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The Case Of The Two G.O.A.T.S By Mark Hollis

This February, two icons will go down in history as the greatest players in their respective sports. Tom Brady has announced his retirement and statistically will be noted in the annals of football as the most accomplished quarterback the game has ever seen. LeBron James has broken the all-time scoring record in basketball set by Kareem Abdul Jabbar in 1984. While both athletes are well deserving of what they have achieved, there is an elephant in the room. In determining the greatness of an athlete, I believe the era in which they played should be factored in, also their supporting teammates and the length of a regular season. In fairness, these are loopholes in comparative analysis that should be addressed when stating a player is greater than all his or her predecessors.

On paper, Tom Brady is the winningest quarterback to ever play the game in the NFL. With an NFL career spanning 23 seasons, he recently retired as the all-time NFL record holder in just about every category for quarterbacks. Some of the more notable are; most career passing completions with 7,753, most career touchdown passes with 649, and most career passing yards with 89,214. There are a host of other records he holds that are way too numerous to list and equally exceptional. But is there room for argument, statistically, to determine in fact, if Tom Brady is the greatest to play the position of all time? Pundits of the game question several factors relating to what he has done in the league. One such argument is his longevity as a starting quarterback over his predecessors like Joe Montana, who is often referred to as one of the greatest players in 15 years. Then there is Warren Moon, who played 16 years in the NFL and 5 in the Canadian Football League. Joe Namath played 13 seasons, and Johnny Unitas played 18. So, the issue is with Tom Brady playing 23 seasons and lends to the point that he was able to build on his statistics with added years of playing time. The other argument is the number of games played in a season. Prior to 1978, NFL teams played only 12 games for a regular season versus the 17 games being played currently. When Tom Brady was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2000, a regular season was comprised of 16 games. It is very easy to note that the more seasons you play, the more records that can be broken.

LeBron James is a phenomenal basketball player, truly a man-child on the court. Individually, he has evolved into being recognized as an icon, the face of the National Basketball League. Currently, in his twentieth year, LeBron dominates statistically in many individual categories in the league. He’s a 19-time NBA All-Star and has been selected to the All-NBA All-Star First Team 13 times. And this month, he passed Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the All-Time NBA Scoring Leader with 38,390. So, what could possibly change his standing as the all-time best scorer and what he has accomplished? Kareem played 20 years in the NBA and scored more points than any of his predecessors, with 38,387 points. The hitch is that prior to the NBA, he played all four years at UCLA. LeBron has played twenty years, as well, but was drafted straight out of high school, bypassing college all together. Therefore, many of the basketball pundits have a valid argument when offering the hypothetical of “what if.” What if Kareem was signed out of high school? What if LeBron played four years of college ball prior to signing? What if LeBron were to play four more years? Will those extra four years make a difference to the four Kareem played in college?

My take is that whether it’s Tom Brady or LeBron James, in the discussion of greatness, people must factor in the era in which those players played. The great players of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and up to today must be segmented by the time in which they played. We don’t need the asterisk; just address what they accomplished during the time period in which they played.