My previous post discussed the greatest women’s basketball player of all time (G.O.A.T.), Cheryl Miller. Now, I want to offer some perspective about the greatest men’s basketball player of all time, since it’s a little more difficult to decipher. Whenever the best men’s basketball players are discussed, the most talked about names are Walt Frazier, Julius Irving, Oscar Robertson, George Gervin, Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and even Lebron James. Of course, the most favored of all these players is Jordan. When I think of the GOAT, I think of a player who makes his or her teammates better, impacts the game on offense and defense, must be the best player for his or her franchise and has to have championships under his or her belt.
Without a doubt, Jordan falls into all of these categories, but why is it that we only associate guards with the GOAT? What made Cheryl Miller unique was her versatility and ability to play all positions. Usually, women have limited mobility the taller they are. However, at 6-foot-2, she was coordinated and had the speed of a gazelle. She was able to control the game at multiple positions. On the other hand – when it comes to men – I think our perceptions are swayed by those who have the ball in their hands the most. Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Tim Duncan are never associated with being the GOAT. The most talked about big man is Larry Bird and he’s not considered the GOAT. We don’t understand the impact post players have on the game: they have to be able to finish around the rim, be good passers, block shots and be leaders. Yes, they need a good guard to get them the ball, but it’s what post players do with the ball after they get it that matters.
Based on the aforementioned requirements to be considered the greatest, my GOAT is Bill Russell. The 6-foot-9 Russell attended the University of San Francisco, where he and guard K.C. Jones led the Dons to 56 consecutive wins and two NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956. He averaged 20.7 points and 20.3 rebounds in his three-year college career. He was the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player in 1955. He was the face of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty in the 1960s. According to nba.com, he brought the franchise 11 championships in 13 seasons, 12-time All-Star, five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, 21,620 career rebounds (22.5 per game) and four-time NBA leading rebounder. Russell had 51 rebounds in one contest, 49 in two others and 12 consecutive seasons of snatching 1,000 or more rebounds. He was a post player who made the players around him better, and he did this while adjusting to different guards over the course of 13 seasons. To top things off, he has his own statue in downtown Boston as an appreciation and honor for being the greatest sports figure in Boston history.
On the other hand, let’s pay homage to the man who coined the term GOAT, largely due to his last name, Earl Manigault. Street ball phenom, known as the double-dunker because he could dunk, catch the ball out the net and dunk again before landing. He played with the likes of Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and more. However, he started using drugs at 20 and his addiction cut his career short. Although The Goat’s hoop dreams faded early, he turned his life around and poured his energy into the youth in his community to prevent them from modeling his path. His biopic, “Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault” starring Don Cheadle highlights his strengths and his struggles. He died at age 53 in 1998 from congestive heart failure, but The GOAT will forever live on. Take a look at a snippet of his story featured on CNN in the ’90s.