Sports are a funny thing. There is no denying the segment of the population that thinks of them as a meaningless distraction from the real issues and challenges of real life. They get dismissed as a waste of time where the results have no bearing on anything. And the athletes themselves often aid and encourage these detractors whether it be baseball players taking steroids, Tour de France cyclists shrouded in a constant cloud of controversy, Michael Vick running a dog fighting operation, or the ridiculously high salaries and lavish lifestyles that they have become accustomed to. Does it really seem fair that Tiger Woods makes over 100 million dollars a year, when you add up endorsements as well as tournament earnings? Or that Alex Rodriguez and Kobe Bryant make over 20 million a year? David Beckham takes the cake though, apparently receiving 250 million dollars in salary and endorsements for signing his five year deal with the L.A. Galaxy. That works out to about a million dollars a week for five years!
While it may be shocking that Obama and company haven’t thought to ask every athlete to take a 50% pay decrease to create the stimulus plan (that finally got through by the way), these admittedly shocking numbers have not deterred me from being a sports fan. Therefore, I aim to give all you loyal readers out there my Top 5 “Killer Instinct” NBA players.
These are all players who know how to get a win when their backs are up against the wall. Players who will shrug off distractions (injuries, sicknesses, opposing crowd) as if they were nothing. Players who can and do succeed in shutting out everything that is happening around them, who feel as if they are the only player on that court, and who (to throw out a few of overused sports cliches) become “unconscious”, simply “know how to get the ball in the hole”, or reach some sort of Zen-like state. Players who almost always span the gamut between confidence, arrogance, and cockyness. Put another way: I am an NBA head coach. I have my team down a point with a few seconds remaining on the clock. And I have my pick of any player in the league to take the potential game winner, this would be my the Top 5.
5) Vince Carter – As a Raptors fan, it kills me to put Mr. “Wince” on this list. But I have no choice but to give credit where credit is due. Even though he is oft-injured, guilty of not giving it his all, and a general douchebag in the eyes of all Raptors fans, he can get it done in crunch time. Worst of all, he loves to do it against the Raps. About a couple of months ago, Vince returned to his old stomping ground and scored 12 points in the final 40 seconds of a close game to give his team the win. Not only did he sink a three to force overtime but (in one of the plays of the year) received an alley-oop off the inbounds to seal it in the dying seconds of overtime. This video says it all:
4) Paul Pierce – This guy knows how to win, period. I’m sure that Kevin Garnett has been a heavy influence on Pierce’s progress, but if he were playing against my team, I would not want the ball in his hands in the dying seconds. Game 1 of last year’s finals comes to mind. Remember when Pierce had to return to the locker room to nurse an injury and Boston’s championship hopes were hanging in the balance. Well, to a huge ovation, Pierce returned in the third and dropped 15 on the Lakers. In terms of morale, confidence, and tone-setting these were worth way more than just 15 points. I also seem to remember a game just before this year’s All-Star Game where Pierce dropped 18 in the fourth alone to put away the Mavs. Impressive indeed.
3) Lebron James – How can he not be on the list? The NBA leader in scoring at more than 28/game has his Cavs with the third best record in the league. With the addition of Mo Williams, Cleveland has a legitimate shot at winning it all this year. Remember how everyone was giving the Eastern Conference title to Boston before the season started? Now it’s not looking so crystal clear. Lebron is one of the most versatile players in the league. He can hurt you from anywhere on the court with a myriad of inside and outside moves. And he has a knack for getting it done when it matters. One example comes to mind. Setting: last year’s playoffs against Detroit in Detroit. Outcome: in a double overtime, 2-point Cavalier victory, Lebron scored Cleveland’s last 25 points, and 29 of their last 30.
2) Dwayne Wade – This guy is healthy now, meaning he is a beast. It was tough to put him ahead of Lebron but his championship run (Lebron has yet to win one) with Miami sealed it for him. He is one of the league’s most exciting, versatile, and talented players. He is only trailing Lebron by less than a point in PPG this season. He has his less than stellar Heat firmly in the playoff race. He is always a bright light for the US during the Olympics and is a potential MVP this season. When Wade and the Heat won the title back in 2006, he was the no brainer for Finals MVP with an PPG of 34.7 points! Wow.
1) Kobe Bryant – Let’s see. Three rings. 81 points against, yes, the Raptors. The closest thing the league has seen to Michael Jordan since he left. Enough said.
Now it’s your turn. Let me know who YOU think is #1. Just for fun, I’ve added in a few more.