottie Pippen suggested that Miami Heat All-Star LeBron James was a better player than the great Michael Jordan. Pippen stated, “Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game, but I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game because he is so potent offensively that not only can he score at will but he keeps everybody involved.”
Of course, Pippen’s comments fostered a great deal of backlash and debate. Eventually, he even back down from the comments and clarified his remarks on Twitter: “Don’t get me wrong, MJ was and is the greatest. But LeBron could by all means get to his level someday.” Nonetheless, whether correct or not, Pippen’s comments have raised an important question for me: When are the statute of limitations up on the Greatest of All Time (or the G.O.A.T.) label?
Interestingly enough, the G.O.A.T. label is most often used in hip-hop and on the basketball courts. Though the origins of the phrase likely emerge from Muhammad Ali (as does much of hip-hop and sports braggadocio), it is a term frequently used to describe two ’80s icons: the aforementioned Michael Jordan and legendary emcee Rakim. Indeed, it essentially has become conventional wisdom that both are the G.O.A.T.s in their respective fields , and, as the reactions to Pippen’s comments suggest, any suggestion to the contrary usually raises a great deal of argument.
However, it is really such blasphemy to consider that two icons who were in their primes nearly twenty years ago still maintain the rights to the title of G.O.A.T.? After all, did Michael Jordan not wrest that title from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in less than a decade’s time? Did Rakim not take it from Melle-Mel in even fewer years? Is it so unlikely that one of their contemporaries took the title from them just as they did from their contemporaries?
Undoubtedly, the fact that Jordan and Rakim’s legacies have endured so long is a testament to their greatness. But are they still the G.O.A.Ts? Maybe so. However, in my next two posts, I will play devil’s advocate and actually attempt to make a case against both and for one of their contemporaries.