Comparing eras is futile, so let’s celebrate the Greatest Of Their Era
The great thing about sports is that results are objective. There are won-loss records, tournaments, playoffs, and championships. The winner is decided on the field of play.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t subjective debates. Quite the contrary. The never ending sports debates all come down to one question: Who is the best? Who’s the best player? What was the toughest era? What’s the best team? Could the best team from a prior era beat the top squad from today’s game?
In the past, these arguments were usually carried out in bars and basements, but now, fueled by online publications, social media, and sports shows that “embrace debate,” they’ve entered the cultural discourse. Everyone has an unshakable opinion.
In more recent years, this debate has an added wrinkle. Thanks to LL Cool J, the term G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) entered the lexicon and became the standard by which great players are measured. It’s become so ubiquitous that Jennifer Lawrence had to reassure Meryl Streep it was a good thing that they kept calling her “GOAT.”
Weirdly, although the acronym was originally meant to crown one person above all others, it has become a way to celebrate greatness in general. Multiple people are considered GOATs to the point that it’s lost a bit of its meaning, but it’s understandable. After all, how do you compare players from different eras?
Between human evolution, integration, globalization, advances in medical technology, expansion, rule changes, and a hundred other things, comparing eras is an exercise in futility.
It’s like comparing apples to microchips.
Thus, it’s time to replace G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) with G.O.T.E. (Greatest Of Their Era).
George Mikan forced the entire professional basketball world to change the rules because of his dominance, but he would have blown out both knees trying to defend Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake. Mikan wasn’t the GOAT but he was certainly the GOTE.
Bill Russell won an astounding 11 titles and changed the way basketball was played. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has become incredibly underrated in recent years but he won 6 MVPs, 6 championships, and held numerous records for decades. When each retired, they were considered the GOAT.
Russell: GOTE. Kareem: GOTE.
Of course, when Michael Jordan retired, there was no question he was the greatest player ever. The GOAT of GOATs. Many people still feel that way, however, there are many Kobe Bryant acolytes that feel he took Jordan’s style of play and elevated it. And LeBron James, the best all-around player ever, will finish with the greatest career, but doesn’t have the spotless NBA Finals record that Jordan did. So which one do we go with, MJ, Kobe, or ‘Bron?
All of them.
GOTE. GOTE. GOTE.
Comparing eras is like comparing apples to microchips so it’s time to replace G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) with G.O.T.E. (Greatest Of Their Era)
Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, right?
He won seven Super Bowls, far more than anyone else. He holds countless records and played for an astonishing twenty-three years.
What about Joe Montana? Montana, playing in a stacked NFC, won four rings, three Super Bowl MVPs, and two regular season MVPs.
Brady won more championships than Montana, but if we’re using the most common Jordan argument (“he’s undefeated in the Finals!”) then shouldn’t Joe Montana still be on top? He was 4–0 in the Super Bowl. Brady lost three times on the biggest stage, twice to Eli Manning!
Before Montana, there was Johnny Unitas. Nicknamed, the “Golden Arm,” Unitas didn’t break records as much as he wrote them. A three-time MVP and three-time NFL champion, his prime came before the Super Bowl era (although he did win Super Bowl V), so his greatness is often overlooked, but he was the prototype for what a quarterback would be for the next half-century.
Unitas. Montana. Brady.
GOTE. GOTE. GOTE.
Messi or Ronaldo or Pele? Why not all of them?
GOTE. GOTE. GOTE.
(And with that we’ve reached the extent of my soccer knowledge.)
Wayne Gretzky is the exception that proves this rule (he’s the exception that proves nearly every rule in pro sports). He is indisputably the greatest hockey player that ever lived and there is no real argument for anyone else. He won a ridiculous eight straight MVPs and holds the NHL record for both most goals and most assists — the assists number is so insane that “if he had never scored a single goal, he’d still easily be the NHL’s all-time leader in points.” He was the GOAT of all GOATs and GOTEs.
Let’s end at the beginning.
Babe Ruth was the first true G.O.A.T. of American sports. Ruth was so much better than everyone else that his accomplishments reached a mythical, Paul Bunyan-type status. (In 1926, he led the league with 47 home runs. Hack Wilson finished second…with 21!) He revolutionized the game and dominated it like no one else has, even if he didn’t compete against the likes of Josh Gibson.
Ruth was the prototypical power hitter and a very good pitcher, but he wasn’t the total package. Willie Mays was the total package, an ideal five-tool player that could do anything and everything on a baseball field. Mays won two MVPs and was an All-Star twenty-four times, and was as famous for his play in the field as for his hitting and baserunning. He was the all-around GOAT.
His godson followed in his footsteps. Before a single scandal or allegation, Barry Bonds was a guaranteed Hall of Famer, with a combination of power and speed — in his first seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he put up a combined 427 home runs and stolen bases, more even than Mays had in his first seven seasons (421). He holds the record for most home runs in a season and a career. He won seven MVPs and is the only player with 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases. He didn’t have the arm of Mays, but while he had a reputation for being an offense-only player, he won eight Gold Gloves.
Ruth. Mays. Bonds. GOTE. GOTE. GOTE.
So let’s celebrate instead of denigrate. Next time you’re at the bar, getting mad over another Greatest Of All Time argument, raise a glass instead and toast all of the Greats Of Their Era.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or drop him an email.