What separates the great from the legend? Why is it that certain players seem to rise not only to the occasion, but rip your heart out at the same time? One answer: killer instinct.
Michael Jordan is arguably regarded as the greatest basketball player of all-time. I’m not here to debate if he is or isn’t. But one trait is undeniable: Michael’s killer instinct.
MJ would not only beat you but he would slash your throat in the process. He took competitiveness to an entirely new level. He refused to lose.
Magic Johnson appeared to be all smiles, running and gunning, dishing and faking. But down deep, Magic was just as ruthless as MJ. The Magic man wouldn’t want to lose at anything. He’s notoriously known for wanting to win at cards on the team plane as much as during Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Larry Bird was brutal. He’d do anything to win. And, he’d look you in the eye and tell you that you were going to lose and how. The legend goes that he walked into the locker room at an NBA All-Star game before the three-point contest and barked these famous words: “You’re all playing for second.” Bird then went out onto the court, kept his warm-ups on and calmly won the contest.
Cold blooded: That’s the trait. Competitiveness at everything: That’s the characteristic. Not just willing to take the game winner but demanding it. Pushing teammates aside and telling them to get out of the way.
Playing each game, each minute, like it’s your last. That’s part of it. You get the drift.
On both ends of the court, whether a preseason scrimmage, a dog day of February game or the NBA Finals, the players with killer instinct rise up and rip your heart out.
So, who today has these same traits as legends of the past?
Here’s a ranking of the top 10 players in today’s NBA who have real killer instinct?
This guy is silent but deadly. He flies far under the radar being on the Portland Trailblazers, but Roy is a silent killer. Not only is he a fantastic game-closer, but his work ethic is right up there with the league’s best. He has a killer instinct that will only grow stronger over time.
This guy plays like his life depends upon it. He flies around the court, contorting his body like a gymnast or a stripper. He not only is the Spurs’ game-closer in most situations, but he has also got that 'mess-with-you-on-D' attitude.
He likes to get under the oppositions' skin and he does. And he’s a winner, not only in the NBA but leading his home country of Argentina to Olympic gold in Greece.
He barely makes this list not because of his play in the NBA, but from this past summer at the World Championships. Not only did he rise to the occasion and carry the team to the title, but he did it in a way in which he was ruthless.
He might have started slow, but once he got going he was like MJ of old, just putting his teammates on his back and getting everyone out of the way so he could do his thing. He’s a deadly scorer but now he has shown he can get it done during “winning time,” as Magic Johnson used to say.
Now, let’s see if Durant does the same thing during the NBA season. If so, he’ll be far higher on this list in a very short time.
This is the little guy who you don't think can kick your ass but does. He’s ruthless. Look at those photos. He looks more like a hockey player than hoops star.
Nash refuses to lose and plays his heart out. And he relishes in hitting a last second shot and he’ll smile at you in the process. He might have lost a step now at 36, but barely. The fire in his belly still burns.
His bright star might be fading, but don’t ever go to sleep when the Big Fundamental is around. He’ll slash your throat, you just won’t hear him coming.
He may be all reserved on and off the court—not animated—but that doesn’t mean he doesn't have killer instinct. In fact, he’s sort of like Magic Johnson. You don’t see Duncan coming until it is too late—like three NBA titles too late.
As much as it pains me to put a Celtic on this list, Rondo has killer instinct.
While he is garnering all this attention for his play on the offensive end of the court, with all the mesmerizing assist stats, it’s still his defense that demonstrates his killer instinct. He’s literally a human vacuum cleaner, sucking up steals all over the court. Don’t be surprised if he wins Defensive Player of the Year.
And Rondo has a little Dennis Rodman attitude to go with his killer instinct.
Seriously, if this guy ever gets a real consistent mid-range jumper (he doesn't even need to hit from long range), it will be crazy how good he can be. And he's a Celtic. Ouch!
I must be drinking green Kool-Aid to have another Celtic on this list. But there is no denying that Pierce has the heart of a champion. We don’t have to like him, but he has to be respected. Even when he rolls out of the wheelchair at the NBA Finals and we’re not sure if he was faking it or not, it doesn’t matter.
He got back up off the canvas and carried his team to the title. And he fights like that all season long, even against the Clippers.
I can’t believe this many Boston Celtics have made the list, but there is no denying it. This guy’s intensity is legendary. Sometimes, it boils over and burns not only other players, but Garnett as well. Look at the mess his mouth has created recently.
But does Garnett really care? No way. This guy is warrior through and through. Besides Kobe, no one comes close to matching how hard Garnett works. And he’s got the trash talking to match his killer instinct. Garnett is already a legend in both respects.
Forget LeBron James and all the hype. He's not even on this list. LBJ may be a great player, and talented, but I have yet to see any real killer instinct.
However, the real closer in Miami is the one that has been there all along. Wade is cut from the same mold as the legends of the past. This guy comes to play, on both ends of the floor, each-and-every night. He pushes himself to near Kobe-like work ethic.
Wade didn’t win a Finals MVP for backing down or shying away. He’s a winner at everything.
Kobe might actually have more killer instinct than MJ or Magic. He’s the definition of warrior. No one in the game today comes close to matching Kobe.
He’s No. 1 and there isn’t a real No. 2.
Kobe's like Bird before that three-point contest. With Kobe’s gladiator mentality, everyone else is really playing for second, especially when it comes to killer instinct.
To understand even more about Kobe's warrior mentality, check out the new book The Kobe Code at www.PatMixon.com.