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.
With the 2021 NFL season kicking
off, BasketballNews.com decided to look at some NBA players who
could have played professional football if they had seriously
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 instead, 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
Not bad for a guy who was
playing his second-best sport.
“I wasway betterin football than I was in basketball,” Iverson
recently said onAll 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 hementionedduring his Hall-of-Fame
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,”saidformer 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 toldVICE
Sports. “He had terrific
reaction, instincts, loose hips and a great vertical. He was a
great player. Not a good player, but agreatfootball 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
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,” Murphysaid, 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
able to dominate using their size, strength, speed and vertical
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
"I think LeBron could come in
and do better than Antonio Gates," NFL legend Randy Moss
oncesaid. "LeBron James is the athlete that comes
around every so often… The things that he does are something we
haven't seen before.”
saidthat James would be
a “beast” in the NFL, adding:"That dude is justthattalented… I've seen a little bit of his
highlights from high school. He's got the hands, he can run the
routes, he's fast enough. He could play in this league if he put it
During the 2011 NBA lockout, the
Dallas Cowboys offered James a contract and he says heseriously consideredsigning with them.
"[I] really started to actually
train to be a football player," Jamessaid."We
started to clock our time in the 40, we started to add a little bit
more to our bench presses and things of that nature. We started to
add the sled to our agenda with the workouts."
While James didn’t end up
joining Dallas, he’s a huge fan of the Cowboys so he had the
contract framed and it’s hanging in his office.
This list wouldn’t be complete
without Ward, considering he became a household name as a football
player before ultimately deciding to chase his NBA
He was a solid basketball player
with the Florida State Seminoles, as he averaged 10.5 points, 4.9
assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 steals as a senior and he still holds
the FSU record for most career steals (238).
However, Ward also played
football at FSU and he became one of the best quarterbacks in NCAA
In 1993, he threw for 3,032
yards and 27 touchdowns (with just four interceptions), posting
a157.8quarterback rating. He also rushed for 339
yards and four touchdowns. Ward helped FSU win their first-ever
National Championship, and he also won the Heisman Trophy by a
landslide. (It’s still the fourth-widest margin in the history of
the award, as Ward received 740 first-place votes and 2,310 total
points compared to 10 first-place votes and 688 total points for
the runner-up, Heath Shuler.)
Ward could have been picked in
the 1994 NFL Draft and had a successful pro-football career, but he
made it clear that he wanted to play in the NBA. He told teams that
he would only commit to an NFL team if they picked him in the first
round. Instead, he was projected to go in the third-to-fifth range.
When the New York Knicks selected him with the No. 26 pick in the
1994 NBA Draft, Ward decided to focus on
After the NFL Draft, several
teams reportedly offered Ward a contract equivalent to that of a
second-rounder, but he wasn’t interested. He even famously turned
down an opportunity to join the Kansas City Chiefs and back up Joe
How would Ward have fared in the
NFL? This is stillone
of the biggest football what-ifsin recent memory. We never got a chance to see
him on the gridiron because, fortunately, he succeeded in the NBA
and had an 11-year career.
In high school, Suggs was ranked
as the second-best overall player in Minnesota and the 15th-best
dual-threat quarterback in the country, per247Sports. He led his team to a 4A Minnesota state
championship one year and a runner-up finish in
As a senior, hetotaled2,213 passing yards and 25 touchdowns as well
as 978 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Defensively,
he had nine interceptions (and returned two for
Suggs, who is the second cousin
of NFL star Terrell Suggs, became the first athlete to earn
Minnesota's Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball honors in the same
season. He received scholarship offers from Georgia, Ohio State,
Iowa State, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan State (while
alsodrawing interestfrom Alabama's Nick Saban).
“I mean, you of course see it in
the aggressiveness,” Suggs said. “The way I embrace contact [and]
bring contact on the basketball floor, I think that directly comes
over from the football field. And the vision, I think, is the
biggest one, honestly. From being a safety, reading eyes, reading
body language, seeing where guys are turning to make a pass or make
a certain move.
"And then quarterback-wise on
offense, just reading defenses. Seeing different windows to throw
the ball in and have the ability to fit in those tight windows. I
do think those are the two biggest things that go directly from the
football field to the basketball court.”
Barnes was an All-American wide
receiver at Del Campo High in California, totaling 100 receptions,
2,070 receiving yards and 45 receiving touchdowns across two
seasons. In 2011, his high school retired his No. 21 football
As a senior in the fall of 1997,
Barnes had 58 receptions for 1,112 yards and led the nation with 28
touchdown catches. He earned All-American, All-State, All-CIF,
All-City and All-League honors in both football and
“Football was my first love when
I was growing up, and I didn’t play basketball until I was in the
eighth grade,” Barnessaid. “But in terms of longevity and wanting to be
able to walk when I retire and play with my kids, I decided I
wanted to play basketball.”
In 2006, Barnes was an NBA free
agent and while he waited for a team to sign him, he also had his
agent put out feelers to NFL teams. He decided he was going to give
basketball one more year and if it wasn’t working out, he’d shift
his attention to football.
“During that summer I hadn’t
been signed by anybody and I had been working out for football the
whole summer,” Barnessaid. “So, my agent talked to NFL teams about
having an open tryout if the basketball thing that particular
season didn’t work out.”
The Golden State Warriors
ultimately signed him, and he ended up becoming a key contributor
for the “We Believe” Warriors. He went on to play 14 seasons in the
“I had seven NFL teams willing
to give me a tryout, a walk-on tryout,” Barnessaid. “I was dead serious about making the jump,
but I’m glad Golden State worked out.”
Glen “Big Baby”
At 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds,
Davis played a variety of positions for University Laboratory High
in Baton Rouge including running back, offensive line,defensive end and defensive
tackle. During his high
school career, he totaled 1,233 yards and 15 touchdowns. He once
rushed for 215 yards and five touchdowns in asingle game.
He decided to quit football
before his senior year to focus on basketball. At the time, he was
reportedly rated the fifth-best
offensive lineman prospect in the country, with LSU, Miami and
Oklahoma State recruiting him.
Despite not playing football as
a senior or at any point in college, hereceived interestfrom multiple NFL teams ahead of the 2007 NFL
Draft (in hopes that he’d change his mind and switch
“I still believe he made the
wrong decision,”saidWayne Williams, who was Davis’ football coach
in high school. “Obviously, if an NFL team is even remotely
considering drafting him [after he quit before his senior year],
just think where he would have himself in the draft had he actually
played the game."
"I definitely could have made it
to the NFL," Davis oncesaid.
Back in 2009, Davistalked aboutsigning with an NFL team once he accomplished
all of his NBA goals.
"Glen's skills were similar to a
Reggie White-type defensive end,"saidBurke Broussard, an assistant coach at
University Laboratory High. "Not many players at 6-foot-6 and 320
pounds can move like he could. That was the amazing thing about
watching him play the game, he moved like a 5-foot-11 running back
with great instincts."
Before he was an 11-year NBA
veteran and three-time dunk contest champion, Robinson was actually
enrolled at the University of Washington on a football
As a high-school senior at
Rainier Beach High in Seattle, Robinson used his speed to torch
defenses for 1,200 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and 21
touchdowns. In addition to playing football and basketball, he also
Despite his 5-foot-9 frame, the
Huskies were impressed with his athleticism.
As a freshman at Washington, he
played wide receiver and returned kicks. Then, for the final six
games of his freshman season, he transitioned to cornerback. He
became the starter, intercepting two passes and recording 34
tackles over the six-game stretch.
Entering his sophomore season,
he decided to quit the team to focus on basketball. While the
decision clearly paid off, he often wonders what would’ve happened
if he had pursued an NFL career instead.
“To me, it'd be scary to think
about my future in football,” Robinson told our Jamieson Welsch back in 2013. “If I really gave it
my all and stopped focusing on basketball, gave everything I have
on football, I'd probably be one of the best corners the NFL has
In 2016, he nearly achieved his
NFL dream when hetried outfor his hometown Seattle Seahawks, but,
unfortunately, he didn't get signed.
At Bridgeport High School in Ohio, Havlicek earned All-State honors
in basketball, football and baseball. In addition to being selected
in the first round of the 1962 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, he
was also picked in the seventh round of the 1962 NFL Draft by the
Cleveland Browns. He attended training camp with the Browns as a
wide receiver, but he quit football to join the Celtics. He became
an eight-time champion and 13-time All-Star in Boston, so it's safe
to say he made the right choice.
Riley was a multi-sport athlete at Linton High School in New York,
excelling in basketball, football and baseball. Despite the fact
that he never played college football, the Dallas Cowboys actually
drafted Riley as a wide receiver in the 11th round of the 1967 NFL
Draft just based off of his athleticism and potential.
A 6-foot-8 quarterback from a football family, Harpring received
scholarship offers from Northwestern and Wisconsin. While visiting
Northwestern, he attended a basketball game and he says he came to a realization in
the stands: "You know what? I can play against these guys," Years
later, he recalled, "It changed my perception. I liked football,
but I love basketball.”
Danny Ainge: At
North Eugene High School in Oregon, Ainge dominated in basketball,
football and baseball; in fact, he's the only athlete to ever earn
Parade's First-Team All-American honors in all three sports. He was
one of the state's top wide receivers, but he quit to focus on
basketball and baseball. Ainge ended up going pro in baseball
(playing three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays while he was in
college) and basketball (becoming an All-Star and winning two
titles over his 14-year NBA career).
Wallace earned All-State honors in basketball, football and
baseball. He was a star linebacker who got scholarship offers from
Auburn, Alabama, Florida and Florida State. He committed to Auburn,
expecting to play both football and basketball. He had asked the
coaches if he could "go both ways" and they agreed. However, it
turns out there was a misunderstanding; they thought
he wanted to play offense and defense. When they realized he also
wanted to play basketball, they wouldn't let him. So, he left. He
attended Cuyahoga Community College and then Virginia Union.
Despite going undrafted, he became a 16-year NBA veteran, a
four-time Defensive Player of the Year and a