Earlier this season in the NFL we were treated to a game between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. Many of the sports media outlets billed it with the question of Who is the greatest of all time? Even Michael Jordan weighed in on the game between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Many people were excited about this game, but there were others who argued the case for Drew Brees being the greatest of all time. The term “Greatest of All Time” gets used way too often and it comes hypocritical if you think about about it. How do you determine the greatest of all time? Do you do determine it by statistics? Do you determine it by championships? Is it an opinion or is it a fact? Twenty five to thirty years ago before Brady, Brees, and Manning came around many considered Joe Montana the greatest of all time. After all he did winfour Super Bowls and was the MVP in three of them. Before Montana, I am sure many looked at Bart Starr to be the greatest of all time. Years from now we could be talking about Patrick Mahomes being the greatest of all time if he keeps up his current place. The NFL along with the NBA and Major League Baseball also have the issue of positions. The NFL could has Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers and other positions. The NBA has Guards, Forwards, and Centers. Major League Baseball has Pitchers, Catchers, Infield positions and Outfield positions. In all of these sports, do you determine the greatest of all time by offense or by defense? Do you determine it by what position they play? Using the phrase “Greatest of All Time” is irresponsible, contradicting and more of an opinion than it is a fact. It’s created a lot of arguments over the years in every sport and it’s become way over used.
When many talk about baseball one of the first names that always comes to mind is Babe Ruth. He was a larger than life personality that captured the hearts and imagination of many. For many years, the baseball world considered the Babe to be the greatest hitter of all time. When Barry Bonds broke the single season and all time Home Run records fans argued he was the greatest hitter of all time. Baseball traditionalists and purists argued against Bonds due to steroid allegations and his era being a time where steroids were running rampant in the league. In twenty years, we could be talking about Mike Trout or Aaron Judge being the greatest of all time if they keep up the pace that they are currently on. Pitching is another big argument in baseball because you have so many greats. Growing up there was Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan that dominated much of their career. In 10 years, they could be talking about Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, or Chris Sale. A lot of discussion of all time greats is focused on steroids and whether or not players took them. Are character flaws figured into the greatest of all time discussion? If so, you could argue that Babe Ruth wasn’t all that great. He was an alcoholic and a womanizer according to a lot of accounts that have been written about him. A lot of great athletes have had character flaws so do ignore the flaws or do you put them in the conversation?
I will be the first to admit that my flaw is the NHL is not something I’ve followed much of my life, but one name that always comes to mind is Wayne Gretzky. He won four Stanley Cups along with many other accolades in his career. He influenced many players and coaches along the way, but before Gretzky who was considered the greatest? Gordie Howe had very similar stats and played for the same team for 23 years. Gretzky played for four different teams so the question has to be asked. Does loyalty to a team factor in to the greatest of all time? Some might say that athletes like Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter, Barry Sanders or Steve Yzerman are great for staying with the same team for their entire career. We have examined statistics, championships, positions, character flaws and now loyalty. This is why using the phrase “Greatest of All Time” is reckless, because anyone could factor in one of these attributes or multiple attributes in their arguments. Which of these attributes means more than the others? Which don’t mean anything at all? Are you convinced yet, that the phrase “Greatest of All Time” is used to often?
The sport that has more greatest of all time debates is basketball. Today’s generation argue that LeBron James is the greatest of all time based on his statistics and the fact he has been to seven straight NBA Finals. However, if you grew up in the early 2000s fans might Kobe Bryant is the greatest, because currently he has more NBA Championships than Lebron and stayed with the Lakers for the duration of his twenty year career. Before Kobe Bryant came to the NBA you can’t even talk about basketball without mentioning the name Michael Jordan. He won every NBA Finals he went to, he is one of the all time leading scorers in basketball and he changed the overall landscape of the sport. Before MJ came into the NBA, there was Magic, Bird, Kareem, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. It seems to be that every generation there is one athlete in every sport that gets proclaimed as the “Greatest of All Time.” It’s a problem that the media has created by putting certain athletes on pedestal. I see this pedestal being used more in the NBA than any other sport. Every week it’s Lebron is the greatest, Durant is the greatest, or Westbrook is the greatest. How can three or more players be the greatest of all time at once?
The Greatest of All Time means in all of history, in all of existence, and means there was no one that did it better. How can the media, you or I say that someone is the greatest of all time? What gives any of us the right to claim someone as the greatest of all time? The phrase “Greatest of All Time” needs to be replaced with “All Time Greats.” I believe there are athletes that are the greatest of their generation and some that only come around once in a generation. That does not mean they are the greatest of all time. You can’t compare athletes from different generations because sports are always changing and evolving. The way the games are played changes all the time. I used Montana, Ruth, Jordan and Gretzky as examples of what I grew up watching or reading about. A kid twenty years from now could write about what they grew up watching and reading about. As I said before, the phrase “Greatest of All Time” is dangerous, hypocritical, contradicting and overused. It’s a term that the sports media has prostituted and used for their arguments to put their favorite athletes on a pedestal. There can be no greatest of all time because the way the games are played are always changing, always evolving and there are different eras in each sport. There will always be great careers, great legacies, greatest of their generation and a list of all time greats. There will never be a greatest of all time.