Tuesday, May 28, 2013

LeBron James: A Potential Two-sport Star?

With today being a slow day around the NFL world, I think it's time to re-open this debate: could LeBron James make it in the NFL?

I was reading an article on Yahoo! that discussed how former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann believes that the Miami Heat forward could make it as an NFL quarterback. Interesting statement, to say the least. While the 28-year old NBA star played quarterback in high school prior to switching over to wide receiver, I'd like to believe that his combination of size and athleticism would be better suited as a tight end.

Picture this: you have a 6'8" and 250 pound man with 4.6 speed lining up in front of you on the offensive line. As a defender, that's a match-up made in hell. There aren't any tight ends in this league that are that tall, and though a 4.6 40-time isn't incredibly fast, it's a pretty solid time for a TE of his size.

We already know that LeBron James has the work ethic needed to be a professional athlete, he's been doing it for a decade now. And though his football experience is limited to a few years of high school before he quit to focus more on basketball, he's still got something under his belt. So I think the only question is, does he want to do it?
We can debate this as much as we want, but that doesn't mean a damn thing until LeBron actually expresses interest in cutting his basketball career short to focus on his second sport: football. The last successful two-sport star, Bo Jackson (football and baseball), was a freak of nature. At 6'1" and 230 pounds, Jackson could bowl through a freight train and didn't seem to fear anything at all. He was one of the most gifted athletes we have ever been able to witness.

That being said, James is a freak of nature as well. The "Best Player in the NBA" debate is on-going, but there's no question that James wins the "Most Athletic Player in the NBA" debate by a land-slide. With the NBA and NFL seasons overlapping so much, it doesn't look plausible for him to do both, meaning James would have to give up basketball earlier than expected in order to make this into a reality.

With one NBA championship in his possession already, and the possibility of a second one this year with the way the Heat are playing right now, he could end up winning enough championships to satisfy his hunger for NBA titles and call it quits early. Doesn't seem possible, but Michael Jordan even took up a second sport during his NBA career, so a LeBron journey into the NFL may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.
If LeBron does get bored, there's no doubt that NFL scouts and front offices would love to give him a tryout. He's already got better hands than a lot of tight ends in the league now, and having an athletic 6'8"/250 pound TE lining up against linebackers is as big a mismatch that you'll see on an NFL field. He's got three-plus inches on most any outside linebackers in the game today. If he enters the league as a tight end, he'll be giving defensive coordinators grey hair from day one.

One more encouraging detail to take note of: current tight ends Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham are former basketball players. Gonzalez and Gates have both publicly stated that playing basketball has helped them with catching passes in the NFL, and even compared posting-up in the paint to catching jump balls over top of defenders. And guess what? Gonzalez is Canton-bound once his prolific career is in the history books.

Unfortunately for us, we can talk about this as much as we like, but there's nothing we can do about it unless LeBron truly wants to leave the NBA early and go after his NFL dream. But, at his age, he could put in another 6-8 years in the basketball world and still take a stab at the NFL. So we may have to re-open this discussion once again in about five years and see where his career is at then.

It's not a question of "can he succeed" it's more of a "does he want to succeed" in the NFL? With one high school season as quarterbacks and two as a wide receiver, I think it's clear that James' potential career in the NFL would be better-suited catching passes, rather than throwing them. Not to mention having a 6'8" quarterback seems like a waste of size.

Debate over: LeBron can make it as an NFL player because of his freakish size and athleticism. But whether he will or not is completely up in the air, and will be until he is completely satisfied with his NBA career. We can keep dreaming though, right?

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Does anybody remember this commercial from LeBron's Cleveland Cavalier-playing days?

We sure do.

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