The idea of ”greatest of all time” was popularized by legendary boxer Muhammad Ali who described himself as the greatest following his victory over George Foreman in 1974. He said: “I told you today, I’m still the greatest of all time. Never again defeat me. Never again say that I’m going to be defeated. Never again make me the underdog until I’m about 50 years old. Then you might get me.”
We all have fun debating amongst friends and work colleagues who are the greatest athletes in their sport. These types of conversations can cause strong opposition. I love to converse about the greatest baseball player. It’s one of the debates that’s so open-ended a slew of people says, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, or even Derrick Jeter. The most common debate in football is the greatest NFL Quarterback. Tom Brady is the GOAT of that conversation. In basketball, the never-ending cycle is Lebron James and Michael Jordan. A battle of two generations and styles of play during those times.
Greatness is defined by what you do on the biggest stage. Brady has seven championships, and Lebron has been to ten finals. Many players have reached the Hall of Fame, but consistent winning sets the top tier from the others. While we have a GOAT conversation, rarely is the best franchise debated. Rings define franchises. You may not have a favorite player, but we all are fans of a team. When you represent the city of Cleveland as I do, it’s hard to defend them in a sports debate of the greatest franchises. Does the GOAT argument fit when it comes to teams?
Since the formation of social media, the term GOAT has formed an entirely new meaning for lackluster performances or play. Goat is now a scapegoat to explain a loss. During the 90s and the early 2000s, no two people personified this new term of GOAT better than Scott Norwood and Bill Buckner. If you lived on the North Side of Chicago, you most likely added Steve Bartman to that list. Wide right and between the legs gave Norwood and Buckner that term for eternity. To be the GOAT in some circles is now a horrible title to have. After his 2011 NBA Finals, the basketball world named LeBron the “goat”. All was forgiven in 2012 when he won his first NBA title.
Reverting back to the original definition, the biggest gripe I have in sports today is the influence of social media. We live in the moment, and everything is the best thing ever seen until tomorrow. History is missing in today’s world of hot takes. The term has become watered down. A player makes a great play and goes viral. Win one big game, and you’re a GOAT in 2022.
Every great player is not the original definition of a GOAT. This label should be reserved, for players regarded as the best in their sport, no matter the era. MJ, Brady, James, Manning are GOATS. Top tier players have stopped other great players from achieving team and individual success. The meaning of the GOAT is lost. As Ali said, “Never again make me the underdog.” The greats are always on top!