Cavaliers, Headlines

LeBron James named GQ’s “Greatest Living Athlete”

LeBron James GQ Magazine
GQ Magazine

LeBron James and GQ Magazine collide once again, this time in a cover story that discusses why the Cleveland Cavaliers’ small forward is the greatest athlete alive.

It would be easy for one to try to #WellActually the story before reading, offering ideas as to what other athletes throughout the world could potentially be better. But that would also be the quickest way to show how that person didn’t read the story before offering their opinion on the matter.

Here’s Mark Anthony Green:

On the one hand, appraising the greatness of an athlete is an incredibly easy thing to do. There are seasons and statistics and big plays and rings. There are streaks and records and head-to-head matchups and end-of-season accolades. The data, the video clips, the testimonials—it’s all there to compare across time. The games don’t change as much as other things in society change, and so we can make strong cases, we can make cross-generational arguments, we can say things like: LeBron James is the greatest living athlete. Based on what he’s done on the court thus far and what he still could potentially do in years to come.

On the other hand, an athlete’s greatness can be defined more expansively. What was their influence? What did they mean? It’s almost like the difference between a strict and a broad constructionist. The former looks at only what’s there and says, for example: He was a top-three running back based on rushing yards and touchdowns. The latter looks at the expansiveness of the role an athlete plays in their society at a given time and asks: Who were they compared to? Who could they and should they have been? What did they do for their generation? What power did they wield, and to what effect?

LeBron James is, we’d argue, a broad constructionist on the athlete-greatness front. There is LeBron James the basketball player, and he’s front and center, he’s still number one. But there’s a deep understanding of the way this life of his is going to work for decades to come—that one day (maybe not as soon as for some other players, but still) basketball will run out, and it will be on to Phase II. Which is why he spends his off-season cramming his days laying groundwork for what comes next, expanding the universe of LeBron Inc.

The idea is simple: Greatness transcends the field, pitch, court, or diamond. Excelling at running or jumping or throwing or tackling simply isn’t enough to be “great” in today’s landscape. While others may be bigger or faster or stronger, it’s James who averages 28 points, eight boards, and eight assists while also debuting documentaries at the Toronto Film Festival. It’s James who can be the first player to ever put up a triple-double across an NBA Finals series and then attend a global leaders summit with the likes of Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Tim Cook, and Jack Ma.

Throughout the story, James discusses race, politics, Trayvon Martin, Dan Gilbert’s letter, and whether or not he “owes” anything to anyone. Spoiler alert on that last one: No.