For the past week, NBC has aired a commercial featuring Michael Jordan to promote this Sunday’s NFL matchup between the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers. The ad promotes the game as a battle between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers to decide the greatest quarterback of all time.
Michael Jordan and Lebron James have long been at the center of GOAT — Greatest of All Time — discussions among basketball fans. It seems like you cannot watch ESPN for more than an hour without hearing pundits debate the greatest this or the greatest that.
It comes as no surprise that players strive to be the greatest. Mohammed Ali proudly proclaimed before his fight with Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964, “I am the greatest!”
The desire to be the best comes with the competitive territory of sports. However, our standards of greatness are misguided.
In the debate regarding Jordan and James, one prevailing argument in favor of Jordan is the fact that he has won six championship rings compared to James’s three. Because he has won more rings, he should be considered the best, his supporters claim.
This standard permeates the national discussion. However, in the process, it has helped to destroy parity in sports.
Take, for example, Kevin Durant. Durant is one of the greatest scorers to ever play the game. He is nearly unguardable, and for years, he led the Oklahoma City Thunder deep into the playoffs. But he could never win a ring. Pundits said he would never be a part of the discussion until he could win a ring. It did not matter that he was only defeated in 2012 by James’ Big Three in Miami. It did not matter that he had won multiple MVP awards. Without the ring, Durant would never be considered in the discussion.
So, he did what made the most sense to earn a spot at the table; he joined the Golden State Warriors to form his own “super team.” Chasing greatness suddenly became a game of chasing rings.
There lies the problem with the modern GOAT discussion: the longer we cite championships (team awards) as the main factor in determining greatness, the longer we will see players chase greatness, and if that happens, sports as a whole will suffer.
We may never see another Tim Duncan, who spent all of his 19-year career as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. As players chase titles — the ultimate standard of greatness — their loyalty to teams and fans will diminish. Super teams in major cities will consistently win titles and rising stars will quickly leave to be a part of stronger organizations.
Jordan won so many rings, in part due to his ability, yes. But to claim his rings are solely dependent on his play is foolhardy at best. Even after his departure from the Bulls, Chicago still made the playoffs.
There are too many variables involved in winning a ring for it to be the standard of greatness. Teammates have different skill levels, opponents vary in difficulty and over the course of a long season, too much can happen.
So, as you tune in to Sunday Night Football this weekend, do not consider the number of rings each quarterback holds, look for their greatness on the field.
It is time for us to stop arguing that championships are the ultimate determiner of greatness. Urge players to chase greatness, not just rings.