LeBron James stood with the NBA championship trophy in his arms. He accepted the NBA Finals MVP award. With a smile, he looked at his teammates, all standing at center court in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, at the finish line of the NBA bubble marathon.

“We just want our respect,” he said. “(Lakers general manager) Rob (Pelinka) wants his respect. Coach (Frank) Vogel wants his respect. Our organization want their respect. Lakers Nation wants their respect. And I want my .... respect, too.”

James — who is criticized for almost every move he makes, but celebrated by millions for what he’s brought to the game — is a generational talent. For some, James is considered the greatest to ever play the sport of basketball. The greatest of all time. The “GOAT.”

He’s one of several GOATs across multiple sports and in his own sport, too, according to sports reporter Jim Gray, who recently released a new book titled “Talking to GOATS: The Moments You Remember and the Stories You Never Heard.”

There was a time, though, when the letters g-o-a-t had an entirely different meaning in the sports world. Athletes who made critical and costly errors were referred to as “goats.” The billy goat represented a famous “curse” of futility for the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise. Even more ominous, the image of the Baphomet deity, which is part goat and part human, has “become a recognized occult icon,” according to Britannica.com.

But these days, the title of GOAT is given to athletes like James, Michael Jordan, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Michael Phelps, Dr. J, Muhammad Ali, Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant. So what defines the modern GOAT?

“How they train, how they prepare, how they treat people,” Gray told me in a recent phone interview. “All of these things add up to a bigger picture. It makes us see them more clearly, whether they’re contemporary or, you know, great.”

A short history of GOATs

The curse of the billy goat allegedly began when William Sianis, a Greek immigrant who owned The Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, wasn’t allowed to bring his goat inside Wrigley Field before Game 4 of the 1945 World Series.

“You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again,” the tavern owner said, according to USA Today.

And the Cubs didn’t ... until 2016.

Now let’s consider Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, who famously (er, infamously?) missed a ground ball to first in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, letting it slide through his legs and run up the foul line. Despite having an All-Star career, Buckner was labeled as a goat and Bleacher Report ranked him as the No. 7 most-hated player in baseball history.

Buckner isn’t alone. Complex, a pop culture and sports website, ranked the “biggest goats in sports history” back in 2014, specifically referring to players who “became pariahs, in some cases forced into borderline exodus after their game-changing mistakes.”

Such goats include Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood, who missed a 47-yard field goal in Super Bowl XXV, giving the New York Giants a victory, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who consistently choked in the playoffs, according to Complex.

Don’t forget about former NBA player Chris Webber, who first made a name for himself in college, calling a timeout at the end of the NCAA title game, even though his team, Michigan, didn’t have any left.

And then there’s the tragedy of Andres Escobar, one of the greatest defenders of his era for the Colombian soccer team, who scored an own goal in the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. He was killed 10 days after the World Cup. “This is a very sad event that shows why sports goats are some of the most unlucky people in the world,” according to Bleacher Report.

‘GOAT’ is more than an athlete

For every goat, there is a GOAT. For every foil, there is a legend.

Gray’s book tells stories of generational talents and some of the best to have ever played. For the author, becoming the greatest of all time isn’t a statistical achievement. It’s not about one great moment or one bad moment. It’s about a series of moments and how we, as sports fans and viewers, perceive those moments that define a player’s standing in the pantheon of talent.

What happens outside the game matters, too, Gray said. It’s not about what a player does when they’re 25 years old and at the peak of their athleticism. It’s not about their one college season and then their rookie debut. It’s not about one boxing bout or one PGA championship victory.

So many athletes work hard to win. They grind out victories. Some are consistent winners, like Brady or James, who fight every season and are well past their 20s. “Talking to GOATs” tells the story of how Brady handled his worst losses and greatest wins. We learn about the behind-the-scenes stories of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’ Neal and Phil Jackson.

That said, even these GOATs have had “goat” moments. Bryant shot a bunch of air ball shots against the Utah Jazz in a playoff game, for example. Tiger Woods has had a run of bad luck, too. Not all GOATs are born GOATS. More recently, Brady suffered one of the worst losses of his career.

Sometimes, they become goats, or have goat-like moments. But those games won’t define their legacies. They’re blips on the radar.

At the same time, GOATs need to have moments that stand the test of time to truly be great, Gray said.

The ultimate GOAT

Sometimes great players don’t win. Charles Barkley, for example, never won an NBA ring. Dan Marino, a legendary NFL quarterback, never won a Super Bowl.

“We’ve had a lot of great players, unfortunately, who didn’t win championships for whatever the reason,” Gray said. “And it doesn’t diminish them individually but I think it kind of matters when you get into this whole pantheon of legendary status.”

That’s why Gray, when writing his book, didn’t set out to tell the story of one individual player from each sport. He told me he doesn’t see it that way. He doesn’t see there being one great player for the history of basketball, football or baseball. He sees multiple talented superstars who make up an entire pantheon of success. Does Patrick McCaw become more of a GOAT because he has three rings, compared to Chris Paul, who has none?

You can’t have the greatest of all time, but you can have multiple greats, Gray said. You can have an elite group of people who succeed beyond the other, rising up to another top tier of achievement.

That’s the true meaning of GOAT.

“I mean, it means the very elite, the select few. And they can each wear that crown for the period of time, or for all time,” Gray said. “That’s how I look at it. Otherwise you’re just gonna be arguing your own life.”