Sports debates are fun.

There’s a reason shows like “Pardon the Interruption,” “First Take” and “Around the Horn” are some of the most popular on ESPN, even if some of the personalities involved drive us to the brink of insanity. (This would be you, Skip Bayless.)

Consider a question that was posed to me last week:

Who is the sports legend?

It was framed around a discussion about two specific athletes — Michael Jordan and Tom Brady.

There were other aspects of the debate as well:

•Does an athlete have to be retired to be a legend? Are LeBron James and Brady legends now, or must they wait until their careers are over until they have earned such a title?

•Is his or her legendary status derived only from athletic accomplishments or should fame across culture factor in as well? Does Troy Aikman’s post-QB career as a broadcaster matter in such an equation?

•How can we compare athletes across different eras? Is it even possible to look at competitors from the early 1900s and accurately compare them to those of today?

They’re all valid questions.

In the Jordan vs. Brady debate, I come down on the side of Jordan.

At the height of his career in the 1990s, he was a far more transcendent figure than Brady has been since he stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Even now, 15 years after his final retirement, his fame is still greater than that of the greatest quarterback of all time.

But Jordan and Brady are hardly the only names that belong as part of this debate.

If sports had stopped being played in 1940, Babe Ruth almost certainly would be considered the sports legend. No star in the first part of the last century shined brighter than the Sultan of Swat.

There’s probably also an argument to be made for Pelé. He is, after all, widely considered the greatest player ever in the sport that is most beloved worldwide.

Had his career not been derailed nearly a decade ago, maybe Tiger Woods would be in the mix. He was well on his way to becoming the greatest golf champion of all time before his career got derailed.

But I went in a different direction with my answer.

For me, the sports legend is not baseball’s original home run king. It’s not basketball’s six-time NBA Finals MVP. It’s not football’s five-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.

It’s Muhammad Ali.

Then known as Cassius Clay, Ali won two national Golden Gloves titles in his youth before bursting into the international spotlight in 1960 by winning the light heavyweight Olympic gold medal in Rome. At age 18, he then started his professional career.

He was 19-0 when he stepped into the ring with Sonny Liston and won the first of his three heavyweight championships. His record remained perfect in 1967 when his boxing license was suspended after he refused to enter the armed forces after being drafted.

That break came during his prime — ages 25 through 28. Imagine what he may have accomplished had he been fighting during that span.

As it was, he came back and extended his professional record to 31-0 before finally dropping the title to Joe Frazier. He would get the championship back twice more, first from George Forman in 1974 and then again from Leon Spinks late in his career.

But Ali was known for so much more than just his boxing skill.

His personality was bigger than any arena in which he fought, with poetry flowing effortlessly from his lips — “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He was a leading voice on a variety of social, religious and racial issues.

And anyone who doubts his level of fame, respect and admiration need only look to YouTube — — and watch the 1996 Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Atlanta. Even at age 54 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he defined what it is to be a legend.

But while there was no objection to Ali as my answer, there came a question in response:

Is boxing considered a sport?

That’s a discussion for another column.

Aren’t sports debates fun?