When Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Super Bowl 55 title on Sunday, the debate about whether or not he was the greatest football player ever was put firmly to rest. If you don’t see Brady as the NFL GOAT after what he did this year, leading the worst franchise in NFL history to a Super Bowl title, you are just a hater. Now that Brady has clearly ascended above all other NFL players that have come before him, the conversation has now turned to whether or not he is the greatest winner in the history of team sports?
I don’t think it is fair to compare Brady to individual athletes, as in individual sports, you only have to rely on yourself to win. In team sports, you must be able to inspire and motive your entire team and make everyone around you better. That is where Brady has excelled in his career. Whether it was in his time with the New England Patriots or now in his stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady has shown that he is the consummate winner.
— NFL (@NFL) February 8, 2021
No disrespect to athletes like Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, or Serena Williams, but this conversation will only include team sports winners. First, we will make a case for Brady, and then we will look at other prolific winners and finally, we will take a stand on the greatest to ever do it!
You could start and end this conversation with one sentence if you really wanted to. Tom Brady has more Super Bowl titles than any team in NFL history. Not only has Brady won more rings than any other player, there isn’t even a franchise that can compete with Brady when it comes to Super Bowl wins. We tend to rate all-time great quarterbacks by their ability win the Big Game, but Brady hasn’t just been a postseason success, he wins during the regular season as well.
When you look at total wins for any quarterback in NFL history, Brady is in a class of his own. Brady has 230 career wins. The next closest behind him is a tie between Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, who have just 186. 4th place is Drew Brees with 172. All-time greats like Dan Marino and John Elway are even further back at 148 and 147 wins, respectively. So, how does someone rack up so many wins? Well, it’s a combination of amazing longevity and consistent winning.
Tom Brady now has more Super Bowls than any NFL franchise.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 8, 2021
Brady won his first Super Bowl in 2001, and after going 9-7 the year after, Brady has won at least 10 games in every season since. In his 20 years as an NFL quarterback, he has never once had a losing season. That is a remarkable run of consistency in a league that is anything but consistent. Along the way, Brady has broken just about every record imaginable in terms of stats, wins, and postseason performances.
Most of those wins and stats came when Brady was with the New England Patriots, but what he just did with Tampa Bay can’t be ignored. Since the Buccaneers first came into existence in 1976, they have a winning percentage of .393. That is the lowest mark in the NFL. And really, it’s not close, as the next closest teams are the Jacksonville Jaguars (.425) and the Arizona Cardinals (.426).
To put it simply, Tom Brady took over the worst franchise in the history of the game, a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2007 and hadn’t won a postseason game since 2002 and led them to a world title in his first year with the team. And oh, did I mention that he did it at 43 years old?
No list of winners can be complete without Michael Jordan. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships and established himself as a player that never lost on the game’s biggest stage. While Jordan didn’t win championships as instantly as Brady did in his career, once Jordan starting winning, he could not be beaten.
Jordan took the Bulls to the playoffs in his first season with the team in 1984, after the Bulls had made just one trip to the postseason in the previous seven seasons. The Bulls made quick exits from the playoffs in the next three years, getting knocked out in the first round each year. Chicago then ran into the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, who knocked them out of the postseason in three consecutive seasons.
In 1990, Jordan and the Bulls finally got past the Pistons in the conference finals and went on to win the first of what would be six NBA titles. Jordan led the Bulls to their first three-peat before shockingly retiring in his prime after the death of his father. Jordan later returned to the NBA and the Bulls and pulled off a second three-peat, before again retiring prematurely. Jordan would make another comeback several seasons later with the Washington Wizards, but that was short-lived, and unlike Brady, Jordan couldn’t turn around the struggling Wizards late in his career.
I’m going to tweet this & pin it to my page so I can watch it every single day
When MJ talks about winning & leadership has a price, he’s talking about sacrificing a part of who you are for all that your team can become.
A Championship Standard!! pic.twitter.com/IbK95jFTVY
— Jaycob Ammerman (@Jammer2233) May 13, 2020
Jordan doesn’t have the longevity that Brady has, but what he does have is an undefeated record in the NBA Finals. It is hard to deny a 6-0 record on the sport’s biggest stage, and Jordan’s competitiveness and tenacity were unmatched. He quite simply would not let his team lose when it mattered the most.
In the NBA, most of the current debate about who is the NBA’s GOAT between Jordan and LeBron James centers around what is more impactful, making the finals every year and sometimes losing when you get there, or making it six times and never once losing. As you can see, I have Jordan on this list, and not James, so you can see what side of the debate I fall on.
I feel that is also should be mentioned that Jordan also played on what is likely the single greatest team of all-time, the Dream Team, in the 1992 Olympics. He also won a national title at the University of North Carolina in college. Had MJ been able to somehow lead the Wizards to an NBA title, I am not sure anybody, Brady included, would be able to touch him. College champion, NBA champion, Olympic champion, Michael Jordan was winning personified.
When it comes to consistent winning everywhere you go, I am not sure that anybody can compete with Bill Russell. Russell was on two championship teams in high school but didn’t really blossom until he attended the University of San Francisco. Russell led the Dons to two national titles, including a streak where they won 55-straight games. This wasn’t a basketball powerhouse like UCLA, North Carolina, or Kentucky, this was Bill Russell doing it all by himself for lowly San Francisco.
After finishing up his college career, Russell was the captain of a gold medal winning Olympic team in 1956. While the Dream Team gets most of the recognition as the team with the most dominant Olympic basketball performance, the Russell led American team in 1956 won by an average of 53 points per game and won the gold medal game by 44 points. History has kind of forgotten the ’56 team, but that doesn’t mean they were really, really good, and Bill Russell was their best player.
In 56 I could have made the Olympics in high jump but turned it down to play basketball instead we could only play one sport then. Track and Field News ranked me #7 high jumper in the world, I was ranked #2 in the US @ the time. @celtics @NBA pic.twitter.com/6FqZjiMlhG
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) June 17, 2020
If that is all that Russell ever did, it would have been a very successful career. And while Russell’s amateur career will go down as one of the best ever, what he did in the NBA is unprecedented in league history. Russell led the Boston Celtics to eleven NBA titles in thirteen years.
Russell was league MVP five times during that span, and in the two seasons that Boston didn’t take home the NBA title, they made the playoffs both times, including one loss in the NBA Finals in 1957. The Celtics made the NBA Finals in each of Russell’s first ten seasons, winning nine of them. There has never been a more dominant decade in NBA history than Boston enjoyed with Russell as their leader.
Russell was a player that focused on defense and rebounding and tends to get forgotten in talks about the best to ever play in the NBA, as he never posted the eye-popping scoring stats that we have seen from players like Jordan, James, Bryant, and Abdul-Jabbar. You can argue back and forth whether or not Russell was the best player to ever play basketball, but one thing that you can’t argue, is that no player in NBA history ever won more titles than Bill Russell.
Joe DiMaggio was the face of the New York Yankees for a generation. Giving the place that baseball held in America at the time as the national pastime, you could argue that DiMaggio was the face of the entire nation. DiMaggio made the MLB All-Star team in each of his thirteen big league seasons playing for the Bronx Bombers and was league MVP three times. He led New York to a world championship in nine of those thirteen seasons, and those nine rings are the second-most of any player in Major League Baseball history.
Nine rings in thirteen seasons is certainly an amazing accomplishment, but it should have been even more, as DiMaggio left baseball to enlist in the military to fight for his country in World War Two. DiMaggio gave up three seasons in the middle of his prime, to serve his country. New York did win one title while DiMaggio fought overseas in 1943, but in the next two years, the Yankees did not even make the playoffs.
As soon as DiMaggio returned to the team, they went right back to their winning ways, winning it all in four out of the next five seasons, with Joltin’ Joe winning one league MVP award and getting MVP votes in every year, with the exception of his final season in 1951.
Is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak baseball's most unbreakable record? pic.twitter.com/raiZXJX9BD
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) December 27, 2019
You can basically give DiMaggio the ring the Yankees won without him in 1943, as there is absolutely no way that they were better off without him, and had he not chosen to defend his country in the military, he would have had at least ten rings. When you see how quickly New York returned to being the best team in baseball when DiMaggio returned to the team, it isn’t out of question that New York could have won in 1944 and 1945 as well.
I am not going to give DiMaggio rings he didn’t win, but if you add those missing three prime years back into his career, it is hard to see DiMaggio not ending up with the most Major League Baseball World Championships ever, surpassing teammate Yogi Berra, who has a ring for each of his ten fingers.
Speaking of Yogi Berra, he comes in next, as MLB’s all-time winner, with ten World Series Championships in his eighteen-year career with New York. You would think that with DiMaggio winning all of those titles in New York, that Berra and DiMaggio shared a bunch of these titles, but that’s not actually the case. Berra didn’t join the Yankees until 1946, the same year that DiMaggio came back from his military service.
So, while Berra and DiMaggio joined forced on four of these world titles, Berra won six without DiMaggio as well. Those Yankees teams were stacked with guys like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Phil Rizzuto, and Don Larsen all playing big roles, but when you look at the numbers, I think Berra deserves a lot of the credit.
Championships As A Player
Bill Russell, 11
Yogi Berra, 10
Joe DiMaggio, 9
Mickey Mantle, 7
TOM BRADY, 7
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 6
Michael Jordan, 6
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 8, 2021
From 1948-1961 Berra was an All-Star and finished with MVP votes in every single season! Catcher is the most grueling position in the game, and Berra managed a run of consistent greatness that we had never seen before, or since, at the position. Berra was league MVP three times and finished in the top four of the league MVP voting seven times.
When you look at winning ten World Series Championships, it’s hard to imagine anybody ever winning more than that in the modern era, as we just don’t see runs like the Yankees had anymore. The crazy part about Berra and the Yankees run that produced so many titles is that they could have easily won more, as New York lost in the World Series four times during Berra’s career. Three of those series were decided in a decisive game seven. Could you image Berra having so many rings that he would have to take his shoes off to count all of them? It almost happened.
The last player that I believe deserves recognition as one of the greatest winners in team sports history is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Similar to Bill Russell, Kareem won everywhere that he played. He won three NYC titles in high school and played on what was likely the greatest college basketball team ever assembled at UCLA. The run that Abdul-Jabbar had at UCLA will never be replicated as the Bruins won three national titles and finished with an overall record of 88-2. His high school record finished at 79-2, including at 71 game winning streak.
Abdul-Jabbar was named the national player of the year three times and was also awarded most outstanding player of the Final Four in all three seasons. Abdul-Jabbar was so dominant at UCLA that the NCAA banned dunking the ball because nobody could stop him from doing it any time that he wanted. Jabbar was selected to play for the 1968 Olympic team that easily won the gold medal in Mexico City, but declined the invitation as a protest of the treatment of African Americans in the United States at the time.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Lew Alcindor is decisively the undisputed GOAT of college basketball! During his 3 years at UCLA he led the Bruins to an 88-2 record, won 3 National Championships, was 3X National College Player of the Year, AND was 3X NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player. pic.twitter.com/94QzdU6N0V
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 1, 2020
Abdul-Jabbar was drafted first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA, and his exploits in the pros were just as impressive as his amateur career. He won a title with Milwaukee but will be better remembered for his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kareem paired with Magic Johnson to win five NBA titles in LA. He would finish his career with records for MVPs (6), All-NBA team selections (15), All-Star teams (19), All-Defensive team selections (11), and won six NBA championships.
Statistically, no player comes close to Abdul-Jabbar. When he retired, he was the all-time leader in points scored, wins, games played, minutes played, field goals made, rebounds, and blocked shots. Many of those records still hold up today, including most points scored and wins. It is hard to say that Kareem isn’t the greatest winner in NBA history when he quite literally has won more games than any other player.
In this final section, I am going to give a shout out to a couple of guys that wouldn’t make my winner’s version of Mount Rushmore, but do deserve to have their names mentioned amongst the greatest winners ever to play team sports. These guys round out my top ten as the best to ever do it, at least when it comes to winning.
Pele is still considered by most to be the greatest soccer player ever. Soccer doesn’t get the attention in the United States that other major sports do, so Pele isn’t regarded on the same level as the rest of these guys, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t the GOAT of his sport. Pele is the only soccer player ever to win three World Cups, his professional club team won ten titles, and he finished his career trying to bring soccer to America, winning a title with the New York Cosmos in 1977.
Otto Graham led the Cleveland Browns to the NFL title game in each of his ten seasons, winning seven NFL championships. Notice I say NFL Championships and not Super Bowls? That is because Graham’s career predates the Super Bowl era. His stats don’t hold up these days as the NFL has evolved so much, but his lifetime record of 105-17-4 certainly does.
Big Shot Rob has seven NBA rings, coming on three different teams. Horry was never the leader of any of those teams, but if you needed a clutch shot late in a game that mattered, there might not be a player in NBA history you would rather take the shot than Robert Horry. Horry holds the record for the most three-pointers made in the NBA Finals, and when he retired, no player had ever played more playoff games than Big Shot Rob.
Maurice Richard, known to most as Rocket Richard, was an NHL hockey player for the Montreal Canadiens. Richard won eleven Stanley Cup titles in his eighteen seasons with Montreal, more than any other player in NHL history. Richard was a prolific scorer and finished his career as the all-time leader in goals. The NHL now awards the top goal scorer every year with the Maurice Richard Trophy, commemorating just how great of a player that he was and what he meant to the sport.
Who Is The Greatest Winner Ever?
You’ve read my list and seen my top-10, now I am going to nail this down to one player as my pick for the greatest winner ever. Drum roll, please…. The greatest winner is team sports history is…. None other than Bill Russell. When LeBron James was asked which players would be on his basketball Mount Rushmore and did not include Bill Russell, Russell’s response will go down as an all-time burn of the self-proclaimed king.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) February 17, 2014
If that quote doesn’t personify why Bill Russell is my GOAT of team sports winning, I don’t know what else will. Thanks for reading, and make sure that you check out TheSportsGeek’s sport’s betting blog page, where we are always bringing you top-notch sports content!