Why do we have to have a single GOAT? The conversation that is frequently headlined by Michael Jordan and LeBron James can easily be stretched out. Outside of the two legends, we can sort the greatest of all time at each position to spread the wealth. After all, the game of basketball has been categorized by five positions throughout its history.
Even though the league has developed a philosophy of positionless basketball, traditional starting lineups have remained a constant. We are still able to determine who the GOAT guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center is in league history. That also includes the greatest coaches too.
Journey with us as we run through the starting lineup that makes up the GOAT squad.
Point Guard - Magic Johnson
Career Stats - 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.4 BPB
Resume - 5x NBA Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 3x MVP, 12x All-Star, 2x All-Star Game MVP, 9x All-NBA First Team, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 4x Assists Leader, 2x Steals Leader
Had Johnson not retired at the age of 31, he might have challenged Michael Jordan for the greatest player of all time. He was a five-time champion in the 1980s and the ringleader of the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers. The three-time Finals MVP was also a three-time regular-season MVP. He was a nine-time All-NBA First Team selection who led the league in assists four times and steals twice.
Johnson’s career 11.2 assists per game remains an NBA record. Johnson wasn’t just a magician when making plays, but also a pretty effective scorer as well. He finished his career with just three seasons that averaged less than 18.0 points per game. Had Johnson not been diagnosed with HIV, he might have picked up another championship along the way. Then, we would have been talking more about the Johnson vs. Jordan GOAT conversation.
Second Team - Stephen Curry
Career Stats - 24.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Resume - 3x NBA Champion, 2x MVP, 7x All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team, 2x Scoring Champion, 1x Steals Leader, 1x 50-40-90 Club, 2x Three-Point Contest Champion
You have to give credit to the man that carried the Golden State Warriors franchise into the upper tier of NBA worth. Before Curry, the Warriors were a first-round playoff exit most years if the team made it. With Curry leading the way in the middle 2010s, the Warriors won three championships in five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
Curry is a two-time MVP, including the first-ever unanimous selection in 2016 when the Warriors won an NBA record 73 games. The seven-time All-Star is a four-time All-NBA First Team selection, as well as a two-time Three-Point Contest champ. Curry is going to beat Ray Allen’s all-time three-point mark, potentially as soon as next season. In terms of point guards, he is the greatest shooter we have ever seen.
Shooting Guard - Michael Jordan
Career Stats - 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Resume - 6x NBA Champion, 6x Finals MVP, 5x MVP, 14x All-Star, 3x All-Star Game MVP, 10x All-NBA First Team, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 1x Defensive Player of the Year, 9x All-NBA Defensive First Team, Rookie of the Year, 10x Scoring Champion, 3x Steals Leader, 2x Slam Dunk Contest
What else can you say about the GOAT himself? Not only is Jordan the greatest player of all time, but the greatest shooting guard as well. Jordan was the main architect that led the Chicago Bulls to a perfect six-for-six in championships and NBA finals appearances in the 1990s.
Jordan took the Bulls to new heights, but also the brand of basketball. He was an international star that made his shoe brand a legacy. His basketball legacy includes countless awards that range from MVP to Finals MVP to Slam Dunk champion. His 6-0 record in the NBA Finals will potentially never be broken and is often a key stat when arguing the greatest player between him and LeBron James.
Second Team - Kobe Bryant
Career Stats - 25.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Resume - 5x NBA Champion, 2x FInals MVP, 1x MVP, 18x All-Star, 4x All-Star Game MVP, 11x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-NBA Third Team, 9x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 3x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, 2x Scoring Champion, 1x Slam Dunk Contest Champion
Kobe Bryant was always viewed as a little brother to MJ, so it shouldn’t shock anyone that he is on the “smaller” pedestal than Jordan in these rankings. Bryant is as good as it gets when it comes to all-time shooting guards. The two-time scoring champion was a five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, and a 16-time All-Star. Bryant was so beloved by the basketball shooting community, that kids referenced “Kobe” when he shot the ball.
Bryant made 15 All-NBA Teams when playing in the league, as well as 12 All-Defensive Teams. Bryant wanted to win at everything, which is why it felt like Jordan never left the league after he retired. We will never see another player like the Black Mamba.
Small Forward - LeBron James
Career Stats - 27.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Resume - 4x NBA Champion, 4x Finals MVP, 4x MVP, 17x All-Star, 3x All-Star Game MVP, 13x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team, 5x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 1x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year, 1x Scoring Champion, 1x Assists Leader
If LeBron doesn’t win another championship, he will have a hard time surpassing MJ for the all-time player status. The four-time champion and Finals MVP has led three different teams to championships. However, his all-time Finals record has many blemishes despite making nearly double the number of triples that Jordan.
James is a victim of the superteam era, but make no mistake, he has a case for being considered the greatest player of all time. LeBron was the modern-day Michael Jordan with his international presence. Heck, he was the star of Space Jam 2, which hadn’t been done since Jordan did it. LeBron’s stats speak for themselves and his legacy will often be brought up in future basketball discussions.
Second Team - Larry Bird
Career Stats - 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Resume - 3x NBA Champion, 2x Finals MVP, 3x MVP, 12x All-Star, 1x All-Star Game MVP, 9x All-NBA First Team, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 3x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year, 3x Three-Point Contest Champion, 2x 40-40-90 Club
Some older players believe Larry Bird would be LeBron one-on-one. We will never see that matchup, but we can look back at his resume and respect what he did. The three-time champion was a two-time Finals MVP. Bird is the only player to ever win three straight MVPs in the regular season. The 12-time All-Star is also a nine-time member of the All-NBA First Team list.
Bird was also a great outside shooter, winning the Three-Point Contest three consecutive seasons. That also included making the 50-40-90 club two consecutive years as well. Bird was often remembered for his toughness and clutch ability. In the modern era, Bird might have given LeBron a run for his money during those heated Celtics vs. Heat rivalries.
Power Forward - Tim Duncan
Career Stats - 19.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.2 BPG
Resume - 5x NBA Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 2x MVP, 15 All-Star, 1x All-Star Game MVP, 10x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-NBA Second Team, 8x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 7x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year
Duncan was a heckuva basketball player, but also a great teammate. It’s easy to love Duncan in this spot because he was truly one of the best two-way players we have ever seen. The 15-time All-Star made 10 All-NBA First Teams and eight All-NBA Defensive First Teams. Altogether, he made an equal 15 All-Star appearances, All-NBA Teams, and All-NBA Defensive Teams. The triple-15 club isn’t a thing, but Duncan made it a thing because of how great he is.
Outside of personal achievements, Duncan was the foundational player that made the Spurs a contender for nearly 20 years. Duncan won five NBA championships with three Finals MVPs. The two-time regular season MVP is the greatest Spurs player in history, but also the greatest power forward we have ever seen.
Second Team - Karl Malone
Career Stats - 25.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Resume - 2x MVP, 14x All-Star, 2x All-Star Game MVP, 11x Al-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team, 3x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 1x All-NBA Defensive Second Team
Malone ranks second all-time in points during an era where big men were used as the primary offensive option. Malone had to battle guys like Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Rodman, Patrick Ewing, and more. With that said, Malone continued to rack up the points a year in and year out.
Malone was a 14-time All-Star and two-time regular season MVP. He led the Utah Jazz on their last trip to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. Despite never winning a championship, Malone is seen as one of the best. With that said, Duncan’s rings, defensive accomplishments, and overall success put him above Malone in this regard.
Center - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Career Stats - 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 2.6 BPG
Resume - 6x NBA Champion, 2x Finals MVP, 6x MVP, 19x All-Star, 10x All-NBA First Team, 5x All-NBA Second Team, 5x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 6x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year, 2x Scoring Champion, 1x Rebounding Champion
We have seen some pretty good centers in our lifetime. However, the all-time scoring leader has to be considered the best. Abdul-Jabbar was a complete player. While Kareem’s 38,387 points are enough for him to control this position, the 19-time All-Star did so much more than score.
That includes making 11 All-NBA Defensive Teams, leading the league in rebounding in 1976, leading the league in blocks four times, and recording six overall MVPs during the 1970s. He led the Bucks to their first championship in 1971 as a rookie, then won five more titles with the Lakers with Magic Johnson.
Second Team - Shaquille O’Neal
Career Stats - 23.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.3 BPG
Resume - 4x NBA Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 1x MVP, 15 All-Star, 3x All-Star Game MVP, 8x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 4x All-NBA Third Team, 3x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year, 2x Scoring Champion
In today’s NBA, watching a center lead the league in scoring is unlikely. Shaq led the league in scoring two times in his career. The last time a center led the league in scoring was Shaq in 2000. We had never seen such a dominant force in the middle until Shaq came into the league. Many believe Zion Williamson has the potential, but we may never see another player like Shaq ever again.
Shaq was the bulldozer that led the Lakers to three consecutive titles, where he recorded three straight Finals MVPs. The 15-time ALl-Star was a 14-time All-NBA selection and the 2000 MVP. Again, Shaq played against some very skilled centers during his day, which makes his accomplishments even more impressive.
Coach - Phil Jackson
Career Stats - 1,115 W -485 L
Resume - 11x NBA Champion, 4x All-Star Game Head Coach, 1x Coach of the Year
It doesn’t get much better than being Phil Jackson in the coaching industry. Jackson is an 11-time champion as a head coach. Despite winning just one Coach of the Year, in 1996 when the Bulls won a then NBA record 72 games, Jackson will go down as the greatest coach of all time for his implementation of the triangle offense.
Jackson had some effective assistants, but it was Jackson that was the glue of the team. With the Bulls, he kept the egos of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in check. He let Dennis Rodman be himself. In Chicago, he handled the relationship between Kobe Bryant and Shaq. He then won two more titles with Kobe without Shaq. Jackson found a way to win better than anybody else in this league.
Second Team - Gregg Popovich
Career Stats - 1,310 W-653 L
Resume - 5x NBA Champion, 4x All-Star Game Head Coach, 3x Coach of the Year
The only other coach that is doing it is well is Gregg Popovich. It’s hard to believe that Popovich is just three years younger than Jackson. One has to wonder if this is his last year coaching in the league. Popovich has 1,310 career NBA victories. Don Nelson, the all-time leader in wins, has 1,335. Despite owning a rebuilding Spurs franchise, the team should be good enough to get 26 wins.
Popovich is just one of five coaches to win five or more championships, joining Jackson, Red Auerbach, John Kundla, and Pat Riley. What separates Popovich from the others is his longevity. He is going to become the all-time winningest coach in league history. After that, if he chooses to step aside, the league won’t be the same without him.