Sporting G.O.A.Ts by Distance

25 07 2021

This will be an analysis based on zero actual fact about the greatest athlete in their respective professional sport and how far ahead of the second-place person they are.  Of course, I know there is no point in comparing players across generations and that any metrics applied are totally subjective, but such is life and I have decided to do it anyway. 

I will be looking at the consensus GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) for any given sport.  How does one determine the GOAT?  By looking at the work of other sports scholars who have already done the work.  There is any number of top lists done by various media outlets and personalities who have spent much more time determining rankings than I would have.  I am scouring these lists and applying some minor updates based on date of publication (for example Brady was rated as low as 26th on lists dating back to 2010 and 2nd on lists from 2018….his accomplishment since then obviously increase his overall GOAT ranking). 

After pulling the data I am applying my very scientific personal ratings to the players in contention to rank their level of GOATness.

Here are the consensus GOATs we will be looking at, in no particular order, to determine which are safest in distance from second place and most likely to hold onto GOAT status for the foreseeable future.

Basketball – Michael Jordan

Hockey  – Wayne Gretzky

Baseball – Babe Ruth

American Football – Tom Brady

Tennis – Roger Federer

Soccer – Diego Maradona

Basketball 🐐 – Michael Jordan

30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG

6 NBA championships, 6 Finals MVP awards, 5 league MVP awards, massive social and economic impact worldwide

Challengers for 🐐status?  Lebron James, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlin, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird

On the court there has never been a player as competitive or as dominant as peak Jordan. His performance on both ends of the court changed the way the game was played.  No athlete has achieved his level of worldwide fame and his effect on media and business changed professional sports forever. On his best nights Jordan often achieved the impossible and on his average nights he was still the best player on the court. 

As for those chasing him Jordan has lapped all other retired players already and only LeBron is in the discussion, but he has been unable to maintain the championship pedigree that made Jordan so special.  While LeBron may eventually pull ahead in the minds of people from a statistical perspective unless he can turn things around and win some titles in LA he will remain a somewhat distant second place.

Lead: Jordan by 27 GOATs

Hockey 🐐 – Wayne Gretzky

894 Goals, 1,963 assists, 2,857 points

4 NHL championships, 9 Hart trophies, 10 Art Ross trophies, 2 Conn Smythe trophies, grew game in the USA

Challengers for 🐐 status?  Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, Maurice Richard, Bobby Hull, Jean Beliveau

Much of the statistical damage was done in his days as an Oiler from 78-88 after they merged into the NHL from the WHA.  His bigger impact on the game may have come after his trade to the LA Kings which led to a period of growth for the NHL in the US increasing visibility and fanbase South of the Canadian border. The best scorer to play the game he was an offensive force but could not win another Stanley Cup after leaving Edmonton.

While Gretzky is the consensus number one there is already a camp of people who would say Howe was GOAT based on his longevity, Orr for his changing of the way Defensemen played the game, or the raw talent level of Lemieux.  His lead over retired players is much smaller than some of the others on the list.  As for current players the only realistic challenges to his title would be Crosby (need to maintain for longer and win another cup), Ovechkin (needs longevity and 2 cups), or McDavid (longevity and win something finally) who all have some issues and have quite a lot to prove to jump into the mix for GOAT.  For now, Wayne feels pretty safe as long as you aren’t a huge Howe fan.

Lead: Gretz by 7 GOATs

Baseball 🐐 – Babe Ruth

.342 avg, 2,873 hits, 714 HR, 2,213 RBI, 94-46, 2.28 ERA

7 World Series Champs, 12 time HR leader, 6 time RBI leader

Challengers for 🐐status?  Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Cy Young

Unlike some other sports baseball is obsessed with history and stats so it is fitting that the best of the best played so long ago.  Ruth was effective as a pitcher with Boston and a beast of a batter with the Yankees and performed like no major athlete will even have a chance to do in the day of specialized baseball players.  Even separating his stats he compares favorably to all the greats and it isn’t particularly close.

No modern player is in this discussion.  Ruth is likely one of the more untouchable GOATs

Lead: Ruth by 35 GOATs

American Football 🐐 – Tom Brady

92k passing yards, 664 TDs, 97.2 QBR, 346 games played

7 SuperBowls, 5 SB MVPs, Only player to win SB with AFC and NFC team

Challengers for 🐐status?  Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice, Reggie White, Joe Montana, Walter Peyton, Peyton Manning

The newest GOAT but he is nearing the end of his time to extend that lead.  Arguably he only took over first place with the Tampa SB last season but either way one would be had pressed to argue against him now.  He is a total winner regardless of the talent around him or the situation he has been in.  No player has had the poise, swagger, and ability to back it up quite like TB12.

Up until this year this was a muddled mess and I might have argued there was no consensus GOAT but the SB puts him over the top.  He is in the lead but it is still pretty close.

Lead: Brady by 12 GOATs

Tennis 🐐 – Roger Federer?

20 Grand Slam titles (9 Australian, 1 French, 5 US, 8 Wimbledon)

103 total titles

Challengers for 🐐status?  Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal

Tennis fans right now should recognize they era they live in.  By the time they are done playing all three of these guys will be considered the best three of all time.  With all currently on 20 total Grand Slams they are quickly moving away from the next pack including Sampras, Laver, and Borg. While the gap between the three and Sampras will be immense the gap between these will be super tight for now.  I am not even convinced Federer should be considered the GOAT and it could change from tournament to tournament.

As an aside Federer would compete with Gretzky for the most boring GOAT on the list.

Lead: Federer by a hoof…or horn.

Soccer 🐐 – Diego Maradona

354 total career goals, 42 International goals with a 0.51 goal per game average

1986 World Cup Champ, 1986 World Cup Golden Ball, 1985 FIFA player of the year, 1 UEFA cup, multiple league titles, FIFA goal of the century

Challengers for 🐐status?  Pele is the only one close

Maradona transcended team sports and remains the only player to win a World Cup essentially singlehandedly.  For GOATs of team sports only Jordan has carried even close to as much weight with a team as Maradona ti was on a bigger stage and with less talent around him.  He is revered as a hero in his home country and despite being somewhat controversial, he delivered the best goal (or two) in history and won at all levels.  No player was as electric or as dominant as this guy.

You can argue that Pele was more consistent and more important, but Maradona is exceptional and transcendent.

Lead: Maradona by 24 GOATs

In Summary – for the sports here Ruth, Jordan, and Maradona stand on top with comfortable leads over the second-place contenders.  Brady and Gretzky likely not to be passed in the near future and Federer may already be passed.


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