EXCLUSIVE: GOAT debate between Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant shut down by Caron Butler
Michael Jordan? LeBron James? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Kobe Bryant?
NBA fans have been debating who the GOAT (greatest of all time) is for decades and will likely be debating it for decades to come as the league develops more superstars. The conversations have been heating up the last few weeks as ‘The Last Dance’ documentary on Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s aired on ESPN. Caron Butler, however, doesn’t think there should be just one GOAT.
“You have to look at everything [throughout NBA history],” Caron Butler said. “Michael Jordan was great, but the foundation was laid by the other greats. You look at guys like Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Magic [Johnson], Larry Bird, Dr. J [Julius Erving] – they guys laid out the groundwork.
“All of a sudden, Jordan came in and he remakes it. And then Kobe, Shaq, Olajuwon, all those guys remake it. Now LeBron, he came in and remakes it his way. And one day, someone else is gonna come, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, it’s just gonna be a remake after remake. They’re dominant players and eras.”
When looking at the greatest players by era, the list probably goes something like:
1950’s: Bob Pettit, Bob Cousy, and George Mikan
1960’s: Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Oscar Robertson
1970’s: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and George Gervin
1980’s: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird
1990’s: Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon
2000’s: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal
2010’s: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant.
“Ultimately, when you look at the body of work of certain individuals, you gotta say Kareem, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James. They’re the cream of the crop. They stand out above so many others. Look, they’re all great. They’re all kings.”
The NBA is unique in the ‘greatest of all-time’ debates from any other professional sports league in the world.
In the NFL, the debates differ by position, and even then, there are multiple candidates with strong careers to solidify themselves as one of the GOATs. No one ever talks about the best NFL player of all time because no one player was enough to carry a team to multiple championships. Fans and analysts alike discuss the best quarterbacks of all time, the best running backs of all time, the best wide receivers of all time, and so on.
The same comparison styles apply for the MLB, where the debates are separated by hitters and pitchers.
When it comes to NBA, however, the last decade has turned into a debate between just one or two players. The only time it wasn’t down to just one or two was following Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing, when fans around the world agreed to end GOAT debates and appreciate all greatness.
That only lasted for a little over a month. Once ‘The Last Dance’ was moved up and began airing episodes, the arguments took a new life with fans, analysts, former players, current players, and professional athletes in other sports all chiming in.
“I think that we’re the only professional sport league that has these conversations where we don’t praise all of our guys like that,” Caron Butler added. “Football does it all the time where they’d say Tom Brady, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, they were all great. There’s no pitting one against the other. It’s just they’re all great.”
“Michael Jordan is one of the reasons why I got inspired playing the game of basketball growing up in Racine, Wisconsin just north of Chicago, but at the same time, I respectfully know the greatness that I’ve seen out of LeBron as well. One of the all-around best players I’ve ever seen in my life and played against. My late great brother Kobe Bryant. One of the most fundamentally sound players and closest thing I’ve seen to Michael Jordan, ever. It’s great. Michael Jordan himself was great. Magic Johnson was great. Larry Bird was great. Like, I loved them all differently for different reasons and I think that they’re all great in their own right. Who are we to say that one is greater than the other just because of our emotional attachment to these individuals? They all did some significant things.”
Caron Butler’s NBA career was one of the most unique due to the different paths crossed with the league’s best players.
His rookie year saw four battles against Jordan in his final season in the NBA before playing a season apiece alongside Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant with the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively. As a member of the Washington Wizards, he then faced off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in three consecutive heated playoff series. Butler finally broke through and won an NBA Championship with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. He then teamed up with Chris Paul on the Los Angeles Clippers, and helped the Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook-led Oklahoma City Thunder in their 2014 playoff run.
All great players who have a place in NBA history as legends of their respective generations that Butler wants fans to acknowledge:
“I will say this to the fans: don’t take these guys for granted,” Butler insisted. “As you’re looking at Kevin Durant, as you’re looking at LeBron James, what he’s doing in year 17, show your appreciation because you never know with the business of basketball like we see in the Bulls documentary. Things happen beyond a lot of our control as professional athletes where legacies are ended early, injuries, and things happen. Show your appreciation for these individuals that entertain us, give us reason to pop the popcorn, and do whatever we do before we watch games like putting on the jerseys. Pay homage while these guys are still able to smell the flowers. Show your appreciation because that’s what it’s all about.”
If there’s anything that ‘The Last Dance’ and the last few months have taught us, it’s to appreciate a bit more and compare a bit less.
You can listen to the full podcast on:
Apple: Battle for LA Podcast
Spotify: Battle for LA Podcast