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.