The Origins of the GOAT Debate

One of the things I'm planning on writing a fair amount about, because all sports journalists do, is GOATs. For those of you who don't know, GOAT stands for Greatest Of All Time. I'm not sure exactly when the debate first started, but I can tell you why it began and persists. It has raged on and grown exponentially in the past several years. The biggest debate has escalated dramatically in the past two years, arguing who the basketball GOAT is, Michael Jordan or Lebron James.

I want it to be known that the only reason the GOAT debate is such a big deal (and it's a very big deal), is because of this little thing called the off-season.

The off-season is the time in any sport where that sport is not playing actively. For the NFL, the regular season and pre-season stretch from the beginning of August to the beginning of February, about half of the calendar year. From February to August, the NFL is for all intents and purposes, on "off" mode. Of course there are some events that happen in the off-season, like the draft and OTA's, but the media monster that is professional football, is more or less, dead for six consecutive months. The NBA's off-season is from late June to early October. The MLB's off-season is from the end of October to the beginning of March. 

During the off-season, these sports fade away and don't get a fraction of the media attention on ESPN and other sports journalism outlets that they do during the regular season. The reason why is obvious. If there's not a game going on every day, or every Sunday, there's not really anything to cover. So outlet's should just stop covering each sport in it's respective off-season, right?


If they did that, the fans of those sports and teams, would be very unhappy. Buffalo Bills fans wouldn't have anything to read or watch from the middle of winter until the end of summer (the Bills are Buffalo's only professional team). That would turn the fans off to ESPN and Bleacher Report and Deadspin and those outlets would see their web traffic dissipate drastically.

These outlets had to come up with a way to keep their fans engaged. They do that in a variety of ways, usually by writing broad articles that mention every team and its respective fan base. These articles are titled something like "One thing every NFL team should be excited for next season," or "One player likely to be traded from every team before the season starts." Another kind of article that sports media outlets rely on, really their bread and butter in the off-season, are player rankings. Fans love these. Players love these. I love these. Everyone loves them. 

Bleacher Report does one for pretty much every major sport. For the NFL, my go-to example, they have a player ranking list that they release from February to March every year, called NFL 1000. They rank the top 1000 players in the NFL, including every position and every team. They release one article at a time, like the top 70 quarterbacks, the top 40 safeties, etc. This gives them content to appeal to a league wide and nationwide fan-base in the off-season. 

People love ranking lists. You can find them everywhere, not just in the sports world.

But you can only spend so much time ranking players in the off-season, so how do you fill the blank space? Journalists and their outlets cannot, absolutely cannot have a lack of fresh content on their sites. It is essential that they are constantly talking about something. This is where the GOAT debate emerged.

The debate is definitely the biggest in radio and television journalism, on shows like "The Herd" or "First Take." Journalists like Colin Cowherd and Stephen A. Smith get lit up talking about the GOAT. Nick Wright, the host of "First Things First," literally got his own show on a major network because he put a lot of wood in the fire on the Jordan vs. Lebron debate. He in incredibly pro-Lebron and is very vehement in his arguments about it. 

I hate the GOAT debate. Therefore, expect me to write a lot about it. 

I'll write more individual posts about the GOATs of each sport as time progresses, but here are some basic things you should know about my thoughts about the GOAT debate.

  1. I think Michael Jordan is the basketball GOAT. However; I think Lebron is a better basketball player. Confused? More on that later.
  2. I think Kobe Bryant is closer to Jordan than Lebron is.
  3. I think championships count more than stats.
  4. I think that Tom Brady is the quarterback GOAT, although Aaron Rodgers is a better passer, but more on that later.
  5. I think that ranking GOATs in football is vastly different than basketball. People only ever argue about quarterback GOATS in football. There is a huge gap of coverage in football GOATS in pretty much every other position on the field. 
  6. I think baseball is a lot like football in this regard. No one really talks about GOATs in baseball besides Mike Trout being "on his way" to being the GOAT. There's also a lot of positions that don't ever get considered in the small baseball GOAT debate. 
  7. I think that there's a lot of factors that never get talked about in the GOAT debate. One example is body size. I don't know much about soccer, but I think it's interesting that in the soccer GOAT debate, no one talks about the fact that Lionel Messi is seven inches shorter than Cristiano Ronaldo. I think it's interesting that NO ONE ever thinks to include Allen Iverson in the GOAT debate in basketball, considering how good he was, even though he was only 6'0", six inches shorter than Jordan and Kobe, and a full eight inches shorter than Lebron. One last one, before I dedicate an entire post to this- Jose Altuve is eight inches shorter than Mike Trout, but is still one of the best baseball players, but never gets talked about in the same way.

People love to argue about sports and as long as there is an off-season, don't expect the GOAT debate to ever disappear.