Moving the goalposts is an excellent phrase. Religions have got away with it for centuries. And in sport, when discussing who is the greatest player of all time is how the rest of us indulge. So taking basketball as an example, and the common “LeBron James vs Michael Jordan” debate, here are a few goalposts for you to use next time you play with someone:
- “Basketball was different back then”. True. Also irrelevant. Unless you are trying to prove a point regarding some particular statistic, in which case it is so self evident that it is pointless. 0-0
- “Jordan/LeBron had a better supporting cast”. LeBron changed many teams and built up different teams. Some use that against him with the “superteam” argument, most admit that the 2016 Cavaliers championship was one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports. In any case you have to give LeBron points for flexibility if nothing else. 0-1
- “Republicans buy sneakers too”. It doesnt matter whether Jordan actually said that or not, the fact is that he never had the audacity to take on politically divisive issues like LeBron. Nowhere close. Even if you despise him as an athlete you have to bow in respect for what he dares outside the court. 0-2
- It has also been well argued that the way that Michael Jordan was used as a token African-American athlete was in fact a form of white-washing that he was happy to go along with. LeBron on the other hand is always on the cutting edge of race relations, not letting anything slip by in terms of popular culture. 0-3
- “Even Michael Jordan, with his gambling habit and ultra-competitive, combustible personality, could only live up to the image when certain of his traits were ignored.” (Bleacher report article) In this age of social media it is pretty clear that Jordan wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. Too many dead bodies in the closet at a time when the NBA was happy to be more like Disneyland. 0-4 (Jordan was super lucky to get away with all he did)
- Philanthropy is an excellent example of their differences. LeBron from his early days was constantly making large and meaningful contributions to society, cullminating with his truly groundbreaking educational system which is being copied around the world. Jordan only recently started some minor give aways. 0- 5
5-0 to LeBron and you can only really counter possibly in point No2 regarding the supporting cast. Which is partly why I haven’t even included backetball statistic type arguments. Some sneaky sportscasters simply wait for any LeBron average to come down below Jordan’s to make a big fuss. That is not how it works. At the equivelant number of games LeBron is still ahead in a number of meaningful statistics and/or it is too close to call.
What is clear is that LeBron is a better rounded player, succesful in a number of roles with more rebounds, more assists and more of well everything that Jordan never bothered doing. Saying that Jordan was GOAT because he is higher up in one or another stat is like saying that Senna was the greatest F1 driver because he did really well in the rain.
Many LeBron haters try to downplay his statistics by saying he simply stuck at the game longer. Which is an easy (and important) 6-0 in this scoring system. LeBron is central to the NBA and world basketball for more years in an active and energetic way. More than anyone else. Even as the NBA actively tries to build up more superstars in these past years as a central marketing strategy, LeBron manages to remain not only relevant, but a key part of every re-invention the league thinks of. Michael Jordan was crucial to the NBA at a particular point in time, helping it reach new audiences. LeBron has been doing exactly the same thing , spanning multiple eras. And for longer.
And that is the easiest definition of a G.O.A.T. anyway you look at it.