What makes an athlete ‘the best of all time’?

    Everything from stats to championships make an athlete great, but what is the biggest determining factor?

    More stories from Parker Reed


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    The sole aspect of an athlete’s career that determines their legacy has been highly debated for decades.

    One of the greatest debates in the sporting world is on the topic of who is best of all time at any position in any given sport.

    Is Tom Brady or Joe Montana the greatest quarterback of all time? Is Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the best center of all time? Or, is Pete Rose or Barry Bonds the best baseball player of all time? All of these debates have different criteria by which the individual is judging the players, and that characteristic of the debates make them impossible to settle inherently.

    The number of championships won during a player’s career is a common aspect that fans look at when they are deciding who the is the best in any sport. For example, Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, won his record fifth Super Bowl a few weeks ago, passing San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana.

    For years, football fans around the world were engaging in heated debates over which of these two athletic specimen was more legendary than the other. This final push by Brady made the choice clear between the two for many, but this is not a foolproof system, to say the least.

    Eli Manning, starting quarterback for the New York Giants, has won two Super Bowls over the course of his decade-plus career. On the other hand, Miami Dolphins legend, Dan Marino, never won a Super Bowl during his hall of fame career. Although there is a large difference in terms of championships between the two, many football analysts believe Marino was the better quarterback based on another area of criteria.

    Statistics every sports lover’s favorite thing to obsess over. Statistics tell us how good a team is on paper, how much a player makes, how efficient a player is and any other minute detail about a player that a couch-occupying sports critic would love to know.

    Michael Jordan is almost universally agreed to be the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. Over his illustrious career, Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists per game. However, these are not the best numbers to ever cross the stat sheet in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

    Wilt Chamberlain, NBA Hall of Famer, averaged 30.1 points per game, 22.9 rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game. On paper, Chamberlain is better than Michael Jordan. But surprisingly, most people don’t believe Chamberlain is the best player of all time. This leads me to ask, what is the criteria people are really looking for in the, “best player of all time?”

    After much contemplation, the only logical conclusion I could come to is that a player’s legacy should be judged on three different criteria: The number of championships they won over the course of their career, the statistics they put up over their career and how influential their presence was in their respective sport.

    The combination of these three things is the best way to determine a player’s greatness otherwise, you’ll be able to find exceptions in any single area to the argument you are trying to make.

    If you argue for a single criterion, then Bill Russell would be the greatest basketball player of all time, with 11 NBA Championships. Yogi Berra would be the greatest baseball player ever, with 10 World Series titles and Henri Richard would be the best hockey player ever, with 11 Stanley Cup rings.

    A person should be judged by the sum of their parts. You cannot single out one character trait and judge each individual on that same criterion. Instead, judging the person based on a list of criteria is the best way to come to a logical conclusion. Determining an athlete’s greatness is no different.