Who’s the GOAT in pro hoops?

WHO IS THE greatest player of all time in the NBA? Honest people can disagree (Shutterstock).

Pete Zarustica is the new sports columnist for The Orange County Tribune. He was previously a sports writer for the late, lamented Garden Grove Journal, covering the Los Angeles Angels and Anaheim Ducks.

I’m a sports columnist without any sports. What better way to start a career? What’s next, a radio program doing card tricks?

But one of the great things about the wide world of sport is that it’s sometimes three-quarters chatter and one-quarter batters … or skaters or dribblers. So let’s get started.

Sorry, Mike and LeBron. It’s really ….

When sports fans aren’t knocking down beers watching TV, they spend a lot of time arguing about the GOATs. No, not the hairy, bearded critters. The acronym stands for Greatest of All Time in a sport or at least in one position in sports.

In Major League baseball, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Babe Ruth being the GOAT there. He not only was the greatest slugger of all time, but he was also an excellent pitcher.

He hit .342 lifetime batting average with 714 home runs. As a pitcher he compiled a 94-48 record and an ERA of 2.28.  I know it’s hard to compare eras, but the Babe compiled his stats with 154-game seasons (compare to 162 today) and the first six seasons of his career were in the “dead ball” era.

Hank Aaron was great and his 755 homers should be the official record, not those racked up by the villains of the steroid days. He batted .302, too and holds the all-time RBI record with 2,297, but he didn’t have the same impact on the game as “The Babe.”

If that’s a no-brainer, the discussion over who’s the top pro basketball player is a closer call. For most people today, it’s either Michael Jordan or LeBron James. But I wouldn’t pick either one, as great as they are.

BILL RUSSELL led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA championships (Wikipedia).

Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics is my choice. When he played center for the Celts he won 11 NBA titles and was honored as the Most Valuable Player five times. In college, his team (University of San Francisco) won two NCAA crowns. He was not a record-breaking scorer in the NBA (15.1 points a game), but a great rebounder and defender.

His matchups against Wilt Chamberlain in the paint were epic, but Bill’s team almost always got the better of Wilt’s. He understood the complete game as well as almost anyone, and won two NBA title as a player-coach.

It’s good to understand that when Russell played (1956-1969) the league grew from a second-tier sports organization into status as one of the Big Four of pro organizations. The Celts’ rivalry with the Lakers gave the playoffs a coast-to-coast appeal, and Russell’s vocal advocacy for civil rights put the league front-and-center in a discussion of an important evolution in society.

I also point out that when the NBA was smaller (eight to 10 teams) before its present inflated state, you had to be a pretty darn good player to make it. Today, with 30 teams, any college jock who scored 10 points a game is offered a contract.

Well, that’s my opinion, anyway. Who do you think is the greatest NBA player ever? Vote here.


A Year Without Baseball … Except ….

Yes, the coronavirus pandemic is wrecking the economy, ripping apart the familiar rhythms of the spring, summer, and maybe even autumn. What do to? How can we  get our fix of sweat?

There have been a lot of folks who are trying. Some of the minor sports networks are broadcasting reruns of “classic” football games and other memorable classics. Some are looking backwards (more on that below) and some to the future.

My attention was caught by an imaginary MLB tournament conducted online by DraftKings, using the Out of the Park computer and console baseball game.

They’re in the quarterfinals today of this single-elimination tournament. The Angels got knocked out in the first round by the Tigers. The Dodgers are in the quarterfinals now, having beaten the Padres and the Marlins in the NL bracket. They will “play” the Brewers, and if successful, play the winner of the Cardinals-Cubs matchup.

Yeah, I know it’s just a bit lame compared to the actual season, but if you ever played sports on a table top or a PC (or Mac) you know that it can provide at least a little of the thrill of competition that comes from the real thing.

Pete’s column will be posted weekly through the summer or until he declares free agency.







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