Wow, okay we're starting then!
Alright, I don't want my first post to be a vote. While I'm really not sure if anyone is going to be able to post anything to sway me on the early threads because I've thought so much about it already, I did want to at least put my mind out there and the stuff I'm thinking about.
I'll begin with my 2017 vote - which to be clear, I'm not voting right now so don't count this!
In 2017 I voted: 1) Russell, 2) Jordan, 3) LeBron.
Approaching this in 2020 first...On Russell
There isn't any athletic accomplishment I rank ahead of what Russell did. That's not to say it's necessarily greater than all other athletic accomplishments so much as that I think it deserves to be treated as at least the equal of all other such accomplishments.
I previously acknowledged that with the shifts in the game I don't think Russell would be the best player in today's game. I think he'd still be the best defensive player, but that you simply can't have the same type of impact with the spacing today. However the fact that Russell was so optimal in "playing it as it lies" made me generally conclude that it was fair to rank him above of more modern players.
Lately though I've been thinking about the fact that the modern game IS "basketball". As in, while the Russell-Wilt rivalry was a thing in sports media at the time, basketball was still a relatively minor sport and that didn't seriously begin to change until the '80s. And when it changed, it changed with a greater perimeter focus with guys like Bird, Magic, and Jordan as the focus.
And it changed again in the mid-2010s. I wasn't really thinking about it this way in 2017, but since then I've found myself thinking that if I'm only going to choose one player to represent basketball, I think it should be someone who represents the modern game.
And if I'm going to choose one guy over Russell, given the situation with Jordan vs LeBron, I think it might make sense to move both of them over Russell.
To be clear, in truth, I'll always see Russell as a 1B or 1C type guy if he's not 1A. There will never be a tier above him. But I'm feeling a pull to prioritize "modern GOATs" ahead of him.On MJ vs LeBron
I've spent more time thinking about Jordan & James than Russell though. Russell's slot is going to be more about subjective perspective, MJ & LeBron are guys we can actually debate as to who would be better today.
Jordan obviously has the "success purity" argument. While it's wrong to say that he didn't have failures in his career, during his prime he had more consistent "all the way, all the time" success than LeBron, and anyone who votes for Jordan over LeBron from now to eternity, I get it.
What does LeBron have going for him? Beyond longevity with cumulative accomplishment, what he has is a claim to be someone who has won in more different ways and shown a greater ability to adapt to new surroundings. He has a track record of not "all the way" succeeding at first, but eventually getting there. While that may not sound like something that special to some, here's something I've been chewing on:
I tend to see sport evolution from a perspective of business growth curves.
Basically, there are particular points in time where growth happens rapidly, and when you see someone maintain their dominance through that rapid growth, this is incredibly impressive and - I'll emphasize - particularly hard to do.
I've long said that Russell represents an S-curve dominance like no one else in the game's history.
As I do more research in the pre-NBA times, I see Tarzan Cooper as someone like this as well, but he's less impressive than Russell.
I've come to realize that I think we're now experiencing a new S-curve type growth beginning in '04-05 and still climbing in 2020. The playoff gauntlet with tactical adaptation is just not like what we saw in previous generation, and I think it's literally making it harder to stay on top than it was not simply in Jordan's time when strategical norms were more static, but even beyond Russell's time when there were a small number of teams, a small number of elite talents, and rather primitive coaching tactics.
At this point I'd say that if my assessment of what LeBron's done through this year remains, I'd put him above Jordan.
BUT, LeBron's story is not yet done being written. If, for example, LeBron and the Lakers come back fully healthy next year and in the playoffs hit an opponent with a strategy that makes me see this year's title as a "you can't win that way any more because of X", as opposed to the better-than-most-champs-no-matter-how-you-view-it level I currently see the Lakers, then Jordan will probably be the one who goes down as the modern GOAT for me ahead of LeBron.
To put another way: Players who are still playing still have a major uncertainty range for me in a way that retired players don't. I can change my opinion about a retired player, but the facts are what they are. But when we're viewing what a guy did in 2020, it's going to help to look back with a few years of distance. When we have it, I may have LeBron higher than Jordan, or I may have Jordan higher than LeBron.
Hey: With what's going on in the world, my fuse is shorter than it used to be, and it's leading my lose my cool and then go on self-imposed breaks from things (such as RealGM). Please try to keep it civil, and I'll be looking to do the same.