Thursday, June 8, 2017

Durant/Lebron/Jordan/Tiger/Gretzky/Howe and other GOATS

The debate currently rages as to whether Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors has supplanted Lebron James of Cleveland as the best basketball player in the world. The answer would appear to be -- maybe.

Let's not forget that for the longest time many didn't want to admit that James was better than Michael Jordan. Some still cling to that notion, but it's misguided.

Thing is, Lebron can do everything Michael could do -- ball handle, shoot (from 3-point range as well), run, pass/assist, rebound, be cerebral on the court, and play tenacious defense. Only James was bigger (taller) than Jordan. Hence, he was/is more of a force on the court -- better.

Ah, but many will say Jordan won all those (6) championships. True enough. But Bill Russel and the Boston Celtics of the late 50s and early 60s won twice as many. You've never heard anybody claiming old #6 was better than Jordan. So that argument doesn't necessarily hold water in a team game.

So far, Kevin Durant has won a grand total of zero championships (though he certainly appears to be on the cusp of his first). During the Finals, mano-e-mano, he has outplayed Lebron James to pretty much be the star of the show. And there's the same comparison again. Everything Lebron can do, Kevin can do, given the same criteria listed two paragraphs above. Plus, he's several inches taller as well -- better.

No doubt, James was the greatest of all time (GOAT) in recent years, but it just might be that Durant has replaced him like Lebron once did Michael. It's a hard pill for "King" fans to swallow, but it's sure starting to look like reality. Time marches on and players get bigger, faster, and better than in generations past.

One upon a time many considered Tiger Woods to be the GOAT of golf. Certainly many still do as well. From the late 90s through the early years of the Obama administration (2008-) he put up the greatest decade the game had even seen. Tiger was winning seemingly everything and surely would eclipse Jack Nicklaus' all-time major record of 18. But he didn't. As we know, through solely his own fault, his personal (married) life crashed, then so did his game. The latter wasn't helped by various injuries and back surgeries.

So OK, though some hard-core loyalists still won't admit it, the glory days of Eldrick Tont Woods are past tense. No, he won't ever return to his former greatness. Besides the injuries, Father Time has taken his inevitable toll and there's way, WAY too many young guns on the tour that will beat his brains out like Tiger once did to the former generation.

In the end, it would be difficult to argue that Jack doesn't remain the GOAT of pro golf. And that's not even getting into, shall we say, "character" issues. Mr. Woods found himself on the hot seat again just recently while Nicklaus was the paragon of a gentleman and model citizen over all these many decades.

On that note, how about Pete Rose? Was he the GOAT when it came to being a major-league hitter? After all, he surpassed the great Ty Cobb to be, far and away, #1. Thing is, Cobb's accomplishments happened a century ago and many don't know he was less than a "likable" guy. It was said he even killed a man once. But Cobb's career batting average was far higher than Rose's. Due to the length of seasons and years played, Rose got far more at-bats to get all those hits. So who was better? Character issues indeed. Rose got caught up in that whole gambling witch-hunt a while back which has so far denied him his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. Peter Edward may have been dirty in that regard, but that hardly detracts from his accomplishments on the field. Who's the GOAT?

Was Babe Ruth the GOAT home-run hitter? Maybe. Henry Aaron surpassed him, but like Rose, had far more at-bats to do so. Let's not forget, George Herman was a pitcher in his early years, so he forfeited a lot of trips to the plate.

Or maybe it was/is Barry Bonds who eclipsed them both. Sure, there's the whole steroids, human growth hormone, performance enchancing drug thing that continues to hang over his head. But though the authorities moved heaven and earth trying to nail him -- they never officially did. Bonds was never found guilty of any drug charge, only some minor obstruction of justice matter. So the record reflects that, like OJ, he didn't do it. Believe what you want, but it's no more than heresy and opinions. So who's the GOAT?

For many decades Gordie Howe was considered the GOAT of the NHL. Then along came that Gretzky kid. Over his long career, Wayne would not only surpass Gordie's once thought to be unapproachable scoring marks -- but shatter them.

In a mutual display of humility, both considered the other the GOAT. Comparatively speaking, Gretzky possessed far more skill than Howe. A faster skater, a magician with the puck, both shooting and passing to teammates.

As for defense, Howe was a force to be sure through his sheer physicality. It should be noted Gordie was not one to be trifled with when it came to fighting. As tough as they ever came. Gretzky wasn't much into slugging it out, but he played a more cerebral version of defense while on the ice.

Often an opposing team would assign a player to "shadow" Gretzky all over the ice. His solution was to shadow a second player on the opposition. It was a brilliant tactical maneuver. With Gretzky in essence tying up two players, it resulted in his teammates having a 4 on 3 advantage elsewhere on the ice. Tons of goal resulted. It remains a testament to Gretzky greatness how he was still able to rack up so many goals and assists under these conditions.

Yes, Howe was great indeed, the GOAT back in the day. But it would difficult to argue that Gretzky didn't ascend to the throne over time. The sheer numbers speak for themselves.

In ladies' tennis, who's the GOAT? Serena? Martina? Match them up head-to-head in their primes, and who would win? Take your pick.

How about the GOAT running back in the NFL? Emmett Smith holds the all-time record for rushing yardage. But he had the luxury of playing all those years for the Dallas Cowboys, who have always been noted for putting together terrific offensive lines that open holes for backs to run through.

Back in the day, Jim Brown was considered the GOAT. He was fast, powerful, and would flat run over defenders. A brute indeed, but he only played nine years. His rushing record has been passed by a lot of folks in the mean time.

Maybe it was Gail Sayers. The man was absolutely a sight to behold during his career with the Bears, but it was cut short due to a tragic knee injury. Surgeons couldn't fix those things back then like they can now.

How about Barry Sanders? Even playing for the woeful Detroit Lions, Barry was well on his way to setting the mark out of sight. But he wearied of their losing ways and culture and took an early retirement while still in his prime. Had he played for another 4-5 years, who knows how high he would have set the bar?

Put Walter Payton into the conversation. Though he too played for the usually not-so-good Bears, Peyton was Jim Brownish (speed/power) but also had terrific moves. Tragically, Sweetness died young of liver cancer.

Yet there is one that nobody wants to recognize for their own reasons, but he was, and remains atop the heap when it came to productivity. His per-game rushing average was a whopping 136 yards, a huge 12 yards better than anybody else has ever attained.

His name is Orenthal James (OJ) Simpson, currently still behind bars on a robbery charge. No, OJ never played on a Super Bowl winning team while toiling away in Buffalo, but to average 12 yards a game more than his nearest competitor over his then storied career is definitely an eye-opener.

So who's the GOAT indeed?

Probably the true "goats" are those that profess to name one or the other in various endeavors and cite reasons to support their so-called logic.

In truth, we'll never know, but it makes for great arguments among not only the talking TV heads, but also fans as well.

Me, I'll forever maintain my claim it was Jethro Bodine of the Beverly Hillbillies. Aunt Pearl's boy, bless her yodeling heart. Anybody that could be a brain surgeon, double-naught spy, international playboy, fry cook, and shoot the eye out of a fly at 100 yards has still got my vote as the all-around GOAT. Period.

The rest of them were just jocks. They come and they go, but there will only ever be one Jethro.

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