So many times, you may hear about the debate over “Who is the best _________ of all time?” or “Who is the greatest__________ of all time.” Some people might say that greatest and best are one-in-the-same; that the best is the greatest.
You can call it arguing petty semantics if you want, but there is a distinction between these two terms of distinction. So here’s how I define them.
The criteria for the best has to do with skill. If someone is more skilled at something than other people then they are the best. Plain and simple. This can be measured by stats, anecdotal evidence, or generally accepted agreement that someone is extremely skilled at something.
The criteria for the greatest is much deeper than the best. The greatest takes into consideration impact, longevity, legacy, and success along with skill. The greatest, however, may not necessarily be the most skilled. In an effort to define more what I’m talking about, I’ll list some examples. (This post is basically a way for me to express my opinion on a few matters.)
Conqueror of the Classical World:
I am containing the scope of this question to the Classical world because Genghis Kahn wins hands-down for the best and greatest conqueror in history. So the field is basically 3 guys: Alexander The Great of Macedonia, Julius Caesar of Rome, and Qin Shi Huang of China. The best is an easy one…..
Best: Alexander The Great
He conquered the known world. The…known….world; and a lot that wasn’t known. He stood largely on the shoulders of his father Phillip II who handed him Greece and an army capable of, well, conquering the known world. As a tactician, he was a genius. He displayed bravery in leading from the front. All of his troops admired him as he led them into God knows where (we know it today as the North of India). He is one of the few who have been able to conquer the tribes of Afghanistan. He carved out a large piece of the world for himself, but he died young and his empire was split among his generals into various Hellenic kingdoms.
Greatest: Julius Caesar
He not only conquered the Germanic Tribes and the Celts of lower Britain, but he won a three way civil war between himself Pompei, and Marc Antony who were all fighting with highly trained and veteran Roman Legions. This is a massive feat worthy of all of the glory he receives unto itself. The difference between him, Alexander, and Qin Shi Huang is that Ceasar’s conquests endured for another 300-500 years (depending on when one officially defines the fall of the Western Roman Empire). The duration becomes 1,300 years after his death if you include the Byzantine Empire which carried the Roman flag. Qin Shi Huang and and Alexander’s empires crumbled as soon as the people who created them died. When Caesar died, not only did his kingdom survive, but it thrived and expanded. It ruled the West and near East for hundreds of years after Caesar breathed his last.
Some may bring up the legacy Alexander’s conquests. Though his empire was split between his generals and did not endure, his conquests spread Hellenitic values with Greek learning, art, culture, and traditions throughout the known world. One can also point to Qin Shi Huang’s legacy as evidence of his claim to the title of the greatest. By unifying China aand forcing a single language and culture throughout these once culturally diverse kingdoms, he is still impacting the world in the form of the current Chinese state. He does not receive this title though, because his dynasty fell as soon as he died.
When Caesar dies, his adopted son Augustus Caesar takes control of Rome to keep his dynasty going. Then 300 years after Caesar died, a little thing called Christianity was made the official religion of and spread through the Roman Empire. This shaped the modern Western world and the modern Western world has shaped the world today. That, arguably, is the most significant legacy that any Western Military Leader could leave.
Best: Ric Flair
WHOO!!! Ric Flair, “a Limousine-ridin’, Jet-flyin’, Kiss-stealin’, Wheelin’-dealin’, Son-of-a-Gun,” is a wrestler who would only be known to people who have watched wrestling at one time or another and to people in the South. He could cut a mean promo. He could put on a great hour-long match. He oozed charisma and he embodied his character. He stuck around and put on great matches for 40 years. The reason that he wins out over other wrestlers such as Shawn Michaels, Macho Man Randy Savage, Chris Jericho, and The Undertaker is that 40 year longevity. Any wrestling purist will tell you that the best wrestler of all time is Ric Flair.
Greatest: Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan, however, takes the crown as the greatest. As far as technical, in-ring work goes, he was not good at all. He didn’t sell when people hit him (selling= making it look like you actually got hit), he barely left his feet and went down to the mat, but when he hit the ring, you never heard a bigger reaction. He was charismatic, he could cut a promo, and he sold lots and lots of T-Shirts. He was the one to bring Pro-Wrestling into the mainstream. He was in movies (who doesn’t love Suburban Commando?). He had a TV show. He is a pop-culture icon. People who have never watched a single wrestling show know who Hulk Hogan is. He wrestled until his back could no longer take it. His debut was in the mid-1970’s and had his last match around 2011. So taking into consideration great matches, popularity, impact, longevity, and transcendence, Hulk Hogan is the Greatest.
I should preface this by saying, per a previous post, I was once hugely into Rap music, but I don’t really follow it much anymore. I think the only new guys I know are Kendrick Lamar and Drake. I know, it’s sad.Best: 2Pac/BIG
So that nobody jumps down my throat, I’ll put 2Pac and BIG tied. Now, neither of these guys is my favorite rapper of all time (that goes to the Bay Area’s own, E-40); but I’m aware they are considered the best rapper’s all time by most people. Lyrically, they are both incredible. Biggie’s flow was insanely intricate and clever. He weaved words in ways to whet the appetites of the most wily of word-smiths. Sold millions of albums, but he only released 5 of them. Two of those were released after his death. 2Pac released like 6 albums while he was alive and was active for about 6 years before he was shot He had a big impact at his time, but he didn’t stick around. Had both these cats lived, it might be a different conversation.
Hands down. In my opinion there is no argument to be made against me here. Jay-Z has been making hit albums since 1996 and is still making them. 15 albums. Multi-Platinum. Grammy winning. Lyrically sharp, crisp, clever, and went toe-to-toe with Nas, one of the best wordsmiths of all time. He is a pop-culture icon and Successful entrepreneur. He is as mainstream as mainstream can be, yet still maintains the respect of most hardcore Hip-Hop heads. A lot of kids today won’t know who BIG is, but they sure as heck know who Jay-Z is.
Early Solo Rock & Roller:
Best: Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry is without a doubt the most talented musician of that era. He invented an entire style of guitar playing. The Rock & Roll riff is basically his. He revolutionized music. He is charismatic and has influenced probably every band in every type of music that is an off-shoot of Rock & Roll. “Johnny B. Good” is probably the best song to come out of that era. He is still making good music.
Greatest: Elvis Presley
Was he a prolific song writer a’la Chuck Berry? No. Was Elvis a good singer? He was pretty good. Elvis is the greatest simply because of impact and longevity. Elvis brought what was a fringe branch of R&B music that was only played in African American music venues and made it mainstream. He didn’t invent Rock & Roll. I don’t know if he ever even wrote a song. He did, however, catapult Rock & Roll into people’s living rooms. He de-virginized the eyes of countless young women with his rhythmic hip gyrations to help loosen an uptight society. Not to mention, his songs are great. Most of them are covers that African-American musicians did, but he did great and entertaining renditions of them. I would say musically, a lot of them are also done better. He is, plain and simple, a cultural icon.
I understand Elvis’ greater success than Chuck Berry is owed to the fact that he was White. Chuck Berry was an African American guy and at the time that just wasn’t what mainstream audiences would find acceptable. Chuck Berry was also older and not nearly as good looking as Elvis, so I think that hurt him a bit too.
People don’t travel from all over the world to see Chuck Berry’s horribly decorated mansion, do they?
What other Best vs. Greatest comparisons can you make?