By nature I am a contrarian.
But I don’t arbitrarily pull antagonistic takes out of my pie hole. I do research, and try to back them up with data. A few weeks ago I wrote that LeBron James, not Michael Jordan, is the GOAT. One other nugget I left out of my column was how their teams fared after Michael and LeBron left.
Jordan retired before the 1993-94 season. The three-time defending champion Bulls went from 57 to 55 regular-season wins in their first season without Jordan.
Look at LeBron’s final season record(s) with the Cavs, Heat, and Cavs again, followed by the next season(s) results.
Cleveland – Part I
2009-10 With LeBron (61-21)
2010-11 Without LeBron (19-63)
2013-14 With LeBron (54-28)
2014-15 Without LeBron (37-45)
Cleveland – Part II
2017-18 With LeBron (50-32)
2018-19 Without LeBron (19-63)
Sorry middle-aged men. Give up your childhood binky. LeBron is GREATER than Jordan. With that in mind, it’s time to debunk the accepted narrative as to who is the greatest player in NHL history.
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My case for Lemieux is statistical and anecdotal.
In 915 career games, the former Penguin scored 690 goals to go along with 1033 assists good for 1723 points.
Lemieux’s Per Game Averages:
.75 Goals Per Game
1.13 Assists Per Game
1.88 Points Per Game
Gretzky amassed 894 goals, 1963 assists good for 2,857 points in 1,487 games.
Gretzky’s Per Game Averages:
.60 Goals Per Game
1.32 Assists Per Game
1.92 Points Per Game
— John Sapochetti (@johnsap25) March 30, 2020
So, Gretzky averaged .04 more points per game than Lemieux. But Super Mario averaged .16 more goals per game. I for one value goals more than assists in hockey.
On the scoresheet, there is one goal scorer and two players credited with an assist.
If the numbers don’t sway you, perhaps this anecdote will. I had a former player who played with both Gretzky and Lemieux tell me that Mario was better. He said that Lemieux could do everything that Gretzky could do but that there were things that Mario could do that Gretzky couldn’t. In addition, Lemieux was 6’4″ 230 pounds while Gretzky was 6′ 180 pounds. Size matters.
Bobby Orr, who was my first sports hero, is certainly in the short discussion of the GOAT conversation. Watch highlights from nearly 50 years ago and you get the feeling that Orr was an alien from the future. But, Orr played in only 631 regular-season games due to several knee operations.
Howe was an unusual combination of strength and skill. His longevity is rivaled in other sports by the likes of LeBron James and Tom Brady. As great as he was, Howe played in a league that was made up of strictly Canadians.
Lemieux and Gretzky played in a vastly more international league with great players from the United States and Europe as well as Canada.
Lemieux battled excruciating back pain, an irregular heartbeat, and cancer throughout his career. In the 1992-93 season, Lemieux was diagnosed with lymphoma. He still registered 69 goals, 91 assists for 160 in 60 games winning the Hart (MVP) Trophy.
With his body broken down, Lemieux retired following the 1996-97 season.
Three years later he returned and put up 35 goals, 41 assists, and 76 points in 43 games. He finished second in Hart Trophy voting to Colorado’s Joe Sakic. Among my favorite accomplishments by Lemieux include, tallying 49 career short-handed goals.
Also, on December 31, 1988, Lemieux became the only player in league history to score five goals in five different ways. He lit the lamp by way of: even strength, power play, short-handed, penalty shot and empty net.
While Gretzky was “The Great One”, the French-to-English translation for Lemieux is literally “THE BEST”. I concur.
John Sapochetti Is Co-Host
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