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Michael Jordan is the greatest NBA player of all time. I refuse to debate this issue. What I don’t refuse to debate is the SGOAT argument. What is the SGOAT? The second greatest player of all time.

There are many options. Usually, I think people debate players from their franchise, with exceptions to less successful teams, such as the Nuggets, Hornets, and Clippers.

Lakers’ fans will say Kobe or Magic, depending on their age. Bucks fans will say, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Celtics fans will say Bill Russell or Larry Bird, and 76ers fans will tell you it’s Wilt Chamberlain.

I even have a friend who is a Knicks fan who claims that Patrick Ewing is the SGOAT.

I, being a Clippers fan, have no stake in this. That aside, here are the four nominees for the SGOAT:

LeBron James:

Pros: LeBron James is the greatest player of our generation. He’s won four titles, four MVPs, and is in the top 5 for all-time scoring. He is also a 16-time all-star.

Cons: Two out of four of LeBron’s titles came with the Heat’s Big 3. While he was the best player on those teams, there definitely was some load-bearing by Bosh and Wade. He has also lost six finals, two of which came with the same Heat Big 3.

Kobe Bryant:

Pros: Five championships. Two Finals MVPs. Possibly the best scorer of all time. Also, an eighteen-time all-star with an MVP to go along with all of that.

Cons: Before I start the cons, I would like to say I was deeply saddened by Kobe Bryant’s death. None of this is personal, just a reflection of statistics.

Three of Kobe’s five titles came with prime Shaq, who won Finals MVPs for every championship in the three-peat. He was also a me-first player.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar:

Pros: The all-time leading scorer in NBA History. Had the greatest signature move of all time (The Skyhook). He Only missed the all-star game once. 6 time NBA Champion. Great defender.

Cons: Couldn’t shoot. Only had above a 60 percent shooting percentage once in his career.

Bill Russell:

Pros: Russell won 11 Rings, which is the most ever for a single player. DPOY. Five-time MVP. Played on the greatest dynasty of all-time. 

Cons: Played against much weaker competition. Wasn’t a top option offensively.

In my opinion, you could make arguments for all four of these guys. If you are ranking them in championships, they could go like this:

  1. Bill Russell: 11
  2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar: 6
  3. Kobe Bryant: 5
  4. LeBron James: 4

But, if you are talking about Finals MVPs:

  1. LeBron James: 4
  2. Kobe Bryant: 2 (Tie)
  3. Kareem Abdul Jabbar: 2 (Tie)
  4. Bill Russell: 0 (Was not given out at the time)

For MVPs:

  1. Kareem Abdul Jabbar: 6
  2. Bill Russell: 5
  3. LeBron James: 4
  4. Kobe Bryant: 1

There is not really a clear option. Bill Russell stands out because he is in the top 2 for both categories that he could have actually accumulated at the time, but he played against old white guys in shorts.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar won 6 championships and was a great defender, but he only won finals MVP twice, with Magic Johnson arguably carrying him a bit in 1987 and 1988.

Kobe Bryant won five championships, but three were with Shaquille O’Neal, who could’ve been in this debate if not for the feud with Kobe breaking up those Lakers teams, which almost certainly would have meant a win over the Pistons in ‘04 and maybe more championships.

LeBron is also interesting, but he has lost six finals. Personally, I would rank them like this:

  1. ___________
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Kobe Bryant.

Photo Credit: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images