Could LeBron James have been an NFL superstar back in 2011?
Over the past 20 years, LeBron James has gone from high school basketball phenom to global icon and one of the most accomplished NBA players of all-time.
But is it possible he could have found the same or greater levels of success on the gridiron instead the hardwood?
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— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) May 19, 2020
In a recent sit-down with UNINTERRUPTED, James detailed how he was close to signing with the Dallas Cowboys during the 2011 NBA lockout.
“I had no idea how long the lockout was going to be and me and my trainer, Mike Mancias, we started to train to be a football player. Mike kept saying it would be great to go Irving, Texas. He’s from Texas. We are both Cowboys fans. The thoughts came into my mind, and never having the ability to finish my high school career, not being able to finish my senior year, I have dreams all the time of playing football.”
"We started to train to be a football player."
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) May 19, 2020
And apparently, according to James’ business partner Maverick Carter, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was onboard and even offered James a contract, which Carter said is framed in LeBron’s home office.
The idea of James playing in the NFL might seem farfetched, but the now 6’9″, 250-pound James was actually a star wide receiver in high school.
During his junior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, James recorded 57 receptions, 1,160 yards, and 16 touchdowns.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 23, 2019
How good would James have been if he chose the football path over hoops? The answers vary depending on who you ask.
Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers sat down with his son Austin Rivers for his podcast Go Off, and he believes James’ physical gifts would have made him one of the greatest football players ever.
“I really believe if LeBron James had to play football, he may have been the greatest football player ever at whatever position. Can you imagine LeBron James with a helmet on? That’s dangerous.”
Doc Rivers recently said LeBron James could have been the greatest NFL player at whatever position if he had picked football over basketball https://t.co/lmpap7IOEj
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) May 19, 2020
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst has covered James dating back to his high school days. And while he agrees with Rivers that James had the physical gifts to be successful as a football player, he believes those same physical gifts would potentially be his undoing.
“He was a star in high school. He could not be covered. He was 6’6″, 230 pounds at that time. The problem was the only way to bring him down was to go low. So he spent as much time protecting himself as he did catching the ball and that would have been my concern. People would have gone low on him like they have on Rob Gronkowski and he would have been injured a lot.”
As one might expect, former NFL greats have pushed back against the idea that James would have been among the game’s greats if he stepped on the football field during that 2011 NBA lockout.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe is one of those who is not quite a believer.
“People think because you are great at one sport … historically great, and that you’re a great athlete that you can transition and play any other sport and be equally as great and that’s not always the case. We have seen rare occasions where you see a Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders or Jim Thorpe. You’re talking about in 100 years of history maybe three or four guys. I do believe [LeBron] could have made it, but I believe it is a stretch to say that he could have been the greatest football player of all-time.”
"People think because you're great at one sport, that you can translate to any other sport and be as great, and that's not always true. I believe LeBron could've made it to the NFL with his work ethic, but I don't think he would've been the greatest ever."
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 22, 2020
Former Dallas Cowboys great Demarcus Lawrence, who was a member of the Cowboys roster in 2011, doesn’t like James’ chances of stopping him from getting to the quarterback if LeBron slotted in at tight end, but Lawrence does think James could have succeeded in the NFL.
“No way in hell LeBron would have blocked me. But I think that he would have made a really, really good tight end, especially because of his athleticism. He would have been crushing, man. Getting a lot of touchdowns.”
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) May 20, 2020
James vs. Lawrence sure would have been a matchup for the ages.
In the end, the fact that there is even a conversation regarding LeBron playing a second sport professionally is a testament to his all-time athletic ability.
In fact, James never stepping onto an NFL field may go down as one of the greatest “what ifs” in sports history – even though it’s never too late to take a run at it.