MIAMI — If LeBron James really wants one day to be a quarterback, a possible mentor has emerged.
Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowl signal-caller Joe Theismann said he’s willing to offer his services this summer to teach the Miami Heat star the position. In fact, Theismann, who lives in Memphis, said he wouldn’t hesitate to approach James, 28, with the idea if the Grizzlies were to face the Heat in the NBA Finals.
“I would love to work him out and also serve as his agent,” Theismann said in a phone interview Saturday with FOX Sports Florida. “I’ll go wherever he wants this summer. He could play another four years in the NBA before seriously trying the NFL. … There are not a lot of 38- or 39-year-old basketball players, but there are 38- and 39-year-old quarterbacks, so there’s always time for him.”
It all started Friday when James was asked if he could have been a good quarterback had he put his mind to it. He has thrown some impressive long passes in games to Heat guard Dwyane Wade, including one for a layup in an overtime victory over Indiana in Game 1 of the ongoing Eastern Conference finals.
“I think so,” said James, who played quarterback on the freshman team at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, in 1999 before shifting to wide receiver on the varsity in 2000 and 2001. As a senior in 2002, James chose to concentrate on basketball. “I have the ability. I can see and read plays. I study a lot, so I know defenses and things of that nature. So I would have been pretty good if I had decided to go for it.”
How good? Theismann said there are so many variables to being an NFL quarterback, but he wouldn’t rule out James being able to play the position in the league because of his athleticism and his smarts.
“I wouldn’t count him out. He’s the most tremendous physical specimen in all of sports,” Theismann said about the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James. “I think he’s certainly talented enough. He’s intelligent. He’s like the quarterback on the Miami Heat, but there are so many things (to being an NFL quarterback).
“There’s reading defenses. There’s throwing the ball with touch. There’s throwing a spiral in the wind. Maybe his hands are too big. The football is a different shape, and a basketball is obviously a lot bigger than a football.”
But Theismann, who led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl win over the Miami Dolphins in January 1983 before having to retire at age 36 in 1985 after suffering a horrific broken leg, would love to see what James could do throwing the football.
“I need a job,” said Theismann, a longtime NFL analyst who doesn’t have anything lined up at this point for next season. “The first thing I would do is teach him the snap. Then I’d take him through drop backs, quick hitches, throwing the deep ball. Wouldn’t that be a great piece of footage to see, LeBron throwing the football? Whether he could play quarterback, that’s one of the great ifs in sports.”
Theismann has met James twice. The first was at the 2003 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, when James was just out of high school. The second was a few years later when James was playing for Cleveland and two exchanged pleasantries before a game in Memphis.
If the Grizzlies, who trail San Antonio 2-0 in the Western Conference finals, can get to the NBA Finals, they could run into Miami, which is tied 1-1 with the Pacers. Then Theismann could pitch his idea in person.
Theismann is a huge NBA fan. He watches the Heat regularly, and he was impressed with James’ long throw to Wade in overtime of Game 1 for a Wade layup.
“Wade ran a great route, and (James) hit him,” Theismann said.
If James had decided to pursue being a quarterback, he said he would have been a pocket passer.
“No option,” James said. “I’d have been a dual threat, but not the option, though. … If you’re an option quarterback, the linebacker or a safety is keyed in on you and you only. So you take a hit on you no matter what, if you pitch it or not.”
The tallest quarterback in NFL history was 6-8 Dan McGwire, the brother of former baseball star Mark McGwire. McGwire, with Seattle from 1991-94 and with the Dolphins in 1995, was listed at 240 pounds and not an imposing specimen like James.
“There’s never been a quarterback like (James),” Theismann said. “Most quarterbacks, when they step on the field, look pretty much the same. But James doesn’t look the same as anybody, he’s such a physical presence. I don’t know if any humans look like him.”
Jay Brophy, a former NFL linebacker who was a St. Vincent-St. Mary assistant during James’ freshman and sophomore years and the varsity coach when he was a junior, doesn’t rule out that James could have been an NFL quarterback. But Brophy believes he would have been a better pro at wide receiver and says he has a “gut feeling” if James wins a number of NBA titles with the Heat he might give the NFL a try at that position.
“Nobody could cover him at receiver; he was like a Harold Carmichael type,” Brophy, who played for the Dolphins from 1984-86, said about the 6-8 former Eagles star receiver. “But I wouldn’t have counted him out at quarterback (of being able to make the NFL) if he had put his mind to it.
“He had a strong arm and was pretty accurate (on the freshman team), although sometimes he would overthrow guys because he was so strong. We couldn’t afford to play him at quarterback on the varsity, because at that time he was becoming such a good basketball player. There was (the risk of injury) and with him playing so much basketball, we didn’t have a lot of time to work with him at quarterback.”
After being switched to wide receiver on the varsity, James caught 42 passes for 752 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore and 57 balls for 1,160 yards and 16 TDs as a junior. He created major interest among college recruiters before giving up football for hoops.
James has toyed with idea of playing football since entering the NBA in 2003. There was a 2009 State Farm commercial in which he daydreamed about playing for the Cleveland Browns. There was an exchange of tweets in October 2011 during the NBA lockout when James asked ESPN NFL analyst John Clayton, “When is the deadline for a team to sign a free agent?”
If James ever decides to be an NFL quarterback, he could continue to wear his No. 6. The two best quarterbacks in league history to have donned No. 6 are Bubby Brister and Marc Wilson. It might not be that hard to be better than those two.