Whether it was Michael Jordan's intention or not, the five-week run of ESPN's documentary "The Last Dance" featuring the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls has reestablished Jordan's place in the popular consciousness as the NBA's greatest of all time.

When did Jordan claim the GOAT title? From whom did he snatch it?

Going back to a time before "The Last Dance" reveals that the answers to those questions aren't as simple as they might seem in hindsight.

Let's break it down, FAQ style, to see which players Jordan surpassed, how and when.


When did we start using the term GOAT?

It was well after Jordan had earned the title. The phrase itself ("greatest of all time") was popularized by legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, who naturally applied it to himself during his career, particularly in the 1960s and '70s. Then in 1992, Ali's wife, Lonnie, named the company incorporated to license the boxer's likeness Greatest of All Time Inc. (G.O.A.T. Inc.).

However, as detailed by USA Today in 2017, the acronym GOAT doesn't seem to have come into use until LL Cool J's 2000 album "G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time)." With time, both the periods and the need for an explanatory parenthetical would fade, leaving us with a four-letter term for the ultimate in greatness -- one with a convenient (if sometimes messy) animal tie for the purposes of emojis and physical representation.


Who was considered the GOAT before Jordan?

The title was ripe for consolidation because, through the 1980s, there wasn't any consensus on the greatest basketball player ever.

The conversation usually started with the great NBA debate: Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell? The contemporary rivals presented contrasting cases for the moniker, Chamberlain's built on unparalleled individual stats and Russell's on a run of team success (11 championships in 13 seasons) unseen before or since.