Who’s The Basketball GOAT?


The GOAT debate in the NBA has gone on for multiple decades. As more and more players get inducted into the Hall of Fame and become all-time greats, the number of candidates to be the GOAT has increased significantly. So, between James Harden, Lebron James, and Michael Jordan, who is the real GOAT?


“James Harden is the GOAT” — Jack Wang ’22

Basketball is a team game, and with accomplishments largely dictated by many factors outside of a single player’s control, James Harden, as the most prolific and skilled scorer in NBA history, is the GOAT. After rising to superstardom in Houston, Harden has put up jaw-dropping numbers with unprecedented consistency: in the last five seasons, he has averaged 31.7 points per game, including a 36.1 point season in 2018-2019. Some may argue that numbers-wise, other historical scorers like Michael Jordan (with 37.1 ppg in 1986-1987) are comparable, even though nobody has averaged over 35 points with fewer shots, fewer minutes, or more assists than Harden. 

But it is Harden’s versatile skill set that makes him unguardable and separates him from his adversaries. Whether it is by drawing contact in a Eurostep, using his patented step-back three, or shooting a floater in the paint, he will find a way to score on any defense. These skills weren’t used by older NBA greats — Michael Jordan, for instance, only averaged 1.8 three-point attempts on 32.7% shooting, making him a liability in creating space. Harden now leads the league in assists with just over eleven per game, a further testament to his offensive versatility and IQ. 

A common knock against Harden is his defense: although players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did have greater defensive presences, Harden actually has elite post defense (ranking second in points per possession in the 2019-2020 season) and contributes well considering his offensive load. Evolution inevitably occurs over the course of time, and Harden is the paragon of modern NBA players’ superior skill level, production, and versatility.


“Michael Jordan is the GOAT” — Huck Jamison ’22

Although it is very difficult to compare accomplishments, accolades, and status among different basketball players from different eras, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. As much as the argument of the six-for-six, the scoring titles, and the countless other personal elements of success Jordan achieved, his biggest success may have been the fact that he prevented all other legends from the 90’s from winning championships. When one thinks about “ringless” all time greats — Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, and other 90s great normally top that list — all of these players had a common underlying theme of being beaten by Jordan at some point in their careers.

 Winning a championship is the pinnacle of basketball success, and in Lebron’s era, Curry, Durant, Duncan, Kawhi, Kobe, and others all managed to reach this height of basketball immortality. Jordan’s sheer domination over a closed six-year span was what elevates him above every basketball player in history. It is very difficult to compare players from different eras, as watching a player first hand is vital to understanding their success. But the sheer dominance of the 90s that Michael Jordan displayed makes him the greatest basketball player in history.


“Lebron James is the GOAT” — Anuj Agarwal ’21

Ever since the 2016 NBA Finals, where Lebron defeated the 73-win Warriors, the GOAT debate has continued to intensify. Towards the forefront of this conversation is the key question: what makes the supposed GOAT the greatest? The best criteria for the GOAT revolves around the ultimate goal in the NBA – a championship. Specifically, the GOAT is the basketball player that has the most “championship equity” over their entire career.

Otherworldly scoring ability, next-level vision, all-time versatile defense, size, strength, and athleticism blend perfectly to make the basketball phenom that is Lebron James. Lebron has the unmatched ability to raise the floor of any team he joins by carrying them to unseen heights with minimal talent, in addition to possessing the playmaking and selflessness to mesh with other superstars to create dynasties. No other candidate for GOAT can say this. Some players (Michael Jordan) could never reach championship heights before the addition of a superstar sidekick. Lebron carried the ’07 Cavaliers to the NBA Finals with no other all-stars. When Lebron left, they collapsed to the worst team in the league. 

Other stars have brought lackluster teams to great heights (Allen Iverson) but can’t mesh with other superstars to create all-time teams. Lebron has won championships with three distinct teams, filled with three distinct types of talent. He won a championship with a dynamic three-level scorer (Kyrie), a playmaking slasher (Dwayne Wade), and a defense-oriented big man in Anthony Davis. When you combine versatility and floor-raising ability with his absurd longevity and durability, no player in the history of basketball has had more “championship equity” than Lebron James.