Do we understand greatness?


The difficult part about this argument for me is that I am a part of the generation I’m ridiculing. It’s people my age who have skewed reality and adjusted the perception of greatness to make things more entertaining. Using social media, advanced statistics, tunnel vision and simple ignorance, we’ve concocted a theory that right now, the stars of the NFL and NBA are better than they have ever been. The generation that seemingly cares little about politics is, ironically, employing a politician’s approach to sports analysis. Forget the eye test, winning, or mounds of evidence. We find one statistic, one inkling of greatness, and wield it like a sword.

Sorry to say it, but LeBron James isn’t the greatest basketball player of all time. Floyd “Money” Mayweather isn’t the best boxer to set foot in the ring. Aaron Rodgers is far from being the greatest quarterback of all time. In fact, I would go as far as to say that, of all the major sports, Mariano Rivera is the only active athlete who can claim the title of all-time greatest. Rivera is the closer for the Yankees and was a key piece to them winning five World Series rings. He was close to unhittable for 15 straight seasons.

None of the members of my generation, and a bulk of the people reading this, have watched sports for more than 20 years. Even those from my generation who claim to be so advanced with their athletic knowledge that they comprehended sporting events at the age of five, still haven’t seen 25 years of sports. But even with this handicapped familiarity of the history of sports, we find droves of people labeling today’s athletes the greatest of all time. How? On what spectrum are you ranking these athletes? Most nonprescription glasses worn to a postgame press conference?

The problem isn’t with what the athletes are doing or saying. The problem is with the media, the fans, the “analysts” and everything in between. There are no boundaries to what we can compare. There is no limit to how absurd we can make our accusations. I can sit here and rattle off that LeBron James has career averages of 27 PPG, 7 APG, and 6 RPG, and no one can dispute that he fills the box score better than anyone in the history of basketball not named Oscar Robertson. What people don’t add to this discussion is the elimination of the hand check in 2004, the rapid decline of big men in the NBA and that the overall talent level has been diluted to bring in more franchises. LeBron’s stats are impressive, but if you paint the whole picture, you realize there is much more at play.

If I bring up Aaron Rodgers, people will point to his insane 3.5 touchdown to interception ratio, or his career passer rating of nearly 105. What they don’t want to talk about is the seismic shift in the rules, preventing nearly all contact with receivers, and protecting the quarterback from head to toe. If Rodgers doesn’t have to worry about getting hit, and his receivers don’t have to worry about getting hit, everyone’s production is on the rise. The NFL as a product wants to be more exciting and enjoyable for fans. To accommodate that, they have adjusted the rules to promote scoring and offense. The statistics of offensive players, i.e., quarterbacks, have been skewed heavily during my generation. Rodgers isn’t the greatest; he just played in the right era.

People don’t want to talk about this stuff because it’s not entertaining. Understanding the variables associated with the spike in statistics isn’t fun or “cool” to talk about. People don’t want to appreciate history; they want greatness to be in front of them. They don’t want to tell people, “I never got to watch Magic Johnson play, but he was the greatest point forward of all time.” No one wants to read an article saying Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the past five years. No, we want to read an article saying Aaron Rodgers is already the greatest quarterback in NFL history. We ignore the truth for the sake of entertainment. We are giving history the cold shoulder.

In the end, I don’t think it is on purpose. My
generation is just naïve. We think the variables are equal, the games are the
same and success is all about the numbers you produce. Winning isn’t paramount
anymore. This isn’t your local elementary school’s field
day. Not everyone can get a ribbon that says “First Place.” Let’s not be
the generation that diluted what it means to be great. Let’s be the generation
that appreciated what it truly meant. Wouldn’t that be, well, great?