Recently, The Athletic polled 127 NBA players to ask who they think the greatest basketball player of all time is. Out of 122 players (five abstained), 73% voted for Michael Jordan, 11.9% voted for LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant took third with 10.6% of votes.

LeBron may be the GOAT, but he is also one of the founding investors in Blaze Pizza ($PRIVATE:BLAZEPIZZA). Meanwhile, Kobe's Los Angeles Lakers teammate Shaq, who didn't make the G.O.A.T. list, was announced to the board of Papa John's ($PZZA) and the pizza chain's new face of the franchise, taking over for the disgraced CEO and founder John Schnatter.

When looking at the raw footprints of both Blaze and Papa John's, Shaq has a size advantage. However, in terms of momentum, LeBron and Blaze are looking to torch one of the old guards (er, centers) of the United States chain pizza war.

In terms of the number of stores in population-dense areas, Papa John's has plenty of established strongholds. By population density in core-base statistical areas (i.e. Los Angeles and its suburbs), Papa John's scorches Blaze in the bigger cities. This includes all the city areas where LeBron and Shaq played in at some point in their careers — Los Angeles and Miami — and the one city they played together in: Cleveland.

But outside the big cities, there are a few core-based statistical areas where LeBron has a few (percentage) points on Shaq, or completely shuts Papa John's out, when it comes to population density statistics. Some of these areas are the middle of the California coast from Salinas to Santa Barbara, Rapid City, South Dakota, and Twin Falls, Idaho.

Overall, Papa John's is still beating Blaze Pizza by a wide margin, but it also has about 27 years on the young upstart pizza chain. And according to location data, Blaze is on the rise, as it is now experimenting with more stores that have delivery services — not to mention its partnership with Postmates ($PRIVATE:POSTMATES), and moving fast on its expansion plans.

(Note: the data took a few days off in November 2016.)

Meanwhile over the past year, Papa John's is in a period of retraction. Declining same-stores sales at the end of 2018 meant the potential closure of up to 250 stores in non-core markets, which Blaze could enter as an alternative. Especially as Blaze's methodology of pizza is far different from Papa John's — Blaze allows customers to custom-order pizzas on site quickly while Papa John's is more traditional — a continued decline in locations paired with the rise of Blaze could be a big problem for Big Diesel and company.

But for now, Shaq is the face of the franchise that is towering over the young rookie rival in Blaze Pizza, and in the years to come, Papa John's will have to make the most out of a few rebuilding years after plummeting to the bottom of the pizza war standings.

Ad placeholder