I appreciate greatness.
In the past 20 years, I’ve been witness to the greatest golfer of all-time, the greatest basketball player of all time and the greatest team, greatest coach and greatest quarterback of all time.
My definition of greatest may differ from yours. To me, greatness is an eye-test. It some discussion of statistics and eras and championships and quality of competition. It can also include talk about the impact a person or team has on a sport.
If your definition of greatness only includes the number of championships won, we will have to agree to disagree.
But when it comes Greatest Of All Time, the eye-test is paramount.
Last weekend, I watched a golf tournament on TV. It was not the Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship, British Open, Ryder Cup nor President’s Cup. I watched the Farmer’s Insurance Open.
I watched it for one reason. The GOAT — Tiger Woods — was playing. Apparently, others agreed. Viewship skyrocketed.
GOATs can do that.
In the span of 10 days, I will have watched LeBron James play basketball, Tiger Woods golf and on Sunday — in one five-hour spectacle — will witness what could be the final act of the greatest coach, quarterback and sports team in history.
Some people hate GOATS. I love them, starting with LeBron James.
There has never been another player like James. His greatness was forecast during junior high in Akron. Only one other athlete in the world had greatnest thrust at him at such an early age. We’ll discuss him later.
James is a physical specimen like no other. He is 6-feet-9 and 270 pounds of muscle. He can play the point, he can play small forward, he can play big forward, he is a three-point shooter and excels in the paint. James is known for his scoring but he also is one of the best passers in NBA history. A lot of his best highlights include him sprinting the length of a basketball court to block a layup from behind.
Where LeBron is lacking is in championships.
And he is really bad at breakups. I mean really bad: the current one, the one with Miama a few yearsago and the first time he left the Cavaliers.
If your definition of great only includes championships, then Michael Jordan is probably your guy. But if that was my definition, Jordan would still be No. 2, behind Bill Russell.
LeBron is the greatest basketball player ever.
Tiger Woods is the other athlete who’s greatness was forecast early. In his case, before he was even in elementary school. His appearance on the Michael Douglas show when he was still a toddler is iconic. Woods won U.S. Amateurs, Masters, U.S. Opens, British Opens and PGA Championships at a pace never seen before.
But some personal demons and a bad back kept him from passing Jack Nicklaus’ record for most majors.
If you only count majors, Woods is No. 2.
I include other criteria. Look at what Tiger Woods has done for professional golf.
Ratings are higher because of him. Purses are higher because of him. More juniors took up the game — and became great players themselves — because they wanted to be like Tiger, or better.
Tiger Woods made a cut last week, his first in more than a year. I knew he wasn’t going to win. In fact, I don’t know that he’ll ever win again. But Tiger Woods was the only reason I watched. He is the GOAT.
And then there are the New England Patriots, the biggest no-brainer of all. thanks to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. In the NFL, there has never been anything like this.
In 18 seasons as New England’s coach, Belichick has delivered five Super Bowl championships (he has another chance Sunday) eight conference titles, 14 division crowns — including the last eight — 25 playoff victories and an overall record of 226-80. His record with the Patriots is 217-74. He’s had just one losing season — his first — in New England.
Belichick’s philosophy is simple. On defense, he takes takes away what his opponent does best. On offense, he and Brady exploit a team’s weak spot. Belichick builds teams that can handle and juggle and adjust to a multitude of game plans. His players — starting with Brady — are as versatile as any teams in history.
And the Browns let him get away.
All Tom Brady has done is lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl seven times, winning five Lombardi Trophies. Here are other NFL records he owns: Regular season wins by a starting quarterback (187); Division titles (14); Playoff games started (34); Playoff wins (25); Playoff touchdown passes (63); Playoff passing yards (9,094); Super Bowl appearances (7); Super Bowl wins (5); Super Bowl MVPs (4); Super Bowl touchdown passes (15); Super Bowl passing yards (2,071).
Plus, he’s 40 years old and he wants to — and appears that he’ll be to — play for a couple more years.
So what impact have Belichick and Brady had on the NFL?
It’s hard to quantify. But Brady’s all-encompassing healthy lifestyle has spread to other QBs around the league. His company TB12, is helping teammates and other athletes remain — and get — healthy. His calm demeanor, his versatility, his football IQ and his ability to read defenses and adjust plays at the line of scrimmage is as good as anyone.
Belichick has created a dynasty. His coaches and coordinators are leading teams and offenses and defenses throughout the NFL. And that to mentor coaches may be the only thing able to bring the Patriots back to the pack.