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Over 100 NBA Players Reveal Their Pick for the Basketball GOAT

Feb 20, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Lebron James and Michael Jordan on court during halftime during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Since 2019, The Athletic has run an anonymous poll for NBA players to vote on heavily debated basketball topics. The most intriguing debate in the game is about who players believe is the greatest NBA player of all time, or “the GOAT.” This year is no different. In this year’s poll, 133 NBA players were surveyed. According to the results, 45.9% of players believe Michael Jordan is the greatest NBA player of all time. The next highest vote-getter was LeBron James, who received 42.1% of the votes. Last year, Jordan received 58.3% of the votes, whereas James received 33%.

Other players to have received votes are Kobe Bryant (9.8%), Stephen Curry (0.8%), Magic Johnson (0.8%), and Paul Pierce (0.8%).

Over 100 NBA Players Reveal Their Pick for the Basketball GOAT

Former NBA Players Weigh in on the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James Debate

For years, fans have debated who the greatest NBA player of all time is. And the most heated debate for at least the last decade has been between Jordan and James. Over the last few years, some of the game’s greatest figures have made their thoughts known. Last year, James himself said he thinks he is “the best basketball player that ever played the game.”

Additionally,  Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett seems to agree. Garnett played against both Jordan and James throughout his career. In 2023, “The Big Ticket” said he thinks James is the greatest player in NBA history.

“He’s my GOAT in all of this: the business, the everything,” Garnett said on The Stephen A. Smith Show.

“He’s the vision of what every black man should aspire to be, having been a billionaire, having a business, having your own labels, like he’s set the tone.

“Like I get it, I played against bro, I’ve let it go. It isn’t personal with me no more. I’m watching him as a fan and I’m giving him flowers and I’m looking at it from a different perspective.

“We haven’t ever seen a 39-year old [James is 38] do this, [Le]Bron’s got to be on some stuff that hasn’t came out yet.”

On the flip side, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal feels the opposite. O’Neal also matched up against Jordan and James during his career. James’ former teammate believes players don’t “fear LeBron” the way they did Jordan.

“I’ve heard players say, including myself, ‘I feared Mike.’ I’ve heard players in your generation say, ‘I feared Kobe.’ I never really heard any players say they fear LeBron,” O’Neal said.

There May Not Be Such Thing as Just One NBA GOAT

With how deep the debate goes, it is easy to ignore factors besides stats and accolades. One of the most important factors, however, is the era in which each player played. The game has changed dramatically over the last half-century. For this reason, it is difficult to compare a modern player to someone who dominated the 1980s. Former NBA champion Rasheed Wallace weighed in on the debate, citing different eras as the reason “there’s no clear GOAT.

“To me, you can’t rank them. I can’t say that Kobe is better than ‘Bron, or Kobe is better than Mike, or Mike is better than ‘Bron because, during the eras that they played, all of them were dominating…You can go ahead and pick all you want at it, but I don’t think there’s no one clear GOAT.”

This debate will never fully end. However, James likely still has another few years left under his belt. It will be interesting to see if he can do anything to pull away and cement his legacy as the greatest NBA player in history.


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