G.O.A.T vs. Greatest Champion


What does it take to be the best at your craft? Perhaps it’s the will to do whatever it takes. The will to win must outweigh your fear of failure.

One way to view the will to win is a neurotic obsession to succeed fueled by the negativity of doubters and non-believers. On the contrary, the fear of failure can be linked to the fretful pressure and moral obligation one feels to satisfy supporters and his or her believers. This holds true beyond the sports world; this is the real world- applicable for anyone aspiring to reach their threshold of potential, climb the summit of the highest mountain, or attain maximum career and personal achievement. In the sports world we define success through championships and career accolades. There is a difference between being the greatest of all time and the greatest champion of all time. I will explore the difference between these two in professional basketball.

There is only one Bill Russell, the greatest champion of all time. Russell earned eleven championships as a player and two as a head coach (all thirteen with the Boston Celtics). No athlete in all team-oriented professional sports may ever achieve a feat remotely close to this ever again. This man is a pioneer and living legend to the National Basketball Association.

It is important to note the foundation of his legacy is through championships and not as the best to ever play. The average amount of NBA team’s during Russell’s playing era was 10 (there are 30 now). Seasons were shorter and there were less games in the playoffs to win to be crowned champion. While some argue fewer teams concentrated the talent level, I believe the talent level was diluted to begin with. As much of a sore subject racism is in our country’s history, it does play an integral role in professional sports, especially during Russell’s era.

The best talent in the United States may not have been given the opportunity or resources to commit to learning the game of basketball. From an economic standpoint, professional basketball players during this era held second jobs during the offseason (like other professional athletes during the time). Simply put, professional sports were not recognized as full-time employment. As an African-American prior to the Civil Rights Movement finding employment was difficult. Add the challenge of finding a second job, while maintaining your priority in professional basketball…HOLY SMOKES life is tough!!! This was not the most glamorizing journey and quite far from the ‘American Dream.’

Not only did the game lack our country’s best athleticism, it was completely withheld from international influence. Today there are 92 players from 39 countries competing in the NBA. There are nearly as many international players as there were NBA players competing during Russell’s era.

Don’t get me wrong- Bill Russell was a dominant defensive anchor, fierce leader, and force not to be reckoned with. Wilt Chamberlin’s career numbers playing against Bill Russell speak volumes itself. If Russell played in any era he would dominate defensively. Any rim attacking guard would think twice about entering the paint with him on the court. There is good reason he continues to consult top talent in today’s NBA. A big salute to Bill Russell. The man is still killing it- fortifying his legacy in the Pepsi MAX & Kyrie Irving’s “Uncle Drew” series.

To be the greatest player of all time an individual most dominate all facets of the game, and have the talent to take control in any era they play in. When this individual is in the building he demands not only the best from himself, but from his teammates as well. With this player, no matter the opponent, you know you are a championship contender with any supporting cast. No player embodies all of these characteristics better than Michael Jordan- the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jordan’s defining moment came as a freshman at the University of North Carolina knocking down the game-winning jumper in the 1982 NCAA Championship game. From that moment, Jordan psychologically reached a standard of excellence, garnered immortality through dominance, and relished the expectation of greatness every time he stepped onto a basketball court.

The statistics alone tell the story, however they do no justice for those too young to have the privilege of watching him play. I am not going to waste any time highlighting numbers that prove MJ is the G.O.A.T. Here are a few things I would like to point out:

-Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, won without a dominant big man (Bill Cartwright, Stacey King, Bill Wennington, Luc Longley)

– Three-peat of NBA Championships, retires and leaves the NBA for nearly two seasons attempting a career at professional baseball, and returns to lead the Bulls to a second three-peat

– Season returning from his first retirement, MJ leads the Bulls to 72-10, the best record in NBA history, and arguable the best team to ever play

Additionally, I selected two YouTube videos that best epitomize how ‘His Airness’ embodies a freakish competitive will to win unmatched by any to play the game:

1) Compilation of put-back dunks from missed free throws. We no longer see this play in today’s NBA. If we did, it would be all over twitter and SportsCenter’s top 10 plays.

Note: the rule on free throw violation remains the same now as it did during Jordan’s era. It boils down to this- Michael Jordan would do whatever it takes on the basketball court to win the game.

2) Block on Ron Mercer as a member of the Washington Wizards January 4, 2002

***Between this video and the last we have witnessed excellence spanning over three decades.

The irony of this clip worth noting is the opponent- The Chicago Bulls. Jordan (a month shy of his 40th birthday) would sacrifice anything to ensure a victory for his team. This bock iced the win and personifies Jordan’s greatness on the defensive end of the court.

It is worth noting if there is anyone that has the drive and will to be the best, doing whatever it takes, that resembles anything remotely close to Michael Jordan it has to be Kobe Bryant. Bryant’s commitment to winning- sacrificing his body, studying tirelessly, and rigorous training regiment make him one of the best to ever play the game. For certain, his will to win outweighs his fear to fail.

Unquestionably, it is easy for us to get caught up in the present and lose appreciation for the past. At present, LeBron James is the greatest basketball player in the world, but that statement does not mean he is the greatest of all time. I love LeBron James; the man is an athletic freak of nature possessing a skill-set unparalleled to his competitors.

LeBron James losing in the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks was the turning point in his career. Looking tentative and wary of his critics, James settled for jump shots and looked lackluster during key moments. Notably, it was his fear of failure that was more prominent than his will to win. That offseason James let go. He let go of the fear to displease others and started focusing on pleasing LeBron James. The result: taking his game beyond league talent in his own atmosphere. Two consecutive titles down and poised to make a run at a three-peat. Does LeBron James have the potential to be the greatest of all time? Yes, without question. Time will tell as we continue to watch his legacy develop during the prime of his career.

To some extent everyone is afraid of failure. We like to feel we are in control of our destiny and have a say in the outcome of our future. It’s difficult to accept you do not have control. If an individual’s greatness is not the deciding factor, why is it appropriate to make championship rings the end all-be-all? Robert Horry is a seven-time NBA champion, yet Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Alex English, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, George Gervin, and Patrick Ewing have never won an NBA championship. Without question, these Hall of Famers are some of the best the sport has ever seen and had better careers than Robert Horry. It is crucial to evaluate in context and not differentiate by milestones. To be the greatest is not an achievement, rather a lifestyle, and that lifestyle will allow an individual to reach their greatest potential.

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About Author

The Schmo is a brash, eccentric sports personality who dabbles in topics that cross our minds in everyday life that few talk about. A sports junkie who takes a philosophical yet unrefined approach to living, writing, and entertaining. The Schmo will tell it like it is with no filter or limitations.