Pat Riley is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant talent evaluators in NBA history.
The 77-year-old eye for skill and what matters most on the basketball court culminated in him winning championships not only as a head coach, but also as a general manager and team president.
This past week Riley weighed in on something of a contentious topic: who is the best NBA player of all time?
Riley’s answer caught some fans off guard.
“I always said that Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was the greatest player of all time because of his longevity,” Riley told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
“Kareem was unique from the standpoint that he could play at a high level, play 80 games a year … get beat up because of double- and triple-teams and guys just taking shots at him. He just developed this mental toughness along with a great physical body to really last forever.”
That isn’t to say Riley doesn’t see the case for most people’s consensus GOAT, Michael Jordan. He just believes his rationale makes a little more sense.
“I put Michael in there too,” Riley continued.
“But Kareem was the greatest at that time because of his longevity and the fact that he continued to perform at a high level when he was in his late 30s and 40s.”
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So if he is describing Abdul-Jabbar as his greatest player of all time, it’s hard not to put some stock into that.
The NBA’s GOAT debate is so subjective and so experience-based, it is hard to ever have a truly rationale debate about it. Everyone’s biases always seep in no matter what.
That said, Abdul-Jabbar’s record speaks for itself. Hopefully Riley’s comments ultimately get some younger fans to go back and look at his legacy, because it is undeniably quite impressive.