One man’s GOAT is another man’s goat

The two men sitting at the bar were not athletes, at least not in the conventual sense and certainly not in the professional sense. They didn’t appear conditioned, dedicated or focused. However, they did wear plenty of sports gear: shirts, hats, wristbands and, of course, athletic shoes.

“I don’t know how you can say that,” said the taller man, a little winded from his trip to the restroom.

“Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time,” replied his friend. “There is no argument.”

It was a proclamation, not a statement of absolute fact. And it was based on all the beliefs and biases of one guy sitting at a bar drinking beer.

“Bullcrap,” said his equally winded friend.

And it must be pointed out that the second man wasn’t winded from a trip to the restroom but rather from his trip out the front door to vape.

Filmmaker Aaron Sorkin once said, “Never argue with a fool, or a drunk.” But in some cases, it’s not an either/or situation. And you can quote me on that.

The problem with fools and drunks is that often they don’t realize that they are either — or both. And that is where bartenders come in.

“Bartender, can you settle this?” asked one. “Who’s better? LeBron or Michael?”

“Why can’t they both be great?”

“But if you had to pick one?” asked Winded No. 1.

“Yeah,” replied Winded No. 2. “If you had to pick?”

“Why do I have to pick one?”


“Because why?”

In our society, there is an overreliance on being No. 1. If you come in second or win a bronze medal it’s almost as if you shouldn’t have bothered. And we all feed into it. Trust me, LeBron or Michael could have wiped the proverbial basketball floor with either of those two guys. And me, too. Probably all three of us put together.

But in all or nothing conversations none of that matters. Best chef, best bartender, best TV show, best ice cream. Does any of it matter?

Yet it does. In the bar business, you can feel it. All of a sudden, a certain drink will be requested over and over. Somewhere, somehow, somebody wrote about it, tweeted about it or it appeared on TV, and now everybody is lining up behind it.

If you are a bartender, you better figure out how to make it, quick. Funny how there can be two whiskeys sitting on the shelf next to each other, both the same age, both the same mashbill, both made by the same distillery, yet one sells out and the other doesn’t move at all. If you were to blind taste most people, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Recently, I attended a blind tasting of super-premium whiskeys — five whiskeys, two in the $300 a bottle range, two in the $500 a bottle range and one that retails for $5,000. All were malt whiskeys and all were within the same age range. Not one person picked the $5,000 whiskey as their favorite. It didn’t even come in second or third place.

Value is determined by perception. And quite often our perceptions are warped by our own prejudices. In journalism, you often hear the word “unbiased” or “objective,” as if anyone is either. I would posit that the people who really are the most biased are the ones who refuse to admit that they have biases. They are simply right.

“LeBron is the all-time best,” wheezed one of the men. “There is no argument.”

“Michael has more championships.”

“LeBron has championships with different teams.”

LeBron scored more points. Michael has more 50-point games. On and on it went.

Meanwhile, another man sat at the bar by himself. His hat and bunched down hoodie slightly hid his face. He was waiting for someone while this pointless argument raged. Eventually, he got up and went into the dining room.

He was one of the most famous sportsmen the Bay Area has ever seen. A man who, in his own right, almost always figures into those types of conversations. And no one noticed.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• One person noticed, the bartender.

• Greatness is often generational. One generation’s hero is the next generation’s “Who?”

• “There are as many opinions as there are experts,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt.

• “Yes, you have a right to your opinion. And I have a right to mine,” said the former friend of a guy sitting at the bar.

• “The majority of men are not capable of thinking, but only of believing, and are not accessible to reason, but only to authority,” wrote philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who also authored “The Art of Always Being Right.”

• “I disagree,” says the author of this column.