Are sporting legends made through statistics or championships?

The greatest divide in the sporting world: What is greatness based off of?

Photo by Alex Young.

Photo by Alex Young.

It is safe to say that sports are one of the most controversial things ever created. Around the world, sporting clubs not only represent cities and countries, but also play a key role in telling cultural history. From the Olympic Games, which are said to have begun in 776 BC, to present day national sporting leagues around the world, athletic competitions continue to be a staple of enjoyment for people around the globe. In the past few years, American sports have had a wild ride. From the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to beat the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty, to the Eagles and their backup quarterback striking down Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, sports have undoubtedly provided fans with many thrills recently. Yet with that being said, any time a starting bell sounds or the final whistle blows, there will always be some sort of debate. That is where the million dollar question comes in: What makes an athlete great – their personal statistics or their amount of championships won?

This argument has been going on for years in the sporting industry, yet since LeBron James’ move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer, the controversial topic has skyrocketed. James is universally known as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. However, his statistics are around identical to Michael Jordan, who is also known as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. The catch is that James is expected to play 4 more years, and in that time, pass Jordan’s records. What sets the two apart is that while Jordan played throughout mid-80’s and into early 2000’s winning all 6 NBA Finals he appeared in, James has been playing since the early 2000’s, is still signed to play up until 2022, and is 3-6 in the NBA Finals.

The hot topic over who is the “best basketball player of all time” continues to divide sports fans. “LeBron is ten times better than Jordan,” says senior Jake Hitt. “Although Jordan has more championships, he has like a 1-9 playoff record when playing without Scottie Pippen.” Hitt is referring to Pippen because he played alongside Jordan, earning 7 All-Star awards. Hitt continues, “Jordan could not win without Pippen. He may have 6 NBA Championships but he had to rely on his teammates for that.” Hitt has a point to be made as championships can be seen as deceiving. James, on the other hand, has previously made it to 8 straight NBA Finals ranging from 2011 to 2018 with arguably mediocre teams for some years in that span. He also had to face the Golden State Warriors in the finals, a team that has 4 NBA All-Stars who set the NBA record for the most wins in a season. “The finals record does not say much,” says Hitt. “LeBron played against much harder competition.” Although Hitt has a point, there are two sides to every argument.

A lot of the argument is based on the sport itself. “It really depends,” says senior Jackson Stone. “When you think of great football quarterbacks, you think of Tom Brady, not Dan Marino.” Stone is making the point that while Brady and Marino are both seen as legendary NFL quarterbacks, Brady is seen as superior as he has five Super Bowl wins to Marino’s none. Yet, why is this not the same for Jordan being better than LeBron? Jordan has more championships just like Brady does, but many still argue that James is better. If a person is to say that statistics matter more, why would they disregard James’ winning “stat” in the NBA Finals?

Senior Raheem Clemons blew the debate out of the water. He says, “To win a championship you need a team… but you need great players to win that championship. Players stats are a part of player’s championships, so they still matter, but that alone should not make a player better than another.” Clemons continued by saying “Jordan is the GOAT [greatest of all time], but I still have to give it to LeBron.” He referenced that times and the game changes, making it essentially impossible to end the debate between the two.

It is very true that times do change. Back in the 80’s, basketball was a very physical sport while now any contact at all with receive “foul” cries from the crowd. Junior Alana Vierra says “I think athletes can be ‘great’ in different ways. Although time frame does make it difficult to tell who [and what] makes someone better, you have to remember that some players win championships while not contributing anything.” Vierra also added to the James v. Jordan debate by saying “I would have to choose Michael Jordan because his path of success went through rejection while LeBron was always seen as great.” Vierra is alluding to that while LeBron James was drafted to the NBA directly out of high school, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team his freshman year. Vierra is a wildcard in this scenario, in that although she sees Jordan as a superior basketball player, she believes that stats say more about a player, even though James in on pace to beat some of Jordan’s stats.

Many people believe that sports are ultimately about winning. If the goal of competing is to win, why would that not be the most valuable part? Junior Colleen Daghita says, “The success of an individual in a sport should be measured, but how well the team performs, being that many sports are typically not an individual effort, is most important [because it accounts for the entire team].” Daghita made it clear that although statistics are very important, they are only a part of the sport. Since the main goal of the sport is winning, championships should be the priority. Not only is it rewarding for individuals, but it is also rewarding for the entire club or organization.

All in all, the debate between statistics and championships will continue to eat people alive. Years from now people will surely still be arguing over who was the better basketball player, what makes an athlete “great,” and how it can vary between sports. One thing for sure is that only time will tell.