It’s an argument that can’t be won.
There are a few answers to the question.
Everyone thinks they’re right.
No one is wrong.
The incomparable are compared.
MVPs, Finals MVPs and all-time great playmaking are defining characteristics.
Who is the NBA’s greatest of all time? Who is the GOAT?
In ranking the 75 greatest players in league history – as the NBA celebrates its 75th anniversary this season – USA TODAY set out to answer that question.
The answer wasn’t unanimous, and it never will be. It is subjective no matter how much one tries to frame the debate with facts, titles, MVPs, statistics and other awards.
Some fans think Michael Jordan (left) is the greatest of all time. Others think it’s LeBron James. And some fans will point to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell.
You’ll never be able to convince a Michael Jordan person that LeBron James is the best or vice versa. You’ll never be able to argue with a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar person that someone else is the greatest.
The Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain people are entrenched in their position.
It makes the debate entertaining and frustrating.
And the debate has only proliferated in the modern era of hot takes, a 24/7 news cycle, bombastic TV talk shows, radio and internet programming and social media.
One’s opinion is skewed based on age. Frame of reference is huge in this discussion, and if you didn’t see any of Abdul-Jabbar’s career or even MJ’s (those born in Jordan’s final season haven’t even turned 20), it’s difficult to have an all-time affinity for that player without a great understanding of NBA history.
Over the past five seasons, the debate between Jordan and James has intensified as James added two more titles, two more Finals MVPs and moved to No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with sights set on passing Karl Malone for No. 2 this season.
But this is not a two-player discussion if we’re combining the main factors: championships, MVPs, Finals MVPs, scoring, dominance and influence. Abdul-Jabbar – a record six MVPs, six championships, two Finals MVPs, No. 1 on the all-time scoring list, defensive force and the sky hook, one of the game’s most unstoppable shots – is in the conversation.
Our list does not settle the debate conclusively, but it attempts to give guidance not only to the 75 best NBA players but greatest of all time.
Who’s your GOAT? We made our choice.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is NBA’s greatest of all time? The answer will never be unanimous