“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
-the indelible Ferris Bueller
Ferris stated simply yet so powerfully a truth that haunts us all, but even more daunting than the speed with which life flies by is the pace at which sports travel—from one era, superstar, or scandal to the next before we can even appreciate what we are lucky enough to witness firsthand.
As I sit here gagging at the shallow yet relentless spectacle that is NBA All-Star Weekend (I appreciate Big Shot Bob Horry as much as the next guy but JUST SHOW ME DUNKS), I want to be negative and cynical; I want to yell that my sports world can never be rebuilt into a fantasyland of innocent admiration, that steroids and Twitter and self-promotion and wide receivers and the 2012 Red Sox have forever tarnished my view. But I can’t.
You see, we in fact live right now in a time when the greatest of all time are growing, performing, and dominating right before our eyes. Let’s stop on this most lame of sports weekends and look around:
In a landscape marred by PEDs (see our horrifying expose here), decreasing national interest, and falling heroes (say it ain’t so, Mr. Braun!), Pujols continues to go about his business of entering the discussion of GOAT. His charming disposition aside (that’s for another time), Pujols will, assuming 5-7 years of near-peak performance, near the home run mark of “Home Run King” Barry Bonds, the Worst King of Anything Ever. Considering that Pujols is not only protected by the otherworldy talent that is Mike Trout but also now by the bat of Josh Hamilton, 300 more HR is not out of the question by any means. With 10 top-10 MVP finishes (and 3 wins) in only 12 seasons, Pujols has astounded with his consistency as well as his power and efficiency (see .325 career average and 42 doubles per season).
I won’t pretend to know much about soccer (although I did captain the worst middle school team ever to a respectable 2-10 campaign), but every sports fan should be able to appreciate the beautiful dominance of the Beautiful Game that Messi brings on a daily basis. There is more to be done for his Argentina team that has disappointed at times on the world stage, but Messi has never failed to amaze, whether in short spurts (five goals in one game!) or over a prolonged period of time (FIFA Ballon d’Or 2009-12, only player to win it four times. He’s 25.).
Greatest ever? We shall see.
There is not much to be said about Lebron that isn’t said every other day on ESPN, but some things bear repeating: 27.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 6.9 APG for one year would be amazing. These are Lebron’s career numbers! And he seems to still be growing into a more complete player! And he is playing looser and more efficiently now that he won a ring! And he’s only 28!!! This is Lebron’s 10th season. He’s made 10 All-Star teams, will soon have finished top 10 in MVP voting 10 times (Top 5 8 times), and it is safe to assume he will remain in these positions for the foreseeable future (DID I MENTION HE’S ONLY 28?!!?). Not only has Lebron been top 2 in the NBA in scoring for the past 8 years, he’s been top 10 in assists five times and top 10 in minutes played 7 times!
Lebron will play for at least eight more seasons. He will win at least another two championships and cement his legacy, win however many MVPs he feels necessary, and he just might do so in yet another uniform, sticking his middle finger once again towards us fans who forget that above all, this is a man who wants to win and wants to be the GOAT. Regarding the latter, he will never attain his goal in the eyes of many.
Michael Jordan (or Larry Bird for my classicist grandfather) will always be the greatest to those people, but the fact that Lebron’s only obstacle to being GOAT is the GOAT means he is, in fact, PRETTY DAMN GOOD. Did I mention he’s only 28?
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson
Take your pick. A case can, or will be able to, be made for any of the three quarterbacks for GOAT. Rodgers, Brady, and Manning possess the 1st, 2nd, and 4th best career passer ratings OF ALL TIME, respectively. Manning and Brady are 2nd and 5th all-time in Pass TD (with Rodgers in full pursuit at only age 28), and all three are in the top 7 for passing YPG. The debate between these three—and any other past QB you wish to include—will not be settled until Rodgers is done. With Brady’s window closing (not too fast, I hope) and Manning’s nearly shut, my money is on Rodgers winning this clash of titans, and perhaps even the discount double check belt for GOAT. As if this country needs reasons to watch football on Sundays, these three lead the unfathomably deep pool of QB talent that currently make football the most watchable sport in the United States, if not world (sorry, hurling).
Peterson’s path to GOAT is perhaps filled with more obstacles than those of his QB contemporaries. Considering his knee’s history, Peterson’s career may not last as long as all of us (except Packers and Bears fans) would like. That being said, eight more seasons seems reasonable for Peterson, and an average of 1,500 yards for those eight seasons (doable with Christian Ponder or Alex Smith under center) would put Peterson at 20,849 career yards, the highest total ever. A lot of you could argue that 1,500 yards is too high. 1,300 yards per those eight seasons still gives Peterson a GOAT total of 19,249 rushing yards. He’ll only be 28 come training camp. If a destroyed knee yields 2,000 rushing yards, who knows what 6-8 healthy years could mean for Peterson and his opponents.
Miscellaneous (Unprecedentedly Good) Athletes
These final two athletes found fame in very different sports but with a similar tragic flaw. At the same time their performances have been electrifying, snatching up the attention of this country and of the entire sporting world, their exposure has been fleeting and painfully short. Michael Phelps gave us three snapshots of what it means to be truly dominant in one’s field, winning often or always and doing so in a wide array of races, sometimes even in world record fashion. Yet we are doomed to discuss him for only two weeks every four years into eternity because of the fleeting beauty that is the Olympic games. The same goes for Usain Bolt, the man so enigmatic both in talent and personality, who has captured the world’s eye in both Beijing and London, only to flash by in a blur so fast that a couple of sneezes and you miss history. Phelps and Bolt are, as of now, the GOAT in their fields, and competitors will be hard-pressed to dethrone them for some time to come. Just a pity they only show up every four years for most of us.
So what am I saying? Why create this list? First of all, don’t complain that it’s long (and could be longer—see Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, et al.); be thankful that you live within what is most certainly a peak in sports history, a time filled with great teams, moments, and individual competitors like these I have mentioned. So stop whining about this NBA Self-Indulgence Weekend. Maybe skip school or work on Monday. Steal a friend’s car. Take it to a game (NOT A CUBS GAME THOUGH). Stop and take in the talent around you. Or don’t. But be warned. You just might miss it.