Who Would Be the NBA GOAT if Michael Jordan and LeBron James Were Never Born?

Published 08/15/2021, 3:46 PM EDT
LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 07: Basketball players Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr. (L) and Kobe Bryant speak at the Michael Jackson public memorial service held at Staples Center on July 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Jackson, 50, the iconic pop star, died at UCLA Medical Center after going into cardiac arrest at his rented home on June 25 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


We’re back to arguably the most polarizing debate in the NBA. Who is the Greatest Player of All Time? Is it the most competitive athlete ever in 6x champion Michael Jordan? Or, is it possibly a player with arguably the longest prime in the history of professional sport in LeBron James?

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While LeBron and MJ still are the centerpieces of the debate, is there a name worthy enough to challenge them for GOAT status? With league analysts and the NBA fraternity siding with either of the 2, is someone else being completely overlooked?

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Narrowing down the GOAT debate to just 2 players, is quite disrespectful to others whose body of work is by no means a lesser feat.

In fact, it’s like Jordan himself once said – You’re never gonna say who’s the greatest of all time. I never played against Wilt Chamberlain, against Jerry West, to now say one’s greater than the other, is being unfair! 

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If not Michael Jordan or LeBron James, then who?

Tough question! While MJ transitioned into a cultural icon, revolutionizing the game of basketball in a 15 year career, LeBron’s had the spotlight on him since his days at St. Mary’s Vincent in Akron Ohio. But, if James and Jordan were to never step on the court, who would be atop GOAT mountain?

The late Kobe Bryant? Kareem Abdul Jabbar? Here’s a quick peek at their Hall of Fame careers –

Kobe Bryant

  • 5x NBA Champion, 2x F-MVP, 2008 MVP, 4th highest scorer of all time, 11x All-NBA First Team, 18x All-Star. Arguably the greatest Laker of all time. (20 seasons with the purple and gold).

Apart from the Black Mamba’s list of accolades, his impact off the court, on rising stars through the ‘Mamba Mentality as a mindset has impacted millions. Whether it be the Mamba brand, the sneakers or the overarching Black Mamba ideology, there’s no doubt about if Bryant belongs on GOAT mountain.

Yes, Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal as L.A. 3-peated at the turn of the century. But, what puts the Late Mamba in the higher echelons of the GOAT Debate? His mindset, his work ethic, a commitment like no other. In a game that almost mirrored his idol Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant was the quintessential star of the 2000s.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar – “Career GOAT”

  • 6x NBA Champion, 2x F-MVP, 6x MVP, highest scorer of all-time, 10x All-NBA First Team, 19x All-Star.

Kareem clearly has a legitimate argument for Career GOAT. Having brought Milwaukee’s first ever championship in 1971 partnering with Oscar Robertson, Jabbar was arguably the Star of the 70s.

Having dominated with an unbeatable shot in the Sky-Hook, Kareem set the benchmark for the new age center, moving away from the raw physicality that Wilt Chamberlain brought to the table in the era before him. Across a 21 season career, Jabbar amassed over 38,387 points, with over 4 seasons averaging 30+ppg/15rpg.

Kareem was also the focal point of the Lakers’ 80s Showtime era, with Magic Johnson and Kareem forming one of the earliest dynamic duos of the 1980s. The duo would also go on to win 5 championships, dominating the 80s, primarily against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.

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Off the court, Kareem has been one of the most vocal athletes of all time. Whether it was teaming up with other stalwarts like Bill Russell and Muhammed Ali, Jabbar has transcendent in advocating for social justice.

GOAT Mountain

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While Kareem and Kobe Bryant both are top candidates on the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore, Kobe’s passing was almost a rally cry of sorts that saw the NBA fraternity come together at arguably one of the lowest points in league history.

Watch this story – LeBron James Won’t Win In Miami, Kevin Durant Won’t Join Warriors, & Other Hilarious Predictions By NBA Analysts Over The Years

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Nikhil Naik

170 articles

Nikhil Naik is an NBA writer at EssentialySports. Having completed his bachelor's degree in Hospitality, he has worked with the Indian Hotels Company Limited, at the Taj in Mumbai. Nikhil has been playing basketball since 2014.

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