Final Thoughts on the NBA “G.O.A.T.” Conversation

I’m really tired of the consistent talk surrounding whether Lebron or MJ is the better basketball player.

It seems like every year, for the past seven years, the only thing the sporting world can talk about during the NBA playoffs revolves around this issue.

My opinion is and always will be: Comparing players of different eras is apples to oranges. The game is completely different in 2017 than it was in 1995. We now live in an era when 5s are non-essential. In 1995, if you didn’t have a dominant 5 to run the pick-and-roll and draw defenders into the paint, forget about competing for a title.

In today’s NBA, you can get by with a stretch 4 that can shoot and get back in transition. Plays are designed to create mismatches in iso situations with rebounding being second to transition defense.

We can have the discussion of Kobe vs LeBron and Kobe vs MJ because their eras crossed over and they have gameplay against one another. We cannot have that discussion between LeBron and MJ. They don’t have gameplay against one another and the NBA was too different in it composition and play style to assess them objectively.

Michael was the best player of his era (’89 – ’98).

LeBron is the best player of this era (’10 – Current).

Kobe was the best player in the intermediary period when the NBA experienced a transition (’99 – ’09).

Even more than that continual debate, I am sick of hearing that Kevin Durant is now the best player in the NBA.

Kevin Durant walked onto a 73-win Warriors team and won his first title. He put up 30+ points in all his finals game. Was it an elite performance; absolutely. Would the Warriors have beaten the Cavs without him; they had a very good chance yes.

The best player in the NBA leads their teams to seven straight finals appearances. Kevin Durant did so one time before coming to Golden State.

The best player in the NBA makes the team around him championship caliber. He doesn’t join a championship caliber team. Kevin Durant joined a team which won 73 regular season games the previous season.

I could have scored several points if you stuck me in that Warrior’s lineup. Kevin Durant just accentuated an elite Warriors team. He didn’t elevate them to a championship level.

When LeBron came back to Cleveland, he came back to:

  • a blossoming point guard in Kyrie Irving
  • an undeveloped Tristan Thompson
  • an established scorer in Kevin Love

They didn’t already have chemistry. They played completely different styles of offense. They were, in all form and fashion, a mish-mash of raw and developed talent. The team LeBron inherited had the ability to be great, but 1-2 years of work as necessary to get them to that point. They made the finals in year one. They won a championship against one of the greatest collections NBA talent in years in year two.

That is the difference. That is where LeBron claims his crown of best player in the NBA. Until Kevin Durant goes to a team where he is the best player making other players better over time, I will not consider him for that role.

I think there is something to be said for basketball intelligence too, so I will keep my thoughts brief:

I don’t have the time nor the inclination to get into LeBron’s ability to dissect the game and play it back motion-by-motion, play-by-play versus everyone else in the league. He is by far the smartest individual I’ve heard speak about the game of basketball. We’re lucky to have someone playing with his insight. I’m not saying Kevin Durant can’t dissect gameplay. Rather: Kevin Durant will never be able to do so at LeBron’s level of detail.