When I was a kid, my mother insisted that I not just try every food that was put on my plate, but that I also finish every bite. This was particularly unpleasant when it came to most vegetables. It didn’t matter that the taste was repulsive, sometimes so much so that I gagged when attempting to swallow a bite. Asparagus in particular was one such food. No matter how much my mother tried to convince me that I would “learn to like it”, every time I smelled asparagus cooking, I dreaded the meal to come. She tried telling me how healthy asparagus was and how good it was for me (I didn’t care). Then she even attempted to make me feel guilty for having food when “there are children starving on the other side of the world that would love to eat that asparagus!” (I suggested she could send my portion overseas). No matter what approach she tried, I never enjoyed asparagus and never ate it without a battle (although I did discover our German shepherd loved it when I was able to smuggle some of it off my plate and into my lap, where she eagerly gobbled it up).
Now what on earth could my asparagus story have to do with sports, you ask? Well, to me it is much like the current debate about who the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is in the NBA. With LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, this debate has reached epic proportions. Every game will bring the LeBron fans to social media, citing all his stats and naming him the GOAT. “How can you look at his numbers and NOT call him the GOAT?”, they ask. Of course, the people who aren’t LBJ fans will respond with their own numbers, those of one Michael Jordan. And from there, the debate rages on…and on…and on.
We are inundated with all of the accolades given to James — his MVP awards, NBA Finals MVPs, Rookie of the Year and titles won. We hear about his scoring average, his amazingly athletic plays and his game-winning shots. (“Now Michele, asparagus is a great vegetable. It has many vitamins and nutrients necessary for good nutrition. There’s no way you can argue how wonderful asparagus is!”)
Immediately, we hear from the Jordan faithful, citing his awards and athletic ability. How can we possibly consider anyone over Jordan as the GOAT? (“But Mom, how about spinach? Spinach was always considered the greatest vegetable around. Seriously, Popeye never lost a fight after eating his can of spinach. There’s no way asparagus is the greatest vegetable of all time!”)
Surely we can be reasonable and understand that there is no set formula for determining the Greatest of All Time in any sport. A couple of weeks ago on my Big Blue Views podcast, we asked our listeners to list their top 10 Kentucky Basketball players of all time. Think about that — we allowed ten players to make their lists and they only had to consider players from one school and it was still a difficult task. Out of the 20 or so folks that responded, only 2 players appeared in all lists (Issel and Mashburn). Everyone’s choices were valid, though. Strong cases could be made for each of the players they named. Subjectivity rules the day in these discussions, and there is really no “wrong” answer. Yet, we continue to debate endlessly, each of us convinced that we are the one that knows who is the greatest.
Inevitably, those who have grown weary of the debate will then toss out more names for consideration for the GOAT in the NBA: Wilt, Kareem, Kobe. (“Mom, can you just let me have green beans, limas or peas instead of asparagus? Isn’t the point that I have something that’s good for me?”) Regardless of the stats brought to the table, however, nobody will budge from their stance. And that’s fine, really. It’s even to be expected simply because, as previously noted, this is a subjective exercise. Some folks give more weight to titles won while others think it’s all about the individual stats. Factor in that two different eras are being compared as well and you have the perfect storm for the debate that never ends.
While I understand the discussion of who is better can be entertaining at times, this particular debate has run its course and perhaps the time has come to give it a rest. Regardless of the reasons you list for naming LeBron as the GOAT, you’re not going to change the minds of those that are in Camp Jordan. (“Yes Mom, I know how great asparagus is for me. I know it’s one of your favorite foods, but that doesn’t matter. No matter what you say, I don’t like asparagus and doubt that I ever will!”) Conversely, you are not likely to convince those riding the LeBron bandwagon that Jordan was the ultimate NBA player. (“Come on, Mom. Please, just let me have spinach salad on the nights you cook asparagus. Really, spinach is a better vegetable anyway. Why not accept that instead of trying to force-feed me the asparagus?”)
I just wish everyone would acknowledge the talents of each player and understand both are among the greatest to have ever played in the league. I’m not a LeBron fan, but I recognize his greatness as a basketball player. I respect his play tremendously. But just because I don’t agree he is the GOAT doesn’t make me “wrong” or a “hater.” It just means I have a different opinion. Why can’t we just let it go at that?
For that matter, to heck with the veggies — let’s just go have a nice big bowl of ice cream and watch the game.
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