On ESPN’s “First Take”, Author Wright Thompson discussed his bestselling book The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and Molly Qerim. While writing his book, Wright spent a lot of time with NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. Michael is arguably the GOAT in NBA Basketball.
Michael retired in 2003. He won 6 NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls. Aside from the Celtics – Bill Russell era, no one has won more rings than Michael. MJ’s career spanned 14 years, including his sabbatical playing professional baseball, and his couple years off between playing for the Bulls, then the Washington Wizards. Over his career, Michael averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game.
Michael is still the GOAT, Greatest of All-Time, in the minds of many, and he has the stats to prove it. Yet, will Michael remain the GOAT? According to Wright that still matters to Michael. Really?
Wright, Stephen A, and Max explored what defines or constitutes the GOAT. Obviously, the NBA game has evolved since Michael’s playing days. Championships are no longer won by scoring in the paint – near the rim. Presently, Championships are won from the perimeter – by shooting 3’s like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant.
Although no one was the clutch ‘closer’ like Michael, he really didn’t have a 3-point shot. He didn’t need one back then. That wasn’t “the game” in that era. Michael had told Wright that the competition in his era was way tougher than it is today. Possibly, romanticized memory. So be it. I get it.
Right now, the pertinent GOAT conversation is whether Lebron James or Michael Jordan is indeed the GOAT. Michael’s past greatness is unsurpassed. Lebron is by far the best player on planet Earth today.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Wright said that it’s inevitable: “Lebron will be the GOAT.” The GOAT is distinguished in the present, in the now. Max vehemently argued statistically that Michael is the GOAT in terms of the duration of his career. Thus, Michael is still the GOAT. He would not be surpassed for another 50 years.
For example, Max said that Babe Ruth is the GOAT of baseball. Babe played many years ago. Wright agreed that Bade was indeed the transcendent anomaly. He’s an outlier.
Max also said Sugar Ray Robinson is the GOAT of boxing. Max is a boxing scholar and historian. So he would know. However, Wright pointed out: If you were to ask the person on the street who was the GOAT of boxing, someone might say Mike Tyson. I might say, Muhammad Ali. No one would be really wrong either. Again, just saying.
Stephen A. distinguished the GOAT contextual conversation that he’s had with other former sports Greats and Hall of Famers is about being judged by the consistent standard from one era to another. He had spoken with Michael. Michael insists that players today must be judged by the same standard that he adhered to. I think Stephen A.’s point is that the universal standard for greatness is nearly impossible, if not irrelevant.
So what’s at the heart of “Who is the Greatest of All-Time?” Wright assigned invaluable context. He told the amazing story of watching Lebron play on TV along with Michael. He said that Michael believes “with every cell in his body” that he was the greatest – greater than Lebron.
After all, he sacrificed a whole lot to become the GOAT: friends, close relationships, whatever. Michael was legendary in his ruthless competitive presence.
Now, Michael is 56 years old. His body hurts. His knees are very bad. Wright asked, “What do you do when you used to be Michael Jordan?”
Really, the GOAT conversation is reconciling one’s mortality. That’s what resonated for me.
I’m 57 years-old. I’ve dedicated the past 30 years of my life to training in Aikido. My knees and my back hurt, not the best. I work with my chiropractor Dr. Ali and my acupuncturist Dr. Pan to heal old and new injuries so that I can continue to become incrementally greater at what I love. “So what will I do when I used to be Jon Ochiai?”
So maybe, I keep recreating “Jon”. Time is undefeated. Time’s wins are all by knockout with all due respect to Max. We all grow old. We’re all mortal. Fortunately, I’m wise about what I can and what I used to do. And the twain shall no longer meet again, at least in my lifetime.
Unlike Michael, I’m fortunate to be Sensei. I get to teach and give away what I’ve been gifted to others. I had a great Sensei in Dan. I have a great Sensei in Bobby. Sensei said, “Make Aikido your own.” “Make it work for you.” So I create Aikido as my Art. I gave it relevance: Making it work for me, forging what I got from Sensei and Bobby.
I’ve reinvented myself as a writer. I have a passion for what makes us greater than we know ourselves to be. I’ve gone through some dark times and adversity. I hope that what I write gives others hope as well. They are a lot stronger than even they know.
Giving away my Art to the next generation is meaningful to me. I knew long ago I was never going to be the GOAT of anything, be it Aikido, engineering or writing. The Greatest was irrelevant. Sensei said, “Just train.”
So I dedicate to become greater than I am now. I keep doing what I love for as long as I can. I give away my Art, so that others may use it to create their own Art, which has relevance for them.
Being the Greatest might have been all about me. Becoming Greater is all about making others greater as well. Just saying. Amen. Amen.