For the last 25 years or so, there has been one basketball player that has been universally known as the greatest player to ever play the game — Michael Jordan.
It would be hard to argue against his case since he won six titles with the Chicago Bulls in a span of eight years, which included two three-peats and an Olympic gold medal with the Dream Team. Michael Jordan also has multiple scoring titles, first-team All NBA nods, and numerous MVP awards.
Everyone wanted to be like Mike. From his tongue wagging in the air down to his signature sneakers, Jordan became a global icon because of his dominance on the basketball court. Now, however, there seem to be a few legitimate challengers to the throne. Let’s start with the obvious choice.
The LeBron James versus Michael Jordan debate has been a hot topic in sports circles and barbershops for at least the last 10 years.
LeBron was basically named as an heir to the throne as an 18-year-old kid coming from Akron, Ohio in 2003. He was revered so much as a young prospect that ESPN even televised his high school basketball games.
The combination of his skill set, size, and athletic ability was like nothing the NBA universe had seen before. LeBron was considered the next big thing and he certainly has lived up to the massive amount of hype. He was drafted by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and was the first to lead that team to the promised land and deliver the city a championship. LeBron has won three championships total and had a whopping eight consecutive finals appearances. Even MJ didn’t do that.
LeBron detractors will say that he has only won three titles to Jordan’s six, but you also have to consider the teams that MJ was a part of versus LeBron’s finals teams. There’s really no comparison because MJ had two future Hall of Famers on those Bulls teams in Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
LeBron’s personal accolades also speak for themselves. He is a four-time NBA MVP, 15-time All-Star, and 12-time All NBA selection. This season will be his second with the Los Angeles Lakers and he has a lot to prove after an injury-plagued year that saw him miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004-05.
With the recent acquisition of star forward Anthony Davis, LeBron seems primed to finish off his career on a high note and possibly add to his championship trophy case and growing legacy in his final years. When it’s all said and done, LeBron could very well be the undisputed GOAT because of all his accomplishments and his profound impact on the game and the way it’s played.
Kawhi Leonard is another NBA star that has recently become a legitimate candidate in the GOAT discussions. The quiet, unassuming hooper with freakishly large hands and an infectious laugh has taken the league by storm.
Kawhi is only 28 years old and is already a two-time defensive player of the year, a two-time NBA champion, and a two-time NBA finals MVP. That’s a pretty impressive resume for a player that wasn’t highly touted coming out of San Diego State University in 2011.
What’s even more impressive is the way in which his teams won. His first championship came in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs when they knocked off the defending champion Miami Heat, led coincidentally by LeBron James.
Then, last year, as a member of the Toronto Raptors, he led them to an NBA title over the vaunted Golden State Warrior dynasty. That championship was the first for the city of Toronto and Kawhi became a legend almost overnight. He was with the team for one year and still delivered the goods.
This season, he is playing for his hometown Clippers, along with fellow superstar Paul George. If Kawhi can somehow find a way to lead this team to a championship, his career would reach almost mythical status because he would be the first to bring them a title as well.
Imagine a player that has won three championships with three different teams and two of those teams had never won a title until his arrival. It would make for an interesting argument that this player is definitely the greatest ever. Kawhi actually has a chance to make it happen. Depending on how his career plays out these next seven years will be critical in determining whether he will reign supreme as the unquestioned GOAT.
Giannis ‘The Greek Freak’ Antetokounmpo
The last player making his way into the discussion is the NBA’s reigning MVP, Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo.
Giannis has come a very long way in a short time in his basketball career. His journey began as a lanky kid from Greece that loved the game of basketball. He played for the Greek national team when he was younger, but was viewed as an extremely raw talent but a very gifted athlete.
The Milwaukee Bucks took a shot on him in the 2013 NBA Draft and the rest is history. Giannis has improved his game each year he has been in the NBA, culminating with his MVP award this past year after averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. The Bucks had the best record in the NBA and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2019.
The reason why the “Greek Freak” is even in the conversation is the fact that he is only 24 years old and continues to improve at a rapid rate, which should give the rest of the league nightmares. At 6 feet 11 inches and a 7-foot, 3-inch wingspan, a ridiculous vertical leap, and speed that kills, he is nearly unstoppable in the paint. This is exactly why he is one of the league leaders every year in dunks.
If he ever develops a consistent jump shot, Giannis Antetokounmpo will absolutely be one of the best two players to ever play the game of basketball. He’s that good right now and only getting better. Giannis has already proved he’s currently one of the best by winning MVP, but in order to be an all-time great, or to be considered the best to do it, he has to win championships. If that happens, look out world.
For now, Michael Jordan still remains at the top of the chain, but the perception is rapidly changing and we could be witnessing a changing of the guard. The question is — who will be taking the mantle? The next seven years will give us that answer and it might not be up for debate.