Building An NBA Team With Athletes From Other Sports

In American professional sports, several renaissance athletes have ascended throughout the years, dominating two sports simultaneously. The most notable example of two-sport professional athletes is Bo Jackson. In 1989, Bo Hit 32 home runs for the Kansas City Royals, earning a trip to the league’s All-Star Game, and in 1990, Bo ran for 698 yards and ten touchdowns as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders, earning a trip to the NFL’s Pro Bowl. Cross-sport accomplishments like Bo’s are hard to achieve, as Bo jeopardized his health by putting his body through a significant amount of strain.

With the exception of Russell Wilson, who appears to be toying with the idea of playing professional baseball, today’s American professional sporting landscape does not feature many renaissance athletes, since, similar to Bo, a cross-sport strain on athletes’ bodies can put them at risk of injury and potentially derail their careers.  But that doesn’t mean that certain successful athletes couldn’t have chosen another sport to go pro in and still excelled. Indeed, several talented athletes in the NFL were drafted in the late rounds of the MLB Draft when they came out of college, because, well, who knows?

These discussions of two-sport athletes, however, generally revolve around the possibility of a given athlete playing in the NFL and the MLB—but they hardly concern other sports. Schedules play a part in precluding two-sport athletes in, say, the NBA and MLB, since the volume of games that an athlete must play would make the amount of travel prohibitive. Having one game a week, on the other hand, helped athletes like Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson juggle their pro-football careers with their pro-baseball ones. Unfortunately, the Bo Jacksons and Deion Sanders of the world are a dying breed.

And yet, fans will never cease discussing and debating whether or not one professional athlete in a given sport could excel at another. Fans will be fans, right? For instance, Lebron James’ athletic prowess has engendered debates over whether or not he could play in the NFL. With regard to measurables, Lebron seems ideal for the positions of tight end or wide receiver. He can run, catch, leap, and has amazing hands. His big frame, if transposed onto a football field, would be hard to tackle. If he got his head right, Lebron could probably play in the NFL.

In that spirit, this list drafts a professional basketball team from a pool of professional athletes who play another sport. Indeed, a starting lineup has been assembled, and it is made up of players from the NHL and NFL, players who possess something that would appeal to NBA scouts. Of course, this list is whimsical, so hyper-serious armchair jocks might find a good deal of things from this list to bemoan. If this list imbues you with a little whimsy, let us know in the comments section what your lineup would be.

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5 Julius Peppers—Power Forward

This pick is easy, since Julius Peppers played basketball at the University of North Carolina, one of the most storied collegiate programs in America. When Peppers played for UNC, he was a force to be reckoned with on the glass, and his size enabled him to have his way in the paint. Of course, he was athletically precocious during his collegiate days, so he could rely less on talent and more on sheer physicality. Nevertheless, he has experience playing in significant basketball games, and, even in his current form, he is one of the most impressive athletes in American Professional sports.

Let’s look at what we know: Peppers runs a sub-5 second 40-yard dash, he’s 6'6", and weighs about 285 pounds. Though he would be small for a power forward, his speed and mobility would allow him to beat slower power forwards down the court. Given his weight, Peppers would be tough to bump off the block, and that would help to make up for his lack of height, especially when rebounding. If players like Chuck Hayes and Dejuan Blair can hold their spots on an NBA roster despite their size, Peppers should not have to worry about his. To be successful, however, Peppers would have to develop a solid mid-range game, which would help his team spread the floor out and capitalize off of his mobility. With a mid-range jumper, Peppers could develop into a solid pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll option.

4 Jay Cutler—Point Guard

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Many NFL fans—and, more specifically, Jay Cutler fans—do not know that Cutler was a very good basketball player in high school. Indeed, at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Indiana, Cutler excelled at football, basketball, and baseball. In his senior season, aside from being a first-team All-State selection in football, Cutler was a first-team All-State selection in basketball. In a state that treats basketball similar to how Texas treats football, All-State honors are impressive. As a basketball player, Cutler dominated his physically inferior competition, shooting and dunking his way to that All-State selection.

Given that he is a quarterback in the NFL, Cutler would play point guard for this team, since quarterbacking skills are often compared to the skills that point guards must possess. His elite vision in the NFL would translate nicely into the NBA, especially in moments that demand a good deal of intuition and quick decision making. At 6'3", 220 pounds, Cutler wouldn’t be at too much of a disadvantage with regard to his height. His weight, indeed, would enable him to post his man up, if he so desired. If he added a good perimeter game, Cutler could be an effective floor general for this team.

3 Julio Jones—Shooting Guard

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Julio Jones would make this squad solely because of his athletic prowess. At 6'4", 220 pounds, Jones runs a 4.39 40-yard dash. These measurables, of course, enable him to dominate in the NFL, as he can run faster and leap higher than most cornerbacks. Before entering the NFL, Jones was a standout receiver at Alabama and helped his team achieve an undefeated record in 2010. In the NFL, Jones has been named to the Pro Bowl and already has several highlights that showcase his insane athletic ability. Indeed, much like Julius Peppers, Julio Jones is the kind of the athlete who can do anything he wants to.

At shooting guard, however, Jones would have the ball in his hands a lot. As such, his inferior skills could hamper his off-ball effectiveness. Thus, Jones would have to work hard to develop good ball skills and a decent perimeter shot. Otherwise, would make a great defender and shot blocker from the shooting guard position, and he would be able to crash the glass with the best rebounding guards in the NBA. He would be a player like Tony Allen: a useful one, but not the best with the ball in his hands.

2 Zdeno Chara—Center

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This pick will irk both Zdeno Chara fans and basketball fans, but let’s probe Chara’s basketball prospects a little further. At 6'9", 255 pounds, the Slovakian defenseman for the Boston Bruins would be a bit of a tweener at center in the NBA. However, Chara is one of the toughest guys in one of the toughest sports to play professionally. Night in and night out, he anchors the Bruins’ defense, creating havoc for opposing team' attack. His ability to disrupt opposing offenses in the NHL would translate well into professional basketball in that both forms of disruption rely on positioning. Chara could also add a good deal of weight to his already imposing 255-pound frame. At 280 pounds, for example, Chara could at least compete for rebounds on the block.

The biggest downside to drafting Chara as this team’s center is his skill set. Chara has not shown an ability to play basketball, and has probably played the sport sparingly, if at all. This team would only need Chara to fill a Dennis Rodman-like role, though. Chara could certainly be taught the intricacies of the sport, and once he grasps those, he could blossom into an effective role player on this team. With a little practice, Chara could develop a nice post game with the occasional drop step and baby hook. In any case, positioning, both on defense and when rebounding, would be vital to his success.

1 Antonio Gates—Small Forward

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Like Julius Peppers, Antonio Gates excelled at basketball in college. At Kent State, in fact, Gates was not a two-sport athlete, as he only played basketball. In his senior season, he led Kent State to the elite 8 with several stunning performances. That season, Gates was an Honorable Mention All-American after averaging 20.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. He possessed an all-around game coming out of college, and in the offseason following his senior year, he worked hard to make the leap to the NBA. Though scouts valued his skills, his size, or lack thereof, undermined his chances of playing in the NBA, as NBA scouts couldn’t see his 6'4" frame translating into the NBA. He thus turned to football.

The NBA, though, is currently glutted with tweeners who are trying to change their position in order to make a bigger impact in the league. Gates could be one of those players. With his 255-pound frame, Gates could body skinnier small forwards out of position on the defensive glass, and make up for his shortness when penetrating on offense. The key for Gates’ success would be his outside game. Irrespective of his size, Gates would need to develop a near-elite outside game to excel against small forwards who are getting taller and taller each year. Given his scoring prowess in college, however, Gates seems well-equipped for the task, as NBA fans often bear witness to talented collegiate scorers who develop good outside games after a couple seasons in the NBA—not the least of which being all-time greats like Michael Jordan and Lebron James.

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