The NBA obviously features some of the best athletes in the world. Many of these individuals excelled at multiple sports, but they ultimately had to focus on basketball full-time in order to make it to the NBA.
This got us thinking: Which NBA players could have made it to the NFL if they had seriously pursued it?
All of the players on this list shined on the gridiron in high school or college, so it isn’t crazy to think they could’ve made it to the NFL. If they had quit basketball, who knows what might have happened?
Over the course of Allen Iverson's 14-year NBA career, he totaled 24,368 points (30th in NBA history) and 1,983 steals (15th all-time). The four-time scoring champion won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award and became an 11-time All-Star.
Not bad for a guy who was playing his second-best sport.
“I was way better in football than I was in basketball,” Iverson recently said on All The Smoke. “It was my first love… That just lets you know how great God is because I’m a Hall-of-Famer in basketball.”
Iverson has said this for years. At one point, he believed he was “the best football player in the world,” as he mentioned during his Hall-of-Fame speech.
In high school, he was a dual-threat quarterback who destroyed teams through the air and on the ground. During his junior year at Bethel High School in Virginia, Iverson had 2,204 yards and 29 total touchdowns. He rarely left the field, as he also returned kicks and played defensive back. He recorded 21 interceptions over two years (including five in a single game, which is still a state record).
As a junior, Iverson led Bethel High School to Division 5 AAA state championships in football and basketball, and he earned the AP's High School Player of the Year Award in both sports.
“He would've been the first Michael Vick,” said former Florida State Seminoles assistant coach Chuck Amato, who recruited Iverson.
Tom Lemming, a respected football recruiting analyst for 40-plus years, watched Iverson dominate his high-school peers.
“He would've made the NFL. Who knows, he could've been an NFL Hall of Famer,” Lemming told VICE Sports. “He had terrific reaction, instincts, loose hips and a great vertical. He was a great player. Not a good player, but a great football player.”
(Iverson's high-school career came to an abrupt end when he was arrested following a brawl at a local bowling alley. The case was racially charged and controversial. While his conviction was later overturned, he served four months in jail. As part of his conditional clemency, he couldn't play high-school sports.)
Growing up, Iverson had no interest in hoops. He thought basketball was "soft" and he only tried it because his mother forced him. On the way to his first practice, he says he cried for the entirety of the car ride. Fortunately, he ended up sticking with it, becoming one of the greatest and most influential players to ever pick up a basketball.
James played three years of high school football (two at wide receiver and one at quarterback). Once he switched to wide receiver, James became a two-time All-Ohio selection and totaled 99 catches, 1,912 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns.
He was recruited by Ohio State, Alabama, Miami and Notre Dame (by wide receivers coach Urban Meyer). Mark Murphy, a former NFL safety who played 11 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, was St. Vincent-St. Mary's defensive coordinator when James was on the team. He believes James would have made it to the NFL and thrived.
"I've been around a lot of great receivers. I tell people that I rate my top receivers – coaching, playing, or watching – as James Lofton, Jerry Rice, Steve Largent and LeBron James,” Murphy said, putting LeBron alongside three Hall-of-Famers. "People laugh at me, but it's true. The kid had everything you could want. I felt like that was one kid that could have gone from high school to the NFL and played."
James is 6-foot-9 and approximately 270 pounds, plus he has a 7-foot wingspan and 40-inch vertical. In 2013, James said that he ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash during training camp (without any training).
NFL stars like Calvin Johnson (6-foot-5, 237 pounds) and DK Metcalf (6-foot-4, 229 pounds) are physical specimens, but James would make both look tiny. (For comparison, Malcolm Brogdon is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds). The average cornerback is 5-foot-11 and 193.4 pounds, which is why Johnson and Metcalf look enormous on the field. In relation to defensive backs, they're able to dominate using their size, strength, speed and vertical leap.
With that in mind, how would defenses contain James?
The closest comp for James in terms of his size and athleticism is tight end Jimmy Graham, who is 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds with a 4.56-second 40-yard dash and a 38.5-inch vertical. He's a future Hall-of-Famer and five-time Pro-Bowler who was a match-up nightmare in his prime (totaling 16 receiving touchdowns and 1,215 yards in 2013). Aside from Graham, the only other players who are around James’ size are defensive ends, such as Ed "Too Tall" Jones (6-foot-9, 271 pounds), Julius Peppers (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) and DeForest Buckner (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) among others.