Rarely does an athlete confess to only liking one sport, especially in America where sports seem to be part and parcel with national identity. Indeed, players from one sport are frequently seen in the crowd at other sporting events. Richard Sherman was recently seen sitting near Condoleezza Rice at a Stanford basketball game. Michael Jordan, when he was a member of the 1992 Dream Team, was often seen at various events, appreciating the other athletes and their unique skills. One’s passion for sports, as these two examples suggest, is seldom directed at only one sport.
In the NBA, almost every player has a history of playing another sport. Given that most players are American, the other sports that they have played are oftentimes baseball or football. High school is where players of any sport get the opportunity to diversify themselves, and one should never be surprised to hear that a given player started off in one sport before discovering their passion for another. Some players supplement their training in one sport by training in another. Tim Duncan is a notable example of that, since he still trains vigorously as a swimmer in the offseason, a kind of training that undoubtedly alleviates the stress he puts on his body in basketball.
This list thus looks at ten NBA players who could be great football players. The two sports are similar in that certain tangible qualities translate well from basketball to football and vice versa. Given the level of the athletes in the NBA, this list is by no means exhaustive. Let us know any players in the NBA who you think could make great football players. Without further ado…
10. Lebron James
In high school, Lebron James was a talented wide receiver, but he gave up the sport to focus on basketball. Ever since he made his debut in the NBA, though, analysts have speculated as to whether or not Lebron could play in the NFL. The former first-overall pick certainly has the tangible skills to excel in the NFL as a tight end or wide receiver. He is strong, tall, and has excellent hands and leaping ability. At 6’8, Lebron would be able to make catches over any defender in the NFL. His speed alone makes him a tough match-up for most of the NFL’s cornerbacks. Also, Lebron has stayed relatively healthy over his now-long career in the NBA. His ability to stay healthy augurs well for a transition into the NFL, especially since the league is pervaded by star players who are constantly smarting from various injuries. Indeed, King James on an NFL team would be, at the very least, an enjoyable spectacle.
9. Dwyane Wade
Like Lebron, Dwyane Wade excelled at football in high school before quitting his senior season to focus on basketball. Wade certainly has the observable skills to dominate in professional football. He is extremely fast, has great leaping ability, and he can jump very high. Again, like Lebron, D-Wade would make a great wide receiver in the NFL. His shiftiness would also translate well into football, and could allow him to be used in a variety of packages for various purposes. Reverse plays and plays out of the Wildcat would suit D-Wade well, as they would give him the space to create with his legs. The only problem is that he is prone to injuries. In the NFL, a player’s susceptibility to injuries will undermine his career.
8. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin’s size and leaping ability would be highly valued in football. The problem for Griffin, of course, is his height. Where would Griffin fit in order to maximize his effectiveness? But that ramifying question, in and of itself, illustrates why Griffin could be a good football player. If a coach so desired, he could put Griffin in at safety, and have Griffin patrol the deep ball. However, with a little more weight to accompany his muscle, Griffin could make an excellent pass rusher, and his height would help him disrupt any pocket passer’s game. Football teams highly value versatility these days, so for Griffin the problem is not whether he can play football, but finding out where he could do the most damage.
7. Nate Robinson
Having won the Dunk Competition multiple times, Nate Robinson is a freakish athlete. His athletic ability would definitely serve him well in football. A sub-6 foot point guard, Robinson has had to rely on his perimeter game and athletic ability to stay afloat in the NBA. In football, though, Robinson is not that small. Indeed, football is a sport where short players can dominate by virtue of their low center of gravity and elusiveness. Maurice Jones-Drew is a notable example of a short professional football player whose height enables him to dominate on the field. Given that example, Robinson would make a good running back. His speed and shiftiness would translate well into football, and with a strong offensive line, he could excel as both a one-cut downhill runner and an eternally valuable third-down back.
6. Vince Carter
Perhaps Vince Carter is a bit too old to make this list, but he has shown this season that he can still rise up over defenders—just not as much as he used to. But that leaping ability has always served Carter well in the league, and it would translate well into football. On the gridiron, games sometimes come down to a jump ball, and who better to have on your team than Vince Carter, the man who dunked over a seven footer? Of course, Vinsanity’s fans know too well his querulous ways, and the way in which he left the Toronto Raptors—he complained about injuries and seemingly kept himself off the court—does not suggest he has the toughness to play in the NFL. One can only speculate, though.
5. Eric Gordon
Like Dywane Wade, Eric Gordon has suffered from injuries throughout his professional basketball career, a portentous sign when considering his potential to play football. However, when he is healthy, Gordon is one of best athletes in the NBA, something that analysts and fans have disregarded over the years. And at 6’3, Gordon is the perfect size for a wide receiver in the NFL. He is not too tall to be surprised by cornerbacks with lower centers of gravity, but tall enough to dominate most cornerbacks in jump-ball situations. His speed and agility would afford him the option of playing safety or cornerback. If the current trends amongst NFL safeties and cornerbacks illustrate anything, it is that the league is moving towards taller defensive backs—a good omen for Gordon’s imaginary football prospects.
4. Glen Davis
Glen Davis was a good football player before choosing to focus on basketball at LSU. It’s not hard to see why Davis would be a good football player, since he is wide and heavy, yet surprisingly nimble. Given his abilities, Davis would make a good fullback in football. He could plow ahead on downhill runs to get his team through those increasingly difficult third and shorts. His hands would also serve him well catching the ball out of backfield, and with a little space Davis would be a force to be reckoned with in the open field.
3. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is another player on this list whose athletic ability is off the charts. Coming out of college, he was a shooting guard, but the Oklahoma City Thunder made the right decision when they developed him as a point guard. What hurts his game, though, is his penchant for being overly frenetic. That up-beat style would serve him well in football, as he would have to direct all his energy into playing one position or excelling on one play. Indeed, the former standout at UCLA would only need space to excel, and then he could turn his brain off and run rampantly all over the defense. He would make a good Matt Forte-like back, then, as he would be less of a downhill threat and more of an all-around one.
2. Andre Igoudala
Andre Igoudala is an amazing athlete, as he can run fast and jump high. Like so many of the players on this list, Iggy’s athletic prowess would serve him well in a transition to football. His length, speed, and leaping ability suggest that he would be well-suited to playing wide receiver. However, Iggy is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, and perhaps this skill would serve him well as a defensive back. One thing is certain: Iggy could be left on an island with a good deal of the wide receivers in the NFL. With an exorbitant amount of training, Iggy could potentially learn the intricacies of playing defensive back, as he has always been a fairly cerebral player in the NBA.
1. Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo was first interested in playing football as opposed to basketball. His mother, as the story goes, dissuaded him from playing football and encouraged him to play basketball instead; she reasoned that football would be too punishing on his svelte frame. Well, Rondo’s mother made a good decision, as her son is one of the NBA’s best point guards. Had he focused on football, however, Rondo could have excelled. Rondo’s amazing court vision would translate well into playing quarterback. Of course, to play quarterback, a player needs the eternal pre-requisite: an arm. Even without an arm, Rondo could be an effective player out of the Wildcat, an offensive formation that enables multi-talented football players to make intuitive decisions based on the defense. Given his aforementioned court vision, it does not seem far fetched to conjecture that Rondo would be a useful weapon out of the Wildcat.