Pro-con column: Don't arrest me, but the greatest of all time is ...

DOUG WOLTER AND ADAM WATTS Daily Globe sports reporters If you were to say Michael Jordan is NOT the greatest basketball player of all time, would the sports police come knocking at your door? If you had the audacity to opine that Joe Louis was b...


Daily Globe sports reporters

If you were to say Michael Jordan is NOT the greatest basketball player of all time, would the sports police come knocking at your door?

If you had the audacity to opine that Joe Louis was better than Muhammad Ali, would that be considered an unforgivable insult against “The Greatest?”

The moment New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady engineered his dramatic come-from-behind victory over Atlanta on Sunday to win an unprecedented fifth Super Bowl, we all knew that the self-styled experts would declare from the rooftops: Brady is the greatest quarterback ever!


And so they did. Others went further, calling him the greatest football player ever.

OK. Maybe he is. But maybe he’s not. Who can prove it?

Daily Globe sports reporter Adam Watts and sports editor Doug Wolter, in their latest pro-con column, discuss whether these kinds of decisions should be made by “experts” -- or whether every sports fan should be allowed to have his/her own vote.

WOLTER: I’m going to say it, and if the sports police break into my house at 2:30 in the middle of the night to drag me out and put me in chains, so be it. If I have one game, and one game only to win, Joe Montana is going to be my quarterback.

WATTS: You know something, Doug, as badly as I want to be on your side and say that literally anybody but Tom Brady is the greatest, I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve never thought he had the most talent -- he doesn’t have the strongest arm, he’s not particularly athletic, he doesn’t make throws nobody else can make -- but you can’t argue with the results. Time and again I have doubted him, and time and again he has proven me wrong. How can you argue against five rings and seven Super Bowl appearances?

WOLTER: Well, let me at least offer this: Brady wouldn’t be quite so good without Belichick. But Montana, I think, would be great regardless.

WATTS: You could say the same thing about Montana and Bill Walsh. And having Jerry Rice to catch his passes in Super Bowls XXIII and XXIV sure didn’t hurt. By the way, would you call me crazy if I said I don’t believe Rice is the greatest receiver of all time?

WOLTER: You have every right to say it. That’s what I’m talking about. These days, the brahmans want to tell us we can’t say anybody else BUT Rice because his reputation as the best is enshrined and we’re not allowed to disagree. It’s kind of like global warming. We’re told we’re not allowed anymore to be skeptical of it (not that I want to get political, of course).


WATTS: Well, in that case, let me tell you a little bit about Green Bay Packers great Don Hutson -- pro football’s Babe Ruth. Playing in the football equivalent to baseball’s dead-ball era, Hutson and the Packers revolutionized the forward pass. When he retired in 1945, Hutson had scored 99 career receiving touchdowns, 62 more than second-place Johnny “Blood” McNally. In 1942, his 17 receiving touchdowns were more than all but one other team in the whole league, plus he played both ways and intercepted seven passes that year.

WOLTER: Well, you’re really going out there on a limb with Hutson. But that’s OK. I don’t think it’s fair to downgrade the old-time greats just because athletes are bigger and faster in the modern era. So let me really put it on the line. Ty Cobb didn’t hit more home runs than Ruth, but he was the better ballplayer. Jim Brown was the greatest football player of all-time. And Wilt Chamberlain had a bigger impact on the NBA than Michael Jordan did. There. I said it. Go ahead. Arrest me.

WATTS: I don’t know if I can let you get away with saying Chamberlain had a bigger impact than MJ. There was a point where Michael Jordan was synonymous with the sport of basketball. Maybe it just speaks to when I became aware of the sport -- I was eight years old when he won his last championship with Chicago -- but basketball WAS Michael Jordan. He was the biggest cultural icon of his time, something I’m not sure any other athlete has managed.

WOLTER: The truth, grasshopper, lies in the forgotten pages of the historical record. Before Jordan arrived, other great players made their own impacts on the game. NBA rules were literally changed because of Chamberlain. His height and his ability to finger-roll was so incredible, the league had to widen the lane. All the major sports had their game-changers before the likes of Brady, Rice and Jordan arrived on the scene.

WATTS: That’s the biggest problem with arguing who the greatest is across eras. The games are different and the players are different. Jordan is the greatest of his era and Chamberlain is the greatest of his. Which was better? Nobody knows. Sports fans and talking heads will have these debates until the end of time, and at the end of the day, there is no way to declare that the case is closed.

WOLTER: Even though some people try.

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