SALT LAKE CITY — Lincoln might have been the Greatest Of All Time — the GOAT of the White House — but he never said it and, more importantly, probably never thought about such things.
Einstein might have been the Greatest Of All Time among physicists, but if he was smart enough to theorize about quantum physics, he was smart enough not to say he was the GOAT.
William Shakespeare was the Greatest Of All Time among playwrights, but if he thought so, he heeded his own words: “Give thy thoughts no tongue.”
Then there’s LeBron James. He is the GOAT of basketball. Who says so? He does.
James declared in an ESPN interview that the debate ended when his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors to win the 2016 championship. “That one right there made me the greatest player of all time,” he says, “That's what I felt."
If he was even mildly embarrassed at such braggadocio, he didn’t let on. But what else do you expect from a guy who has CHOSEN1 and KING JAMES tattooed on his body, and once posted a heartwarming Instagram message to himself after scoring his 30,000th point — Wanna be one of the first to Congratulate you on this accomplishment/achievement tonight that you’ll reach!
Continuing, James explained the rationale for his latest self-coronation: "Everybody was just talking about how (the Warriors) were the greatest team of all time, like, it was the greatest team ever assembled. For us to come back the way we came back in that fashion, I was, like, 'You did something special.'"
You have to admire how skillfully he juggles pronouns, moving from “I” and “me” to a more modest “we” and back to “I.” Self-esteem is no problem for this guy. That’s how he manages to overlook his 3-6 record in the NBA Finals and the fact that two-thirds of his championships were manufactured by his fleeing Cleveland to form his own All-Star team in Miami.
Lincoln once said, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” James has worried about his recognition since the day he entered the league. Shakespeare might have been writing for “King James” when he wrote, “Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me.”
James has been obsessed with the GOAT talk throughout his career, and the media has dutifully become his champion (one reporter referred to him as “The King” rather than by his last name). The GOAT conversation is fun, but futile. It’s impossible to compare generations. The NBA is a much different game than it was when Bill Russell or even Michael Jordan roamed the courts.
In any case, the real point is that unless you're Muhammad Ali clowning with the media, it’s not an athlete’s place to tell people he’s the greatest (next: James will tell voters he’s already put himself in the Hall of Fame and they need not vote on the matter).
“You don’t need to say that about yourself,” said former Celtic great Kevin McHale of James’ pronouncement. “Let other people say that for you. I mean I was kind of surprised because I’d read about it, but that’s the first time I’d actually heard him say it — ‘Made me the GOAT.’ I’m like, damn. I just didn’t like the way that sounded to me.”
McHale said James was being disrespectful to many other players — Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan. “There are just so many,” he said. “Larry (Bird) and Magic (Johnson) just led teams and turned the league around.”
"There's a certain thing about greatness that demands you have humility with greatness," NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas said on NBA TV. "I have never heard Michael Jordan say he is the greatest of all time," Thomas continued. "Even though he may think that, even though Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) may think that, you don't just come out and say that."
“Why he's saying that, I don't know," Danny Ainge said on the "Toucher and Rich” show. “Maybe he thinks that that sells. Maybe he's taking the Donald Trump approach and trying to sell himself. I don't know."
"I don't know that you can self-proclaim this," former Celtic great Paul Pierce said on ESPN. "Because when you think of all of the great players … Kareem, Magic, none of them has ever come out and said, 'I'm the GOAT.' That's up to the fans, the writers and former players."
Maybe King James would do well to remember what poet Criss Jami wrote: “The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.” Let's conclude with a Spanish proverb: “Tell me what you brag about and I’ll tell you what you lack.”