What It Means to be the Greatest? A Brief Look at Pelé’s Journey from Santos to New York during the 1975 World Cup
With Pelé’s death, that transfer of power is on hold, at least for the moment, giving us time not only to remember soccer’s original international superstar, the rare iconic athlete whose moniker is synonymous with the game he played, but to think a bit about what it means to be the greatest.
As the news of his death began to spread around the world, it seemed as though there was nothing left to say.
The game was learned by Pel in Bauru from his father, who used stuffed socks and lemons as a ball. He was 17 years old when he scored in the World Cup final to put Brazil on the global sports map and he was the youngest to score in a World Cup match.
Pel’s reputation as a Pan-African success story was reflected in the fact that the team toured Nigeria and Mozambique in the 1960s. The leaders of the Brazilian team came from difficult circumstances and were supported by other players in the Global South.
While committed to country and team, he stayed with Santos FC for 19 years, scoring 343 goals in 661 games, despite lucrative offers from Paris St.Germain and Real Madrid as well as a scrapped deal from Inter Milan because of fan protests in Brazil.
Rather than fully retire once his time with Santos and the national team was done, he brought his talents to New York, playing for the Cosmos from 1975 to 1977, his celebrity bringing new fans and huge crowds to North American Soccer League matches.
Lionel Messi has been crowned soccer’s definitive GOAT after a couple of weeks, after one of the greatest soccer matches in history and one of the greatest championship finals in any sport.
But the criteria for GOAT is unclear, at best, with deliberations and arguments about what it means to be the greatest arising after a spectacular victory, a retirement, or, yes, a death. Is the GOAT the most decorated vehicle? The longest ranked at number one? Is it about the statistics? Brilliance? What is creativity? The most titles over time? The most titles in a year? The most titles in one day? The biggest paycheck? The most endorsements?
Ali owned the rights to ‘G.O.A.T., Inc.’, which was created by his wife, at one point. Ali then sold it for some $50 million to entertainment firm CKX in 2006, which bought an 80% interest in Ali’s name and likeness.
GOATs with Beyoncé and the Greatest-Of-All-Time Oscar: A Review of Her Royal Bey-ness with Bruce Knowles
Editor’s Note: Gene Seymour is a critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Had it with them. Past done. If you could see where my right hand is as I write “Up to here with GOATs,” it’s about six inches over my head – and I wish my arms were longer.
As you can tell from the capital letters, I mean the acronym and not the barnyard animals. They can stay around for as long as they like, doing their part to clear excess trash and stuff.
It is not only in sports. James Corden declared Her Royal Bey-ness the GOAT, because she had become the first woman to win the 32ndGRAMM in her life, after she won the award last night.
“Greatest-Of-All-Time”? Really? Granted, Knowles has had a fabulous, even extraordinary career with more accomplishments likely to come. It takes in lots of territory, such as Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Glenn Gould, Ella Fitzgerald, and The Beatles.
All this GOAT talk with Beyoncé was likely exacerbated by last week’s retirement (maybe, finally?) of 45-year-old quarterback Tom Brady from professional football after a storied, near-unprecedented 23-year career.
Sportscasters often referred to him as an “escape artist” for his ability to pull winning plays from seemingly impossible situations. He enabled the Patriots to be a dynasty for not just one, but two decades. Brady excelled at his work and was a pleasure to work with.
When LeBron James (aka Abdul-Jabbar) went to GOAT, he became an NFL Player – not a Super Bowl Winner
Such hair-splitting will likely continue in the days, months and even years ahead – especially now that LeBron James of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers has surpassed previous Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring total of 38,387 points. James broke the record after the home game against the Oklahoma City Wizards, but it was too little too late and he ended up with a loss.
The chants of GOAT are growing louder against people who think Michael Jordan finished off the GOAT discussion with his six titles with the Chicago Bulls. Meanwhile, Abdul-Jabbar’s onetime Laker coach Pat Riley, now an executive with the Miami Heat, has felt compelled to promote the now-75-year-old Artist Formerly Known as Lew Alcindor for the latter’s title-laden career.
A standard that turns greatness into nothing more than a King of the hill game was attributed to the late billionaire Malcolm Forbes and was one of the phrases that launched t-shirts.
If you enjoy being inspired by an artist or athlete, having the most trophy should not be the only criteria. Let’s go back to Brady. From the time he emerged from obscurity in 2001 as a second-year NFL player (and sixth-round draft pick) to lead the New England Patriots from longtime mediocrity into perennial playoff contenders and Super Bowl winners, Brady developed into a prolific passer and clutch scorer, holding every meaningful quarterbacking record in the NFL.
To my own eyes, however, there was something almost too seamless and slick about Brady’s unprecedented ascent to GOAT-ness. Everything about Brady, from his private life to his health regimen, was geared toward the single-minded pursuit of victory and the enhancement of his reputation. As Dave Zirin, a sporstwriter for The Nation, put it in a gimlet-eyed assessment published before Brady’s last Super Bowl in 2021, “Brady is all about his brand. He is more brand than man.”
Watching certain players can be fun, such as Jordan creating space with his approach to the basket, Barry sanders finding a seam in the defense wide enough for big gains, or Megan Rapinoe jumping on the loose ball and putting it back in.
What I Know About GOATs: What’s Wrong with the G/G/Girardeau Aharonov-Bohm Effect?
I suppose, then, that if we’re going to have GOATs, they should exist in the context of history, their status dependent on what exactly we mean by “all time.”
Which is why I’ve had it with GOATs. I don’t begrudge those filling hours at a barber shop or a corner bar arguing about who is or isn’t a GOAT. I’m just asking to leave me out of it. I now feel like I have a close relationship with many performers because of how they do their work, play their games and sing their songs. They’re likely not all-time greats and have been superseded by newer, younger talent. But they’re great enough for me.