Why LeBron James Nor Kobe Bryant Can Ever Be The G.O.A.T.

Basketball, Bull City — By on February 28, 2014 at 3:24 pm

lebron james michael jordan shake hands

What does it mean to be the greatest of all time? To be the best you have to have been dominant. I don’t mean for a few years — I am talking about to your generation as a whole. When you peak as an athlete, you shut it down for your generation.

The NBA is a beacon of tradition and historical feats. Greats all have signatures to their games that make them memorable to generations of fans. We can remember Bill Russell holding it down with blocked shots in the paint. Kareem wowed us with the sky hook. Julius Erving made us think twice about flight by taking off with the basketball above his head from outside the paint. Magic and Bird arrived on the scene in the early ’80s showcasing flash and fundamentals that kept us wanting more.

The NBA belonged to a few good men who were at the end of their playing careers when Magic and Larry came to the NBA. When Magic and Larry came into the league, they had instant success. There were greats in the NBA, but none of them took center stage very often when they came to town. Both guys were dominant, but even they can’t boast being the Greatest of All Time. They had flaws in their runs to greatness. In fact, being the G.O.A.T. really comes down to two individuals. Those guys are Bill Russell and Michael Jordan.

I know you are thinking why in the heck would he include Bill Russell in the conversation with Michael Jordan? Has he lost his mind? Not by a long shot. Russell and Jordan have one thing that none of the superstars of today can boast. When they peaked, they shut it down. They both denied a generation of great ballplayers a chance to get a ring. Russell won 11 rings. That’s crazy. He won 10 out of 11 when his career peaked. Who else can say that? Let me help you … No one! That’s denying a championship to a lot of great competition.


Jordan didn’t start winning championships out of the gate, but there was a lineage of great players in place finishing their legacies. When Jordan arrived on the scene, Magic, Bird and Isaiah were battling for supremacy. During that time, the young Jordan was figuring out the game and making a name for himself as a high flyer and scorer. That being said, there was no one from Jordan’s class doing work and making a name or legacy for himse.f while he was developing as a player.

When Mike hit his stride against the Lakers in 1991, he shut it down. He denied titles to Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, John Stockton and a few other greats who came in around the same time. The only player of note to get a championship in the Jordan years was Hakeem Olajuwon. Ironically, Hakeem got his when Mike decided to try his hand at baseball after the death of his father. Hakeem should send Mike a thank-you card for that as well.

Greatness like Russell and Jordan may never be equaled today. LeBron and Kobe have both surrendered championships during their prime years. Granted, Kobe had to deal with Tim Duncan during most of his tenure, and LeBron joined forces with his elite competition. They both have had great careers. However, they didn’t shut others out. Magic, Bird and Isaiah all surrendered championships in their prime years. That’s not what G.O.A.T.s do. In fact, when you size things up, they all fall short in a big way.

Today, the argument of Greatest of All Time is always controversial. One person’s opinion may be jaded by accomplishments and individual accolades while others may look at team accomplishments. When looking at the big picture, which by the way includes both, the perspective lays out a blueprint of determining what it takes to be the G.O.A.T.

So when we look at that basketball Mount Rushmore that everyone wants to re-create, there are two faces that should be fixtures. Bill Russell and Michael Jordan should definitely be chiseled. The other two spots can be debated, and every argument will probably be a good one, just not as good as the one that Russell and Jordan will have.

Joe Simmons

Color Commentator for Time Warner Cable Sports Network NC/SC/OH and NCCU Sports Network. Washed up athlete who used to ball, now I write and call.

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  • I really love this premise … but, uh, how are we saying LeBron won’t be “shutting folks down in his prime” already? What if he wins the next 3 or 4 titles? I believe this is premature in regard to Bron, but I agree with the premise.

    I mean, like Jordan, LeBron didn’t win out of the gate … A. Because he was on a bum squad that he singlehandedly had to drag to the playoffs – and Finals – and B. The Duncan/Kobe legacies were still goin, just like Bird/Magic/Isaiah when Jordan came to town.

    On top of that … LeBron had never had a Pippen-type running mate until he got to Miami, and he won the past two titles, getting to the Finals 3 straight years — and Russell had a whole slew of Hall of Famers with him.

    I mean, yeah, right now it’s Russell and MJ and then all the rest, but I think you’re premature on LeBron. Not saying he’ll get there, but to cast him off already is a bit much to me. He’s still just 29 and still clearly – despite KD’s obscene season – the best player on the planet.

    • Joe Simmons says:


      I thought about that when I was writing this piece. If LBJ runs off 2 more I might even change my mind a little but the way the Mavs sent him back to the drawing board made me think otherwise. Had he peaked yet as a player when that went down was my only thought. The fact that he had already been declared the best in the game at the time I think I can say he had. I’m not even saying he won’t earn a spot on Mt Rushmore, but his chance at being the G.O.A.T. is gone IMO.

  • Esau Howard says:

    Considering the stance you took, I would have to agree with everything you said here Joe. Honestly there really isn’t a case to argue just going strictly off what you presented.

    With that said, I still think it’s possible that LeBron is in the convo. Rev already said, if Bron somehow wins the next 3 or 4, that mixed with his individual accolades (Th man already has 4 MVP’s, and will be in the convo for probably the next 4 easy and everything else Bron is on pace to do, there may come a time when we’ll have to seriously consider calling him the GOAT. It’s almost scary how possible that is.

  • Ryan says:

    If that’s your criteria, sure but I’ll echo the sentiments of the other commenters in that Lebron still has a shot. One thing ill disagree with is that while Bron was the best player in that Dallas series he still wasnt at his personal best (where he appears to be now).

    As for your criteria, it seems a bit revisionist and intentionally favoring Russell amd MJ. The fact you mentioned Russell as a curious choice was telling as well. I just dont hear him mentioned as the Goat

    All that said, Bron has a long way to go and other teams are getting better

  • Eric Park says:

    I think there is another reason why I cant see lebron being considered the greatest which is that he moved teams in his prime and he did it in a very classless way. Jordan waited with the bulls until they got pippen in which the bulls and mj helped develop into the player he became whereas lebron left his team to go and join to other super stars. Mj had the power to get players to come to him and the only player he really recruited is id say rodman. The thing is mj had already won three rings before he came. GOAT is all about perception because we cant watch them play each other and as of now lebron has the dallas series and leaving the cavs against him for him to be considered a GOAT. I mean not to say he could go to the bobcats next year and win like five in a row then id give it to him but i doubt hedge ever do that lol

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