NBA: 5 Arguments to never bring up when having a GOAT debate with fellow fans

How not to have a GOAT debate with fellow NBA fans.
Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors - Game Two / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages
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Exploring how not to have an GOAT debate with fellow NBA fans.

Just days before the world carved up some Christmas ham, Shaquille O’Neal reopened a can of worms on national television.

On that night, the Golden State Warriors had squeaked out a 132-126 overtime win over the Boston Celtics, thanks to a 31-point performance by Stephen Curry. After that December 19 game, Uncle Shaq - who was mysteriously not clad in a Santa Claus outfit - had a question to ask his Inside the NBA brethren.

"“I’m wondering, Is it time to start putting him [in consideration] as the best player of all time?”"

Shaquille O'Neal on Stephen Curry

To nobody’s surprise, Shaq’s comments got the internet buzzing like a horde of youngsters at a Toys R Us holiday rush. As I hopped from one barbershop discourse to another in the days that followed, a nagging thought echoed in my head.

This is not how to have a GOAT discussion.

Maybe it’s my background as a debate coach coming to the fore. Maybe I’m something of a purist as a basketball fan, and I’m more inclined towards substantial conversation as opposed to random spitballing.

Call me stiff or nerdy, but all the same, I’ll call it how I see it: There are certain arguments that you just can’t make when you’re debating the greatest NBA player of all time.

5 ways not to have a GOAT conversation in the NBA

1. The Eye Test

Let’s start with a piece of rhetoric that the tireless Stephen A. Smith is particularly fond of.

The morning after the Golden State Warriors picked up their 16th win of the season, SAS broached the topic of Shaq’s comments on First Take. In the process of defending Curry’s inclusion in the GOAT conversation, Stephen A. had this to say:

"When you look at Steph Curry's ability to move without the basketball, and how it has defenders' heads on a swivel, from the moment he steps past half-court - think about the fright, the fear that instills in an opposing defense."

Stephen A. Smith

I love Stephen A., make no mistake about it, but those words made me cringe. Though he tried to frame this as Curry's ability to make an "impact" - which, by the way, is another loaded word that we'll get to in a minute - there was no way to mask his line of thinking. Especially because he's fielded this argument on multiple occasions.

This type of argument is called "the eye test." It's exactly what it sounds like: To determine basketball greatness through the eye test, you form an opinion based on your personal observation. Note that SAS waxed poetic about what he could see and began his argument by saying "When you look..."

Quite frankly, this is one of the easiest fallacies to debunk. While we have to acknowledge that GOAT debates tend to lean towards subjectivity, basketball fans can never truly have a meaningful exchange of insights without using objective points of reference. As such, when you use your "eye test" to make a case for a player's greatness, you make it virtually impossible for anyone to engage you in a sensible discussion of that player's basketball merits and demerits.

It's a different story, of course, if you're explaining why a certain NBA player is your favorite of all time. Every fan is entitled to their favorite, and the validity of one's personal preference can never be put into question by others. If the discussion, however, is an attempt to pin down the greatest practitioners of the sport of basketball, fans have to shun the subjective "eye test" and start equipping their opinions with relevant facts like player and team accolades.

Speaking of accolades...