The most famous and successful professional athletes often share a similar characteristic – a killer instinct.   The player with a killer instinct will use physical advantages and prowess to win the current game but also is seeking to achieve some kind of symbolic action that will permamently embed fear and doubt in the opponent’s psyche – so as to dominate that same opponent in future competition.

Fulfilling bold predictions and trash talking play a role in this process.

A number of NBA players come to mind, players who exemplified this characteristic.  Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller gleefully dominated and tormented their opponents.

Michael Jordan is perhaps the example of this “killer instinct.” In his “Book of Basketball,” Bill Simmons describes him, saying:

“In my lifetime, only one superstar was routinely described like Hannibal Lecter. Michael is a killer. Michael will rip your heart out. If you give Michael an opening, he will kill you …”

Of course this kind of attitude is not limited to basketball players.

Muhammad Ali would call his opponents names and would predict how many rounds they would last. Then he would dismantle them in the ring.

Babe Ruth would point his bat to show where he was going to hit his next home run. Then he would hit the ball out of the park.

I enjoy reading stories about these athletes because they backed up their confidence and brashness with action – and their predictions about their achievements so often came true.

This morning I was reading an article on the subject of killer instinct, an article written in the context of the current NBA finals.  The article is titled: “There’s some crazy in the finals after all.” 

The article quotes a number of players to arrive at the conclusion that a person has to be extremely dedicated, a bit crazy, even “borderline sociopathic” to maintain a high level of success in such a competitive arena. At one point Isaiah Thomas speaks admiringly of Tom Brady, describing him as a “killer.”

I bring this topic up at Mormon Mentality, because a certain line of inquiry entered my mind as I was reading the article. The question that came to mind was “is there a place for killer instinct in the gospel?”

One scriptural passage that came to mind is from Genesis/Moses:

And I, the Lord God, said unto the serpent: Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life; And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

The “dust shalt thou eat all the days of the life” line and the “bruise thy head”/”bruise his heel” dichotomy strikes me as vivid examples of Divine trash talk. If this were the NBA, God would essentially be saying to the serpent, “this is my game, my court, my ball – I’ll let you play for a little while and take some shots – you might even get to dunk the ball a few times. But at the end you are going to lose. There is no other outcome. I will own you.”

Also, in the context of the article, in the sense of extreme dedication, singleness of purpose, determination to be the greatest – the Atonement comes to mind. The article quotes Isiah Thomas as saying that in order to sustain victories and greatness “you have to be willing to go to dark places.” It seems to me that the Savior achieved what He did because He is the Exemplar of that kind of dedication. He was in fact so extreme, so ready to sacrifice His own life to achieve the ultimate Victory – and in fact that is what He did. It may seem odd to talk about sacrificing one’s life and “killer instinct” in the same place – but I do think there is a powerful application of the concept in gaining an understanding and appreciation for the Atonement. Jesus had a perfect perspective and in giving up His life (and then taking it up again) He permanently crushed his opponent, overcoming Death and Sin in the process.