Tom Brady has five Lombardi trophies, and assuming he ever retires, will be a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. And while he doesn't think of himself as the greatest football player of all time, NBA star LeBron James is happy to bestow that title upon him, though James can't go so far as to say Brady's accomplishments make him the greatest athlete of all time.
It all started with this observation from Maverick Carter, LeBron James' business partner and childhood friend:
"After I watched Tom Brady win the Super Bowl, it made me start to think that the only thing that marks greatness is consistency over a long period of time," Carter said on "The Shop," an ESPN feature that had James and friends talking sports at New Orleans barbershop. ... [Brady appearing in seven Super Bowls and winning five of them in 16 years] is like, mind-boggling. What Tom Brady did over the history of my life is the greatest thing I've seen in sports."
James' point was a simple one: While he admired Brady, the Patriots quarterback only plays on one side of the ball.
"My only argument with a football player being the greatest athlete of all time is that they only gotta play one side of the floor, man," James began. "Yes, Brady is unbelievable. Brady is the greatest quarterback I've ever seen but he affects the game one way. ...
"Just as a basketball player, and the pounding that you take and running both sides -- 'OK, I gotta do offense. Oh s---t, I gotta get back on defense. Oh s--t, I gotta get back on offense. Oh s---t, I gotta get back on defense.' As physical as football is -- and to the body, I know it's crazy to the body -- but for a quarterback, [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick has done a great job of implementing those five guys in front to protect that asset. ...
"For us [as basketball players], every single night, you gotta know both sides. We both played football ... the offense never even talked to the defense -- all week! We don't even speak to y'all! When I played football, offensively, I never even talked to the defensive side. I never even talked to y'all! Ain't nothing to talk about! I'm sitting down like this on the bench -- 'Oh, turnover? Oh, where's my helmet?' ... You remember that!"
"I'm not saying he's not great. He's the greatest football player of all time."
For what it's worth, Brady agrees with much of what James said. Here he is last month explaining why he's not the NFL GOAT:
"I don't agree with that and I'll tell you why," Brady told ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor. "I know myself as a player. I'm really a product of what I've been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I've been very fortunate."
Fortunate, indeed. And whatever you call him, or wherever you have him rated on your personal list of all-time greats, the man has won five Super Bowls in his career, and we'd argue he's been more valuable to the Pats' success than even Belichick, who was considered a good -- but certainly not great -- coach during his stint with the Browns in the mid-1990s.