Breaking Best

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May 29, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

Being the “best”, and being the “greatest” are two words that are typically used interchangeable to denote an achievement of the most superlative of levels.  While this is true in the good, better, best, and great, greater, greatest sense of progression, the difference between “best” and “greatest” really isn’t as difficult or minute as you’d probably imagine.  Being the best is purely objective, it’s more of a by the numbers kind of thing, where you can point to tangible factors that contribute to why something is the best.  It could be through sales, or highest stats or some other form of outdoing everyone else.  But for all intents and purposes being the best exists in a vacuum.

Being the best solely exists in and of itself; it exists in the moment and is more fleeting as someone else down the road could eventually usurp the title of “the Best” from you.  Think of it this way, every year the Academy Awards designate a different movie to be the best.  But each winner is only the best for that one year.  Their period of being the preeminent spectacle in its field is limited to duration of time.  Once that period passes, they are no longer the best.

It’s no different with sports.  A team that wins the championship one year is automatically deemed the best team that year, but it doesn’t automatically put them in the conversation for being the greatest team of all time.  Just because you’re the best, doesn’t make you the greatest.  While the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals might have been the best team in baseball that year just by virtue of winning the World Series[1], it doesn’t mean that they can be considered the greatest team of all time.[2] Greatness, then is dependent on external factors such as influence, meaning, longevity, remembrance, etc.

Being the best can just happen (exaggeration), but being the greatest is something that takes time and a methodical approach.  It doesn’t happen overnight because it can’t.  Greatness takes everything into account and makes things matter.  Think of people like Alexander of Macedonia, Peter I of Russia, or Catherine II, all of these people are titled “The Great”, not “The Best”[3].  It’s because their actions have lasted the test of time, and the influence these people had fared far longer than themselves that they are remembered.  The ramifications of their actions outlasted and proved to be more impactful than the actions themselves.

The perfect example of this, once again, proves to be Michael Jordan.  How he did what he did and how it affected everything around him, has now become more important than what he did.  The infamous shrug of his is more legendary then the 36 points he dropped before halftime in that game.  The fact that he played a game with the “flu” is more important than his stat sheet for that game.  These are the things that make him the greatest basketball player of all time, these are the transcendent moments that separate the greatest from the best.  While you can make the argument that Jordan wasn’t the best player, you can’t deny that he was the greatest player to ever step on the court.[4]  He didn’t win as many rings as Bill Russell, or score as many points as Kareem, but it’s his impact on the game coupled with the hows of what he did are what make Jordan the greatest.

Below I’ve included a chart to illustrate examples of “The Best” and the “The Greatest”.  Included in the list are albums by particular bands, movies by a particular director, sport teams, athletes, etc.



Rock bands

Led Zeppelin

The Beatles

Baseball Players (excluding pitchers)

Hank Aaron

Babe Ruth

Metallica Albums

…And Justice for All

Master of Puppets

Spielberg Films

Schindler’s List





NBA Centers

Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Wilt Chamberlain

Comic Book Writers

Alan Moore

Stan Lee

Red Hot Chili Pepper Albums

Blood Sugar Sex Magik


Indiana Jones Films

The Last Crusade

Raiders of the Lost Arc

Again, the moniker of “best” implies something that can be proven, whether it be via accolades or general consensus, the title of “greatest” is a little more elusive and more abstract to define.  From the short list above influence, impact, longevity and the ability to connect with the masses are all factors that make someone or something great.  Take Spielberg for example, Schindler’s List is and will be the best movie he has ever made, but it was Jaws that ushered in a new era of filmmaking, as the first summer blockbuster.  Granted, it also made people for hydrophobic than ever, but that just serves to prove my point.

At the end of the day though, this is still just a matter of opinion.  Is Justice better or greater than Master?  Or is there even a difference between the two words?  But for my money, I’d rather be the greatest than the best.  Either way I’m probably still an egomaniac.  Probably.

[1] They weren’t.

[2] That distinction goes to the 1927 New York Yankees….hands down.

[3] By the same token, I don’t really know why George Washington isn’t referred to as “George the Great”.  It has a nice ring to it and I don’t think it’s in use.  Maybe I’ll try to start it up.

[4] Some would argue that Wilt Chamberlain is the best player to ever play the game.  I’m not saying their right, but they’re not crazy.


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