Why Sports Debates Are Just Mindless Banter

Source of photo:https://exnba.com/articles-news/bill-walton-jordan-average-athlete-abdul-jabar-was-better-player/

Sports debates…

Once upon a time, I really enjoyed them.

Occasionally, I still enjoy debating who is “The GOAT” for a given sport. For those unfamiliar with the term “GOAT”, it stands for Greatest Of All Time.

Sports debates offer entertainment value as long as the people debating a particular topic remain objective. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Sports fans tend to be an animated lot who zealously defend their opinions with the urgency of a murder trial.

Political debates and sports debates have much in common. Tune in to a CNN political show and then switch to a show like ESPN’s First Take and observe the typical banter found on both programs. You’d be hard pressed to differentiate between the two programs in terms of the energy and passion with which the debaters defend their opinions.

Makes for great television…

Take the graphic that compares retired NBA superstars Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that opens this post. A good friend posted this graphic on his Facebook page and the ensuing debate unfolded just as I thought it would…

Sufficiently bifurcated between old school Jordan fans and older school Abdul-Jabbar fans.

My response in that thread reads as follows:

Four thoughts:

Firstly, “who is the greatest..” debates are always subjective.

Secondly, Jabbar played 20 years. Jordan played 15 years with a two year break in between.

Thirdly, Jabbar won all of his NBA titles with two of the greatest guards not named Jordan in NBA history (Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson). Jordan had Pippin and then Rodman at forward, but beyond them, he played on a team of role players. Jabbar had “Showtime”. Jordan was showtime.

Lastly, Jabbar played center, Jordan played shooting guard/small forward. Not an apples to apples comparison. Jordan made his mark just like Jabbar made his.

The greatest center and the greatest guard in NBA history.


If my response in that thread reads as if I am equivocating, you are right. I am of the opinion that both players are the greatest to play their sport at their respective positions.

The raw numbers favor Abdul-Jabbar, but as I mentioned, there are too many variables between the two men and the eras they played in to declare only one of them “The GOAT”.

Of course, the goal of these GOAT proclamations is to spark debate. However, I posit that a debate in which the objective is to pick the most dominant athlete from amongst dominant athletes from any sport is so impossibly subjective that it is ludicrous.

I admire anyone who succeeds in becoming one of the absolute best at what they chose to do in life. I don’t have to pick just one to elevate above the others.

Additionally, being dominant in a team sport is different than being dominant in an individual sport. Being dominant in hockey takes something different than being dominant in football or basketball. Being a dominant boxer is not the same as being a dominant swimmer.

The only similarity between these athletes is the will to win and the will to succeed. Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, and other elite athletes in any sport display the will to succeed in almost everything they do. Anyone in any endeavor who has the will to succeed and the resolve and work ethic of a Michael Jordan or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will find greatness.

This is why sports debates are just useless banter. In my humble opinion.

Being the greatest lawyer doesn’t take away from the guy who is the greatest plumber. You just appreciate it when you need one of them.

-The Rational Ram

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