Is there such a thing as a Greatest of All Time in sports? Who determines it and what parameters do they use to come up with their conclusions.
Every time we have a once in a generation player win, the question of who is the greatest of all time comes up. When Lebron James won the NBA title and Serena won Wimbledon, the question came up; are they the G.O.A.T.
This discussions are driven by our desire to be witnessing history unfold, our desire to tell the story of having witnessed the greatest ever perform at their very best. Our need to be witness is what generates the arguments and discussions. But the main question is, are our arguments based on solid facts or just emotionally charged?
The main parameter for comparison used is championships. We always hear people say, Jordan went 6 for 6 while Lebron has lost 3, or Montana was 4 for 4 while Brady lost 2. The only problem with this argument is that it does not consider teammates or opponents. For this argument to hold any water we need to ask ourselves, how did Jordan’s opponents match-up to Lebron’s or how did Montana’s opponents match up to Brady. In other words, how good is number 2.
Kim Collins is a track and field sprinter from Saint Kitts and Nevis. He won the 2003 World Athletics Championships 100m gold. This will therefore rank him higher in all time lists than other athletes like Asafa Powell who were never World Champions. However, he won it in a time of 10.07s! This time would not have even medaled at the 2000 Olympics.
We make all these comparisons between athletes without comparing the underlying factors that contribute to their success and therefore come up with flawed arguments. Injuries, training, modern equipment, superior teammates e.t.c. all factor in when considering a championship run. In many minds Maradona is greater that Messi only because he won the World Cup and not for what he did over his career.
Perhaps the most overlooked factor is time. Our minds have a way of only remembering the good parts but forgetting or ignoring the bad. Modern athletes are therefore subjected to competing against a memory; an that is a competition they can never win. I remember watching Maradona’s goal against England in 1986; it was and still is the greatest feat I have seen on a football pitch. Watching it many years later does not give me the emotions I had when I first saw it because it does not capture the ‘never been done before’ aspect. Every great Messi goal is now compared against that one goal, that one moment of sheer genius.
We need to appreciate the greatness of these athletes we are watching today and stop trying hard to compare them to our past. Lebron, Messi, Tiger, e.t.c. are all amazing athletes that we have been privileged to watch at their best. But comparing them to Jordan, Maradona, Nicklaus e.t.c. is wrong because there are too many variables to compare.
Enjoy them as they are.