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Any worthwhile debate over the G.O.A.T. must include all of those factors—and more! MVPs, championships, All-NBA selections, All-Star appearances, All-Defensive nods and statistical titles (scoring, rebounding, assists, etc.) are just some of the historical markers that help us to contextualize a given player's achievements.
Bill Russell is the greatest champion of all time (11 titles), but few (outside of Boston, anyway) would anoint him the greatest player. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most MVPs, owns as many titles (six) as Jordan and was the most prolific scorer ever, and yet there are many who will tell you that MJ was the greatest.
Any discussion as convoluted as the NBA G.O.A.T. deserves as cloudy a pool of considered factors as possible.
Championships make all the difference.
Tim Duncan and Charles Barkley have very similar all-time numbers. The big difference: Duncan's four titles vs. Barkley's zero. That's the reason Duncan is regarded as the best power forward of all time.
And it's not like championships are used as a simple tiebreaker either. The ultimate goal is winning. It's the standard by which players judge personal success, and it's why we see so many superteams made today in the name of winning before individual accolades.
Sure, MVPs and all-time leaderboards come into play, but nothing means more than leading a team to a title.
As boring as it sounds, all of those things matter. But none of them should determine greatness on their own.
MVPs are subject to some pretty capricious whims by voters, and even the ones that look deeply at statistics often focus too much on ancient relics like points, rebounds and steals.
Championships matter, but it’s pretty absurd to argue that players who don’t win them aren’t great. Patrick Ewing was 10 times the player Chris Andersen is, but the Birdman has a ring.
If forced to choose one determinant, I’d pick statistics. But I’d do so with the acknowledgement that they don’t tell us everything about a sport that is so dependent on context, chemistry and style. In addition, we’re nowhere near the finish line in terms of finding stats that actually tell us which players contribute most to team wins.
I guess “greatness” is a pretty tricky concept.