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LeBron on his killer instinct vs. Jordan/Kobe: “There are different ways to hunt”

Oct 15, 2013, 5:00 PM EDT

Heat Media Day Basketball AP

In the litany of charges LeBron James’ critics make against him, this is the one many seem to make their tent pole, their core argument, the one they come back to as if it trumps everything ultimately proves their point:

LeBron just lacks the killer instinct of Michael Jordan, or even Kobe Bryant.

Those two are brazenly, showy alpha-male competitive and happy to tell you how they will take on all comers. For some fans that has become the gold standard — a lot of fans want their stars to show those traits. LeBron has never been that guy. But in an interview with Chris Broussard of ESPN the Magazine, LeBron said not to underestimate his competitiveness.

“I’ll just put it this way, man. There are different ways to hunt. I watch the Discovery Channel all the time, and you look at all these animals in the wild. And they all hunt a different way to feed their families. They all kill a different way. Lions do it strategically — two females will lead, and then everybody else will come in. Hyenas will just go for it. There are different ways to kill, and I don’t think people understand that. Everybody wants everybody to kill the same way. Everybody wants everybody to kill like MJ or kill like Kobe. Magic didn’t kill the way they killed. Does that mean he didn’t have a killer instinct? Kareem didn’t either. But does that mean Kareem didn’t have a killer instinct? The same with Bird. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a killer instinct. Tim Duncan don’t kill like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, but I’ve played against Tim Duncan twice in the Finals and I know for sure he’s got a killer instinct.

“So there are different ways to kill. MJ had a killer instinct for sure. But if people really think that MJ didn’t talk to nobody and didn’t smile on the court, they’re crazy. They’re crazy. I’ve seen him. I was watching a clip the other day of him blocking Charles Barkley, and they’re laughing about the play — on the floor. Right now, if I block Kevin Durant on the floor, or I block Carmelo Anthony and we laugh about it? Ahh, I’m going to get killed [laughing]. I’m telling you. But there are different ways of killing.”

We’ve mythologized Jordan into a terminator, a killing machine, and that doesn’t do the man justice. He did love playing the game and it showed, it wasn’t all cold blooded and ruthless.

Fans — and we in the media can be guilty of this as well — try to fit players’ personalities into a box. We expect our elite linebackers to have some Ray Lewis attitude in them. We want our best hockey players, no matter how much they can score, to have some Gordie Howe in them and want to drop the gloves. We not only compare these stars’ resumes of titles and accolades, but we try to decide who had the best personality for their sport. It’s narrow minded of us — people are different, they can show their competitiveness differently.

Jordan is the standard bearer for the “best basketball player of all time” argument right now — and he deserves that tag, or at least to be in the conversation. But that doesn’t mean the next guy who steps into that conversation — whether it’s LeBron or Kevin Durant or Andrew Wiggins or some seventh grader we don’t know the name of yet — doesn’t have to do it the way MJ did it. Or the way Kobe did it. They have to do it their own way.

And we should let them.

  1. realninerfan22 - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    Lbj missed the whole dam point. Killer instincts isn’t about rather you laugh on the court everyone does.. Lbj is mentally weak,he isn’t as mentally tough as they are. Its easy to get in lbjs head. That’s what killer instincts mean. He just happens to play with a cleaner. Go ask Tim Grover what that is..

    • detectivejimmymcnulty - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:24 PM

      I think you missed the whole point here.

    • antistratfordian - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:20 PM

      Tim Grover? They already asked Grover – he said this:

      “He’s going to win his fourth MVP, rightly deserved, no question about that. He’s unbelievable from a physical standpoint, from a basketball skills standpoint. Relentless, what we talk about in the book, is training from the neck up. If they win the championship this year, if [LeBron] leads them the way he’s been leading them all season, he will definitely be in the Cleaner status.

      So Tim Grover thinks LeBron has that killer instinct.

      You want to talk about weak mentally? Look at Kobe’s Game 7s. Or just look at Kobe’s Game 7 vs the Suns. Yikes. Out of Jordan, LeBron and Kobe it is Mamba who can’t get his mind right for a Game 7 – the pressure is always too much for him.

    • jimjacknjose - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:47 PM

      Ease-up a bit. Being mentally weak doesn’t get you 2 rings.

  2. vi3tguy415 - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    do you work 9-5? if so, this quote is for you. ” YOU ALL WILL GO BACK TO YOUR MISERABLE LIVES” SAID the #bestwannabe. go ahead and support him.

    • detectivejimmymcnulty - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:29 PM

      “Sometimes he forgets he’s the best, whereas, I don’t.”
      – Kobe

      I loved when Barkley said the people who hate Lebron are losers. Meaning they have nothing better in their life than to look for reasons to hate Lebron.

      Seriously, I don’t like how Kobe plays on the court, but I don’t hate him because I don’t know Kobe. Lebron is my favorite player but he could be the biggest jerk in the world so I don’t hold him in some kind of mythological regard.

      This is the problem with fandom anymore. If you like Kobe you hate Lebron and vice versa and that goes for any sport and many players.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:50 PM

        Agreed. Personality probably shouldn’t enter the conversation when we compare players, just performance and winning. I guess certain things can be relevant like how well a guy leads or maybe sacrifices for a team… but Kobe being a butthole is his own business. I used to hate Kobe but I’ve really come to respect what he does for the league and his team. I was legitimately bummed when he went down last year. LeBron is my favorite player to watch too because he’s just so freaking good. You can count on a 25-7-7 almost every night.

      • jimeejohnson - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:11 PM

        Best comment about LeBron haters, ever!

    • jpstyles314 - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:09 AM

      “At the end of the day, all the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today,”
      “They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point,”

      -Lebron James

    • jpstyles314 - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:14 AM

      Who are you quoting? Lebron didn’t say that.

  3. provguard - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    Any and everyday I would take Lebron over Kobe…Anyday!! Killer instinct is overrated!!!!

    • vi3tguy415 - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:02 PM

      I WILL TAKE KOBE OVER LEBUM ANY DAY AND EVERYDAY. ANYDAY!!!

      • domblaze - Oct 16, 2013 at 2:08 AM

        I guess that’s good if you want an inferior player. 3 championships with Shaq in his prime, the most unstoppable big man of all time, doesn’t make Kobe better than LeBron. Otherwise, their 2 championships each are pretty on par.

    • jimeejohnson - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:10 PM

      Killer instinct ain’t overrated. Ever see the Sopranos?

      • detectivejimmymcnulty - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:31 PM

        I just came to the realization that Tony was whacked at the end. I think it’s because I really wanted to be Tony.

    • asimonetti88 - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:09 AM

      Killer instinct is not overrated in sports in any way, shape or form. At the end of the day, “killer instinct” is just another term for being able to close. LeBron has showed an improved ability to close out games and playoffs series the last couple years. He may not be as alpha-male about it as Kobe or MJ was/are, but he can still close in his own way.

      • ricecrispi28 - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:18 PM

        Lebron just accepted the fact he’s better early in the game and should go all out for 3 quarters. Lebron knows he gets tight at the end of games and doesn’t have ice blood like Kobe or MJ or West. He isn’t even close in clutch ability in 4th quarter games as most of the top10 Goats. He still performs and gets stats and plays hard every game. Lebron is better of admitting his flaw and letting Wade Chalmers, Battier or Allen hit jumpshots or 3pters because they are good at that. He’ll win more games like that then tryign to make buzzer beaters.

        Even MJ had Kerr hit one for him. Magic need some big games for Worthy, and Kobe need Fisher and Horry to hit some last second shots. I never heard Shaq hitting a game winner.

      • borderline1988 - Oct 21, 2013 at 11:26 PM

        “Lebron knows he gets tight at the end of games and doesn’t have ice blood like Kobe”

        I’m not denying that Lebron can sometimes get a bit tight near the end of games. That being said, what does ‘ice blood’ really do for Kobe?

        Lebron’s stats are much better than Kobe’s in th 4th, in practically every single category. And Lebron is arguably the greatest playoff elimination-game performer in NBA history. So you know what? I’ll take Lebron over Kobe anyday or any quarter.

        I’ll let Kobe miss with confidence and with all the ice in his blood that the Arctic has to offer. Meanwhile, Lebron is a better pressure performer, regardless of how he mentally approaches clutch scenarios.

  4. jthammerstix - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    He’s a bum

    • detectivejimmymcnulty - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:38 PM

      Explain how Lebron is a bum. I’m sure your reasons are captivating.

      • asimonetti88 - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:11 AM

        According to the dictionary, a bum is “a person who devotes a great deal of time to a specified activity. ie- a ski bum”

        LeBron seems to devote a great deal of time to playing basketball. So perhaps he is a bum.

  5. ProBasketballPundit - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    Responding to my own comment so it’ll show up to others. Disregard this one.

    • ProBasketballPundit - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:02 PM

      After 2 championship and Finals MVPs this argument against LeBron has grown a little tired. LBJ’s body language used to be a little suspect like when the Cavs got blown out of a game 5 by the Celtics and LeBron sort of no-showed the game, but that has changed. After 3 games of the 2013 Finals LeBron had every reason to regress back to that intimidated, passive guy the critics used to lambast… but he came out in game 4 and starting aggressively beating the Spurs with jumpers. He has overcome those demons and is a champion now.

      The only MJ/Kobesque example of killer instinct for LeBron is Game 6 of the 2012 eastern conference finals. The Celtics bullied LeBron physically and verbally while taking a 3-2 lead in the series. They figured they had him right where they wanted him. But LeBron snapped. He came out and reigned hellfire on them in game 6, finishing with an unapologetic 45/15/5. We won’t see that LeBron ever again probably because teams know better. And it isn’t his natural state. And that’s fine.

      • redbaronx - Oct 16, 2013 at 2:50 PM

        @ProBasketballPundit – Spot on. LeBron may have had a mental toughness issue earlier in his career, but that’s certainly not the case now. People forget how young he was when he first came into the league and without any college experience. There is something to say for players going to college and having to play conference and NCAA tournament games which are tough pressure cooker kind of games.

        LeBron is fine now and people that are still riding him on the mental toughness issue are just oblivious.

      • ricecrispi28 - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:07 PM

        Lebron still disappears at the end of the game. Lebron will give everything for 3 and 1/2 quarters and dominate a game. If the game is tight near the end of 4th quarter, suddenly he disappears. You could swear Lebron is on the bench. He’ll pass up shots, pass the ball to Wade or Allen and won’t touch the ball or drive it. I’ve seen him score on drive to the basket or get foul calls on every possession in the 3rd quarter and early 4th quarter. Then he won’t even drive the ball to the hoop. It’s obvious he doesn’t have the killer instinct, but he’s still a great player, but not a closer like Magic, Bird, Kareem, MJ, Hakeem, Duncan, or West.

        I seen those guys demand the ball the and carry teams from start to end. Lebron does enough in 3 1/2 quarters as much as those guys, he doesn’t like to close shop.

  6. dls612 - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    critics or whoever! If you constantly throw LeBron name in these stupid one on one and who’s the best and who has the best killer instinct questions! You’re already second guessing whether he’s better than the both of them anyway! And putting him in the top three best players ever to play the game otherwise he wouldn’t be worth mentioning when you speak of Kobe and Jordan! It’s always LeBron this LeBron ain’t that so what’s the point of comparing him if he don’t measure up! Envy will a speak the truth always!

  7. ProBasketballPundit - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    I’ve always loved watching LeBron and I admit I was disappointed with his playoff struggles 2008-2011. But I NEVER wished for him to be more like Michael Jordan. MJ is a pathological competitor who mistreated his coaches, teammates, and friends. He had to compete over every single little thing and played 18-36 holes of golf on his off days. He even tweaked his knee golfing while the Bulls were in the playoffs; those aren’t the actions of a responsible or well-balanced man. I’m glad LBJ found another way to win, for his own sake.

    • ProBasketballPundit - Oct 15, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      Geez why aren’t my comments showing up?

      • jimeejohnson - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:10 PM

        Try hitting your refresh button on your browser and check if your comment then appears. Good luck!

      • miamatt - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:51 PM

        Happens to me on the regular, doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to what comment doesn’t show up and when.

      • miamatt - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:52 PM

        ^^^^^^ meant for Mr. Pundit up there.

      • asimonetti88 - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:12 AM

        In my experience, if I write more than two sentences it rarely shows up.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Oct 16, 2013 at 4:23 AM

        The tricky thing is how I can see my own comment but others can’t. The way to tell is if you’ve made the 7th comment on a page but the count at the top says 6 comments. Replying to my own comment used to cause it to show up but on this particular page only my reply showed up. Ugh….

  8. jimeejohnson - Oct 15, 2013 at 6:08 PM

    LeBron’s not only a hunter, but he’s hunted, with very little success by those hunting him. The successful hunter knows how to stalk his prey and then, at the right moment, go for the kill. LeBron is usually the one going for the kill. Kevin Durant is one of the best at that, too. MJ was the best, ever!

  9. antistratfordian - Oct 15, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    Brilliant quote from LeBron.

    One thing is for sure – LeBron’s method has been more effective. He’s far more accomplished than both by age 28 partly because the dimension of his passing, and his desire to keep his teammates involved, is as lethal as his scoring. The threat of LeBron’s passing made a coach like Frank Vogel take his best defensive player off the floor for the most important play of a playoff game! Vogel was afraid of his passing ability… and it lost the Pacers the game.

    In any case, Jordan and Kobe didn’t start winning until Phil Jackson convinced both to start trusting their teammates more… in essence, until both started playing more like James.

    Phil Jackson, The Last Season, pg. 49: “I would prefer that Kobe step to the edge of the precipice, draw the requisite double-team, and then find the open man for a much better look. In almost every possession, an open shot is the highest percentage shot.”

    Phil Jackson, Eleven Rings, pg. 81-82: “My first step was to talk to Michael… I knew Michael wasn’t a fan of the triangle… This was not going to be an easy conversation. Basically I was planning to ask Michael, who had won his third scoring title in a row the previous season, to reduce the number of shots he took so that other members of the team could get more involved with the offense. ‘The important thing is to let everybody touch the ball, so they won’t feel like spectators. You can’t beat a good defensive team with one man. It’s got to be a team effort.’ Michael agreed to give my plan a try.”

    The Jordan Rules, pg. 64: “Even as a pro, Jordan conceded once, ‘I thought of myself first, the team second. I always wanted my teams to be successful, but I wanted to be the main cause.'”

    Bill Cartwright, 1990: “I’ve got one fear, it’s that I’m going to play all this time in the league and come so close and never get a ring. I only want to win. Michael’s got so much talent and can do so much for this team, but I keep thinking he’s going to keep us all from it unless he changes.

    Scottie Pippen, 1991: “You can tell M.J. has more confidence in everyone. And I’d have to say it’s come just in these playoffs (1991). He’s playing team ball and for the first time I can say he’s not going out there looking to score. He seems to have the feeling, and we all seem to, really, that if we play together everyone can help.”

    Phil Jackson, talking about how the Bulls reached their true potential when Jordan came back in 1995 and started approaching the game more like LeBron James: “I think [Michael] understood that the ability that he had was a gift, and that the people that he played with were also gifted, but not in the way that he was gifted. To be a really good team, you have to bring out all those gifts and help your teammates be better players. And I think he was capable of doing that much better in his second career as an NBA basketball player. And much more generous with his time, I think he was much more encouraging as a teammate.”

    • ProBasketballPundit - Oct 16, 2013 at 4:29 AM

      Wow. That was a well-researched comment. I read The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith and really got a sense of how MJ approached the game before the championships. He was a massive a-hole. He even hated Pippen the first few years. Glad Phil came along when he did.

  10. detectivejimmymcnulty - Oct 15, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    The interview is pretty good. Him saying people can say whatever they want about his 2011 Finals performance because he can’t defend his performance shows how much he’s matured. I’ve always been told the best lessons come through losses and not wins and it seems that losing that year might have been for the best with the benefit of hindsight.

    • miamatt - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:47 PM

      Well said. I don’t want to be an apologist for what was a missed opportunity for a championship, but if LeBron had been allowed to escape those 2011 Finals with a ring… he might never have become the player the Heat needed him to be the last two years,

  11. zoomy123 - Oct 15, 2013 at 7:16 PM

    LBJ is, of course, spot on here. Very profound.

  12. hildezero - Oct 15, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    @ProBasketballPundit,
    XD Yeah, I know. That happens to me, too. It’s this ProBasketball section that has some strict mods. I hate these guys.

  13. ethanm24 - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    Lebron and killer instinct should NEVER be put in the same sentence. Leave that for MJ, Kobe, Melo, Dirk, etc

    • miamatt - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:48 PM

      Melo, LOL

    • detectivejimmymcnulty - Oct 16, 2013 at 1:59 AM

      Lebron only has the highest PPG in Game 7’s and playoff elimination games….in NBA history.

      • miamatt - Oct 16, 2013 at 10:41 AM

        Funny how a fact can merit thumbs down, LOL

  14. miamatt - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:49 PM

    I love the way LeBron expresses his point, he has improved leaps and bounds with regards to how he presents himself to the media. Maybe he is less guarded now, more honest.

    I couldn’t agree more with him on this point.

  15. nguyenstuh - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:49 AM

    Wow! I don’t know how people still call lebron, lebum Smh

  16. panchopolarbear - Oct 16, 2013 at 4:20 AM

    LeBron has truly matured a lot. I don’t see why people continue to mindlessly hate on him though.

  17. jtmartinez34 - Oct 16, 2013 at 8:36 AM

    Thanks for the kindergarten analogy LeBron. The player who chokes, unless he has a 10 point lead. When it counts and he actually has to think about it and not just react, he tanks. I was watching the Discovery channel…..whata dolt.

  18. gmsingh123 - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    I’m not a LeBron fan at all, but isn’t the jury still out? Jordan’s career is over, Kobe’s is in its twilight, and LeBron is probably right in the middle of his. When he’s at about the 12 or 14 year mark we should be able to draw conclusions. At this point I don’t think he has the mental toughness that Kobe or MJ have, but if he makes it to his 4th or 5th championship and he’s still money I will probably be singing a different tune.

  19. nard100 - Oct 16, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    Sigh. The only reason only reason people make the killer instinct remark about LeBron is because 90% of the time he is a perfect gentleman whether in victory or defeat. Unfortunately, in our morally bankrupt society, that is view as weak. If after a loss, he were to hand out the double middle finger and drop f-bombs, then he’s tough. Because he doesn’t, he’s soft. Because he continues to get his teammates involved even when things are tough, he doesn’t have the killer instinct. How well has the “killer instinct” served Kobe the last 2 years? How well did it serve MJ in baseball? Exactly. It is sooooo overated and so misunderstood. Just because someone makes a lot of noise doesn’t mean they want it more.

    • gmsingh123 - Oct 19, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      I completely disagree. You could probably total up the number of times LeBron has lost his composure in clutch games. My favorite was when he got hit with a flagrant and complained later that refs were singling him out by hitting him with flag rants. Except that he hadn’t gotten one in six years.

  20. ricecrispi28 - Oct 17, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    Lebron is a good player but he lacks the killer instinct or drive to finish games. Magic didn’t have a jumpshot. Bird was no athleticism. Jordan ballhogged. Kobe ball hogged even more. Kareem was very critical and demanding on players and tempermental. Chamberlain wanted to be popular and friends with everyone. Russell had no offensive game.

    Lebron can fix his flaw only if he wants to fix it and I see him rationalizing why he disappears in the 4th quarter of tight games and looks for teammates to chip in. He’s lucky he has Wade and Ray Allen and that’s what teammates are going to do, fill in your weakness.

    Lebron just has to accepted and don’t make it painfully obvious he doesn’t want to look bad at the end of games.

  21. cranespy - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    He measures up to one and only one basketball ICON…

    Meadowlark Lemon….the Clown PRINCE of Basketball.
    You never saw the true ICONS act like a child dancing on the sideline, mugging for the camera, sitting the ball down and running away as fast as he can to avoid a temper tantrum over a call he didn’t get. And then there is the infamous fake cough that he and D Wade did for the camera. He will NEVER garner the respect of Jordan or Magic or Bird or Kobe. He is a great athlete but only an average bballer. His shtick will grow sour on Sputh Beach…look for him to try and get back toCleveland to right the wrong…please Cleveland don’t bite!

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