3. Misused Statistics
With so many sports outlets spewing updates 'round the clock - along with the bottomless well of information that is the internet - there's never been a better time for NBA fans to access and dissect data. All it takes is a few clicks to uncover the year-to-year and career averages of players throughout the history of the NBA.
Any fan, then, can be tempted to cherry-pick certain statistics and use them to validate a player's greatness (in contrast to other players with supposedly inferior numbers). For example, if you were to juxtapose the playoff totals of Karl Malone and Larry Bird, you'd see that the Mailman has the edge in points (4,761 to Bird's 3,897), field goals made (1,743 to Bird's 1,458), and rebounds (2,062 to Bird's 1,683). Does this make Malone - who went 0-for-3 in his Finals trips - more worthy of consideration as the GOAT than Larry Legend, a three-time champion and two-time Finals MVP?
Sounds wild, I know. While citing statistics can make any fellow sound convincing in a sports debate, here's a question you should always bear in mind: How did those numbers translate into winning?
We've established that simply counting a player's rings is not a foolproof way of establishing a player as the GOAT. On the other end of the spectrum, we should also make it clear that individual statistics lack significance outside the context of deep playoff runs and championship conquests. Basketball, after all, is a team sport; given the nature of this game, the most impressive individual statistics are those that were vital cogs of successful title campaigns.
This, by the way, is why LeBron James has not clinched the title of GOAT after all these years. To be sure, LeBron's individual feats are awe-inspiring: all-time leader in regular season points, all-time leader in playoff points, four-time season MVP, 27.1 scoring average across 21 seasons...the list goes on. As lofty as these accomplishments are, LBJ is edged out by at least two fellow icons of the game.
Not only do Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have trophy cases that rival the King's treasure trove, but they also have more championships and better winning percentages in the Finals. And just like LeBron did in Miami and Cleveland, MJ and Cap have their fingerprints all over the six titles won by their respective ballclubs.