The GOAT debate in the NBA is probably the most tedious part of sports discourse. Most people fall into one of two camps: Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Even narrowing it down to those two names is enough to get a certain segment of hoops fans all riled up, and that’s perfectly valid, given that the NBA has a long history of transcendent players.
In some cases, it depends on what generation you’re from. LeBron benefits from recency bias, while old-school hoop heads like to talk about Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Bill Russell (the gold standard of the RINGZ argument). Some chalk it up to playoff success and championships, while still others look at it from a purely statistical perspective. All of these are flawed and problematic in fundamental ways, but it’s what keeps the debate raging.
It appears Joel Embiid falls into that latter category. In a recent appearance on NBA Desktop with The Ringer’s Jason Concepcion, Embiid brought his trademark flair for outrageous quotables when he quickly dismissed Michael Jordan’s claim to the throne at the greatest of all-time.
“He’s not the GOAT,” Embiid said. “To me, you got Wilt Chamberlain. I mean, he has all the records. They’re never gonna be beaten. I don’t see anybody getting 100 points in a game. That’s it. He’s the GOAT.”
It’s certainly hard to argue against Wilt’s mind-boggling statistical achievements, and Embiid is likely correct that many of them won’t be replicated, such as averaging 50 points per game for an entire season. But then again, we said that about Oscar Robertson, and now Russell Westbrook is on track to average a triple-double for the third straight season.
Wilt’s name doesn’t often get mentioned in this debate, but it makes sense that a player of his size and dominance would resonate with Embiid, who is something of an evolutionary version of all the great big men who have come before him.