Don't Be Scared: Active Players Can Also Be All-Time Greats

Happy New Year! I believe I'm still within the allowed time window after January 1 to wish you readers a positive 2017. I appreciate you reading my posts. And like the entire TSFJ crew, I hope to continue to provide quality content and be a shining representative of the true meaning of "sports fan"—uh, minus the illogical fanaticism and ridiculous displays of team loyalty. With that said, I would like you to open your minds to the following idea.

Recently, LeBron James passed Moses Malone for eighth on the all-time NBA scoring list. This is another amazing accomplishment for a man whose list of accomplishments extends longer than Giannis Antetokounmpo's arms. Whether or not James is a great player has long since been answered. But I had another thought about him that ties into the general makeup of a particular sports debate. Follow me to the next paragraph.

Our TSFJ conversations in the Slack App hold some of the best sports banter I've ever been a part of. Every sports topic gets discussed, and we also pour in individual takes on current events. Recently, one discussion led to a few of us—myself included—to claim that LeBron James is the best (read: best, not greatest) basketball player ever. Yes, we believe he's ahead of Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

There is nothing more LeBron can do to change his status as an individual player.

Now, before the comments section is filled with unnecessary vitriol that attempts to discredit our sports knowledge, this post is not about that debate. For right now, I do not care where your opinion lies on the matter. However, this is about an idea that needs to be eradicated across all sports: why can't great active players be included in discussions for all-time greats?

Jordan is what initially got me thinking about this idea. He's been the consensus best for a while, but I do not remember the exact moment he assumed the unofficial title. It doesn't feel like he was crowned that after his second retirement in 1998. Somewhere between winning his and the Bulls' sixth championship and a point well before today Jordan was placed at the top of basketball's Mount Olympus.

But remember, Jordan came back and played two seasons for the Washington Wizards. While he had flashes of brilliance, he was nowhere near the otherworldly hooper who ruled the NBA from the United Center. Yet his tenure in Washington did not diminish his place among the greats. It's as if his legacy was sealed in an airtight evidence bag, and his Wizards' jersey was ruled inadmissible in basketball Supreme Court.

Jordan's Washington years do not affect his ranking in player ability. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Let's expand this idea beyond Lebron James. All across sports we have all-time elite players who are still highly dominant. Serena Williams, Tom Brady, and Lionel Messi are just a few who are still incredible today and have years of being amazing in the past. But why do we wait until retirement to place athletes like them above everyone else? Why can't I say Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end I've ever seen just because he's still playing? This is not about the rightness or wrongness of me stating that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback ever. This is a revolt against only giving the prettiest of flowers to special players after we've eulogized their careers. When talking about the best players, we take the best iterations of them. We do not include three years past their primes where skills have begun to deteriorate. I feel this is the point I must restate that I'm talking solely about individual ability, not team success and championships.

He may not have the numbers yet, but Gronk is the best at the position, to me. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

I understand there is a chance one can be a prisoner of the present. To me, this has happened a bit with Steph Curry. But in this case, some players who are still present carry with them a bevy of gifts they've given us that few other players have.

Yes, it took years for me to consider Lebron among the best. And yes, there are elements of his game that are better now than even in his time in Miami—when I feel he was at his highest combination of physical force and skilled phenom. But he cannot do anything else as a player that would make myself or others say he's officially surpassed Jordan in ability.

At this point, the evidence is already submitted. What I'm suggesting is that it is okay to give flowers to transcendent players while their still actively dominant. We do not have to wait until a career is near its deathbed to give it the praise it deserves. Remember that the next time you have a sports conversation.

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