There has been considerable discussion throughout this thread regarding the global appeal of the various sports in question. I think we have reached a consensus that it is pretty much undebatable that soccer has greater global appeal, more widespread international profile, that it easily exceeds both basketball and football with regards to broad range appeal on a global scale. For the purpose of this discussion, I will put this discussion to rest.
There has also been interesting discussion about the great moments that any given sport must share, moments that inspire awe, drama, heartbreak, or ecstasy, with the thought being that for any sport to be considered the greatest sport in the world, it must have some significant defining moments, moments which move the audience, wherever they may be situated.
LSN80 mentions such moments for basketball. Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Magic Johnson. Christian Laettner. Big Sexy does the same for football. Cal/Stanford. The Flutie Hail Mary. The Vince Young Rose Bowl. Music City Miracle. The Immaculate Reception. The Joe Namath guarantee of victory. The David Tyree catch
LSN even posed the questions. "Where are the stories like this in soccer? Where are the moments that truly make the sport great?"
Let's look beyond what our myopic North American eyes will allow us to see. How about Diego Maradona in 1986 versus England? At one point in the game, there is the "hand of God" goal, one of the most controversial goals in World Cup history, one which is still looked at harshly today, two and a half decades later. 4 minutes later, the same Diego Maradona scores what is considered to be the "goal of the century, breaking past five defenders to score again in a display of athleticism and desire. Don't moments like these deserve to be recognized as being worthy of such holy f**k moments? How about in the next game of the same year, versus Belgium, when Maradona yet again takes over, scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory? I would suggest that the play of Maradona in the 1986 World Cup is certainly comparable to anything Michael Jordan or Tom Brady could bring to their sports, and when looked at through the eyes of the people most invested in it, such as the Argentinians or anyone else in the world who is paassionate about the World Cup, is every bit as equally significant a moment.
How about when Pele scored the final goal of the 1958 World Cup for Brazil? Or when David Platt scored the "wonder goal" in 1990. How about the Baggio missed opportunity in 1994, or when Andres Escobar scored into his own net (resulting in his own demise when he was murdered by a crazed fan 10 days later)?
How do you think the French felt when Zinedine Zidane, playing in his final game ever versus Italy, inexplicably headbutted Marco Materazzi in extra time, resulting in his ejection and an eventual loss for his team on penalty kicks? I am not even a soccer fan, by any stretch of the imagination, yet a quick google search tonight of these incidents, and a plethora of others, too numerous to list here, showed me several instances of "moments of significance", incidents that occurred and instilled emotions in a ravenous fan base which are every bit as real and significant as what Joe Montana or Larry Bird consistently inspires in those of us who prefer the North American sports scene.
Point being, soccer has a lot more going for it than simply the undeniable global popularity it enjoys. It too has no shortage of special moments which characterize and define the history, the legacy, the aura of the sport. Take these two facts, and throw in the athleticism of the participants, the passion of the fans, and the rich history of the sport, and I continue to maintain, soccer simply has to be seen as the greatest sport in the world.