What does it take to be a champion? Is it some innate talent? Or is it something that you learn along the way? Does it take countless hours in the gym? Or do you need cold blood to take your team to the highest point? Maybe it’s an instinct buried within some of us, a primal evolutionary trait that simply cannot be measured on the stat sheet. It is an internal attribute, and it cannot be taught.
We’ve seen a lot of players come and go in the NBA, but only a few of them had this special sparkle in their eye. Only a few of them were able to take the ball when it was scolding hot, in order to take the final shot that won the game. You could just see it in their eyes, in those final seconds of the match, and it was scary to most people.
The NBA is a cutthroat business, and you can get sliced to pieces if you stop paying attention even for a split second. Here is a list of the 10 NBA players who showed this killer instinct, the competitiveness and the ability to push everybody aside, teammates and opponents alike, in their chase for the win:
Honorable Mention: Tim Duncan
His nickname was the Big Fundamental, and he was without a doubt one of the greatest power forwards of all time. He won five rings with the San Antonio Spurs, won the NBA Finals MVP Award three times, and was named MVP twice. He was not flashy, and he did all his damage while being suspiciously quiet on the pitch.
Before you even knew what happened, Duncan had already scored 20 points with 10 rebounds on any given night. He was really simplistic in his game, you would not see him send behind-the-back passes or perform flashy dunks. But more importantly, he was a good guy. In his playing days he would not only refrain from trash-talking, but he actually gave advice to opponents during games. The sport needs more people like him.
10. Jerry West
Jerry West’s strong ethic and dedication were legendary around the league. He was one of the most lethal shooting guards in the 60’s, and there is no surprise that the NBA logo is made after him. He had a very rough childhood, but used those events to work on his skills, and went on to become one of the best players in the NBA.
He wrote history with the Lakers, and he was nicknamed “Mr. Clutch”, for his ability to score buzzer-beaters even in the most unlikely of situations. He might have won just a single ring with the Lakers, but he was a whopping fourteen-time All-Star. He is also the only player to be named Finals MVP, despite being on the losing team (1969). He had his head into the game and he always listened to the coach during time-outs, but he was a stone-cold scorer.
9. Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller thrived on the clutch, in fact so much, that he was considered second only to Michael Jordan in that area. He is one of those players who loved being the bad guy. It was almost like he didn’t want his team to win – he wanted the other team to lose. His scrawny physique was not indicative of the bad-ass he really was, and he would trash-talk pretty much anyone in the game.
He is truly one of the best 3-point shooters of all time, but he was not at all quiet. He would strut around like a kid that just beat you in a video-game, with numerous celebratory dances in his arsenal. He was just too damn good, and that’s exactly why he got away with being so cocky throughout his career.
8. Kevin Garnett
The Big Ticket will surely be revered as one of the most intense players of all time in the NBA. His work Ethic was stunning, and his undepleted energy and vigor were to be jealous of. This guy brought high levels of competitiveness on the court, he was a true leader, and never gave anything out for free.
While most players take a free shot after the whistle is blown, KG never took a moment off and made sure to swat anything that went near the basket. He was a true beast inside the court, and that simply cannot be taught. He even said it himself “You can’t teach the beast. It’s either in you or it isn’t. You can’t just go to the store and buy a six-pack of the beast. It doesn’t work like that.”
7. Allen Iverson
Every time Allen Iverson stepped foot on the court, the opponents knew that they were in for a wild ride. Despite his small figure of just 1.83m (6ft), he had an impressive amount of ways to score the ball. He would enter the non-stop attack mode on any given night, and he was ready to take 30 shots per game.
He would just not stop attacking, he would go alone versus five players, and he was really a joy to watch. He truly believed he was unstoppable, and actually proved it throughout his career. The guy was so hard-core, that he played in the 2001 finals with a whopping eleven different injuries. Only one of them would be enough to keep a player sidelined these days, which goes to show what a true killer he was.
6. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has this insane grit and intensity in his game, and couldn’t be left out of this list. No matter who he plays against, he will try to dunk on A-NY-ONE. He goes all in on his drives, and he just won’t stop till he gets what he wants. He has posterized numerous players so far, and the list will go on, as long as there are players who try to block him. Posting near triple-doubles in each game not for his own sake, but for his team. He is a true Beast and an unstoppable force.
Michael Jordan says Russell Westbrook reminds him of younger self:
“Thirty years ago, that’s me,” Jordan said. “The attitude, trying to prove myself. Showing so much passion for the game of basketball. You see it in his play. You can tell he loves the game. He plays with energy and flair.”
5. Dwyane Wade
While way past his prime Dwyane Wade is still giving us glimpses of his “Flash” days. One of the best slashers in the NBA during his prime, with an extraordinary ability to get to the free throw line consistently. He also has an over-developed post game, while his pump-fakes have sent a lot of opponents flying.
Moreover, his defensive skills are still pretty scary at the age of 35. While he is not the best sharp-shooter in the game, the Flash always sliced his way towards the basket, often making three-point plays. He has scored a massive amount of game-winners in his career, and has carried his team to win, even in the most improbable of situations.
4. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson definitely had a killer mentality as a player. However, what distinguished him from the likes of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan was the fact that he could flip the “killer mentality” on and off, just like a switch. While being one of the sweetest guys before and after a game, he could just switch into a cold-blooded assassin during the matches.
The guy could just joke around with a smile on his face, but when the whistle blew, he just turned into a total beast. He would not only beat you, but he wanted to utterly destroy you in the court. He would do whatever was needed in order to win, and he would steamroll anyone who dared to get in the way.
3. Larry Bird
Larry Bird was not a nice guy as other players have noticed. He was insanely good, despite some people thinking that he was extremely lucky with his shots. He was so brutal, that he’d look you in the eye and tell you that you are going to lose, and how.
Legend has it that he walked into a locker room before an NBA-All Star three-point contest, announcing the famous words: “I hope all you guys in here are thinking about second place, because I’m winning this”. He then went out onto the court, kept his warm-up jacket on and calmly won the contest. He tormented his opposing players, and he was one of the most frustrating players to play against.
2. Kobe Bryant
There is probably no contest about him being one of the best fourth-quarter players in the history of the NBA. On numerous occasions, he was the go-to man when the games drew to a close. His strong mentality and his insane skill have him sitting dangerously close to the most lethal players of all time.
You just saw it in his eyes, and a little bit by the way he chewed his gum – you knew that he was pissed off. You knew what was coming. He hated losing, and he did anything in order to win. He might have not been the best of teammates out there, but all his teammates were happy to have him on their side. There was no stopping Kobe, he was ruthless enough to play the last three minutes of a match with a torn ligament in the pinkie of his shooting hand. A true legend.
1. Michael Jordan
Which brings us to the top of our list, and here there could be none other than the greatest of the great, the marvel that was Micheal Jordan. He is without a doubt the greatest basketball player of all time, and whoever thinks otherwise should go for a check-up. He would not only beat you, but he would also make you cry in the process.
He had the guts to take over any kind of situation, and turn it into gold. Whether you rooted for the Bulls, saw your team destroyed by MJ, you simply cannot feel anything but respect him.
His motivation to strike at the heart of his enemies was one-of-a-kind. He is the standard by which “killer mentalities” are defined, and the basketball world just might not see anyone like him. Ever.