What MJ Had That LeBron Does Not

Killer instinct.

Enter Bill Simmons:

Jordan was a ruthless motherfucker. Jordan was a killer. Jordan didn't care if his teammates despised him. Jordan never, ever, not in a million years, would have allowed his team to quit in the final two minutes of Thursday night's game the way LeBron did. His teammates feared him, loathed him, revered him and played accordingly. Bird had that same quality. In the second half of his career, so did Magic. Winning meant so much to those guys that their teammates almost didn't have a choice; they had to follow suit. Or else.

Partly, LeBron has never had a good coach.

To illustrate what he could have, Simmons relays this story of Pat Riley, coach of the Miami Heat, who in Game 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals, at halftime threw away the playbook and the X's and O's and took a different tack:

He screamed at his guys like a boxing trainer. You're tougher than them! YOU'RE TOUGHER THAN THEM! Don't let up! They are ready to quit! They are ready to fold! Keep attacking them! Keep getting to the rim! Keep knocking their asses down! No layups! No dunks! Stay together! YOU ARE TOUGHER THAN THEM! YOU ARE TOUGHER THAN THEM! That's what he did for the entire second half. Eventually, his players believed him.

Here's my post on the components of killer instinct. See Chris Yeh's comment about most great men and women of history being bastards. Here's Brad Feld's 45 second advice video to a portfolio company.


Some years ago I watched LeBron play as a high school athlete at the Adidas Big Time tournament in Las Vegas. The gym was full of NBA scouts and media. LeBron was playing for the Oakland Soldiers (he played on two AAU teams then — the Soldiers and his Cleveland club). After watching LeBron play no defense, score almost no points, and seem oddly detached from the game, I remember telling someone there that he would go down as "severely overrated."

It remains my greatest mis-assessment of talent ever.

5 comments on “What MJ Had That LeBron Does Not
  • Of course you were wrong about calling LeBron “overrated” but the anecdote about the AAU game is telling.

    Jordan had to win at everything. literally everything. He was pathologically competitive. The stories of his competitiveness are legendary. He even bought a pac-man machine for his house so he could be better than Dave Corzine. About one of Michael’s gambling problems in which he kept losing over and over to the same hustler, MJ’s father hit the nail on the head. He said “Michael doesn’t have a gambling problem. he has a competitiveness problem.”

    And, yes, LeBron does not coach not only better but of the stature to tell him he’s not a great outside shooter.

  • I watched the entire 4th quarter of Game 6, and was shouting at the TV in disgust. When your team is trailing, you can’t walk the ball up, or stand in the corner watching Mo Williams dribble aimlessly and shoot hook shots, or Anderson Varejao shoot ill-advised 3s.

    I remember in 2006 when Kobe went on strike in the second half of Game 7 vs the Suns. After a disastrous first half where his teammates (remember, he had a starting lineup featuring basketball immortals like Luke Walton, Smush Parker, and Kwame Brown) played poorly, especially on defense, Kobe refused to shoot in the second half. I was angry, because I wanted to see Kobe the gunslinger come out in the second half and try to shoot the Lakers back into the game.

    That wasn’t 1/10th as bad as what I saw on Thursday. Those Lakers were clearly an inferior team, and had no chance to win a title. And the game wasn’t even close when Kobe went into shutdown mode–they were trailing by 20 at the half.

    The Cavs were within 4 points early in the 4th quarter. When Lebron basically quit, they were still easily within striking distance.

    Lebron may go on to win 5 championships, but this game will always haunt him.

  • Wouldn’t it depend on what LeBron’s real goal is? If he’s sacrificing a win for his team to make some kind of point, that’s a killer instinct in itself.

  • “It remains my greatest mis-assessment of talent ever.”

    I think a lot of people can say that about their assessment of Lebron pre-nba.. i’d go out on a limb and say he might even have the biggest number of people, ever, who had their major doubts about him

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