Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: LeBron James is bigger than the 'GOAT'

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Ryan Young
·Writer
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wants the “GOAT” debate to stop. Instead, he argued, we need to simply appreciate the hero that LeBron James truly is to this generation. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wants the “GOAT” debate to stop. Instead, he argued, we need to simply appreciate the hero that LeBron James truly is to this generation. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

People have been comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan ever since James took off in the NBA.

The classic argument — which never seems to end — is almost always over which player is the Greatest of All Time, or the GOAT.

Sure, you can look at rings — Jordan has six, James has three. You can look at career stats — James is well ahead of Jordan in a number of key categories, including rebounds, assists, 3-pointers, games playd and more. (He’s poised to catch Jordan in points soon, too.)

Either way you go in that argument, you wouldn’t be wrong — and you wouldn’t have to look far to find someone that feels the same way.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — one of the best NBA players in history — however, is sick of the GOAT debate, which he said runs through the media “like a nasty STD.” In his mind, that’s like asking, “How big is the horn on a unicorn?” It’s impossible to answer.

Abdul-Jabbar has a different way to approach it. For what he’s done both on the basketball and off, James has proven himself to be the hero of this generation.

That’s the argument he laid out in an article he wrote for Newsweek on Thursday.

Abdul-Jabbar started out looking at James’ basketball accomplishments, of which there are many. It’s James’ commitment to his health, especially now at 34 years old, that has caused his game to stay nearly consistent throughout his 16-year career in the league, Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

LeBron’s sheer athleticism motivates young players to reach for a high standard of physical preparedness. His physical dominance isn’t just genetic luck; he is dedicated and disciplined in his workout and diet, often rising at 5 a.m. to begin exercising, which he does five days a week off-season, and seven days a week during the season. His routine includes everything from a step-climber, spin classes, Pilates and weights to hot tubs, cold tubs and a liquid nitrogen chamber. Just reading about his relentless routine makes me want to drop and pump out 50 pushups.

Abdul-Jabbar, though, quickly shifted gears to what James has done off the court — bringing up James’ I Promise school in Akron, his stances on social justice and equality, and helping to shed the “dumb jock” stereotype.

It’s James, he said, that has helped push those important conversations forward and create real change.

To laud anyone as a cultural hero, that person would also have to embody as well as promote some of the core values of that culture. LeBron has done that through his outspoken political and social advocacy, especially in support of racial equality. But beyond just talking, he has taken positive actions to better the community and country. This was demonstrated when Fox News’ Laura Ingraham famously reacted to an ESPN interview with LeBron in which he discussed, among many other topics, politics, by complaining, “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Keep the political comments to yourselves. … Shut up and dribble.”

Instead of just engaging in a social media war, he turned her lame insult into a three-part documentary series for Showtime called Shut Up and Dribble, which explores the evolving role of athletes in today’s divisive political climate. Over the years, LeBron has added his voice to the many athletes of conscience who wish to call attention to social injustices in order to eradicate them.

While the GOAT argument likely isn’t going away anytime soon — it seems to be too tempting for fans, players and journalists to constantly dive into — Abdul-Jabbar’s way of looking at it seems easier.

Both Jordan and James are among the best basketball players the game has ever, and likely will ever, see. But comparing them is a pointless task.

Instead, he wrote, we need to just appreciate our “ageless heroes” — a title James has clearly earned both on and off the court.

“But LeBron James is the hero this generation has thrown up the pop chart,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “It’s a place he clearly has earned, and we’re all better off for him being there.”

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