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Everything you need to know about the NBA GOAT debate

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It’s the never-ending debate among today’s NBA fans: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James. Or should that be LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan?

While arguments can be (and have been) made for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and other NBA greats, the modern debate over who is the greatest since the NBA began has been boiled down to MJ vs. LeBron.

The two never met on the court; Jordan retired for the third and final time (as a Washington Wizard), two months before the Cleveland Cavaliers made James the No. 1 overall pick in 2003. They’ve dominated the NBA discourse for the better part of four decades, ranking first and second in playoff points scored (LeBron over MJ) and Finals MVPs (MJ over LeBron). Their names are all over the NBA record books in just about every category.

So with apologies to legendary boxer Muhammad Ali — who claimed “greatest” status for himself and popularized the acronym — here is everything you need to know about who might be the NBA’s GOAT.

How LeBron can top Jordan for GOAT status

We asked our ESPN Forecast panel a series of questions to get at the heart of the GOAT debate. For most of our panel, Michael is still the man; but that doesn’t mean the argument is entirely one-sided, nor does it make the opinion unanimous.

LeBron vs. MJ: The GOAT debate is different now

At minimum, it’s a debate now. Jordan backers can no longer shout “6-0” and declare it over. Maybe it’s a matter of taste. There is a chance, maybe a good one, James drives this GOAT conversation closer to a consensus than anyone would have imagined possible a decade ago. — Zach Lowe

Are LeBron’s four titles better than MJ’s six?

For Jordan partisans, the Bulls’ 6-0 record in Finals series is indisputable proof of his superiority. For James believers, his 10 Finals appearances are emblematic of LeBron’s longer record of accomplishment. But what do LeBron’s and MJ’s overall Finals track records really tell us about the choice between them as the greatest of all time? — Kevin Pelton

Ranking the greatest players of all time

These debates rage on endlessly in every corner of NBA fandom, and our experts have done their best to answer them, ranking the greatest players in the league’s 74-year history. ESPN’s NBA expert panel voted on thousands of head-to-head matchups, taking into consideration both total career value and peak performance.

Fan poll: MJ tops LeBron in every way

A new poll commissioned by ESPN in 2020 found 73% of NBA fans believe Jordan is the superior player overall, and the Chicago Bulls legend swept all 17 questions comparing him to James by metrics both on and off the court.

NBA GOAT debate: Big questions on the greatest players ever

Do legends such as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have a stronger case than Michael Jordan? What about LeBron James? And what qualities make one player the GOAT? Our NBA experts answer the biggest questions about the best basketball players ever.

It’s time to end the MJ-LeBron debate

LeBron James is far from finished. Winning a fourth NBA title and leading a third team to a championship might not only be the pinnacle of his basketball career, but in life, at 35, James is just getting started. There are so many more mountains to conquer. — William C. Rhoden

LeBron and MJ in their own words through the years

Who is the real GOAT? The debate rages on. On your television. In the comments section. In your Twitter replies. But it doesn’t matter what we say. Here are Jordan and James, in their own words, talking about each other over nearly two decades.

By the numbers

‘The Last Dance’

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Michael Jordan and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf recount a funny conversation when discussing his recovery from a foot injury. The Last Dance premieres on ESPN on Sunday, April 19th at 9 pm ET.

In the fall of 1997, Michael Jordan and the Bulls began their quest to win a sixth NBA title in eight years. With a film crew following them all season, “The Last Dance,” as coach Phil Jackson called it, would be shadowed by tension and an overwhelming sense that their storied run was coming to an end. The Emmy Award-winning 10-part documentary is now available on Blu-ray for a limited time.

‘More Than An Athlete’

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In the latest episode of “More Than An Athlete,” LeBron James says his historic 2016 NBA Finals win made him the greatest player ever. Go to ESPN+ and subscribe now to view full episodes.

“More Than An Athlete” is an eight-episode series that examines the various stages and moments of LeBron James’ journey from basketball prodigy to global sports icon, businessman and philanthropist through the lens of the unique bonds of friendship and partnership that forged between four men — James, Maverick Carter, Randy Mims and Rich Paul — over more than two decades. It is streaming now on ESPN+

The Jordan vs. LeBron debate even rages among former NBA players — and the answer isn’t divided as cleanly along generational lines as you might think.

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After NBA legend Isiah Thomas says he’d take LeBron James over Michael Jordan, The SportsNation crew weighs in on the classic debate.

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NBA legend Charles Barkley sat down with Ros Gold-Onwude to talk about who he’d rather have, LeBron James or Michael Jordan.

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Jay Williams explains why he credits LeBron James as the GOAT due to his willingness to speak out about social issues.

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Kendrick Perkins ranks LeBron James as No. 1 on his list of top NBA players of all time.

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Stephen Jackson gives his take on the best basketball player between Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

One person who isn’t changing his mind any time soon is First Take’s Stephen A. Smith.

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Stephen A. Smith and Marcus Spears debate whether LeBron James will ever be unanimously considered better than Michael Jordan.

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Stephen A. Smith and Kendrick Perkins are split on Isiah Thomas’ comment that LeBron James will surpass Michael Jordan as the game’s greatest if he wins a fourth championship.

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Stephen A. Smith is adamant that LeBron James will never close the gap between him and Michael Jordan — even if he wins this year with the Lakers.

When it comes to this debate, we’ll let MJ and LeBron have the last word — for now.

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Michael Jordan says he takes the comparison between him and LeBron James with a grain of salt because they played in different eras.

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis join Rachel Nichols to discuss the emotions of life in the bubble and where LeBron stacks up after his fourth title.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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