LeBron James, looking for things to do as the NBA lockout drags on, recently practiced in full pads with the Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary varsity football team. If LeBron were to pull a Jordan and give up basketball for another sport, how long would it take for him to get into football shape? Which team would take a chance on him? Purely hypothetical, obviously, but what would you be most interested to see as it relates to LeBron giving football a try?
If we were talking about the old days, it would be easy to guess which team would take a chance on LeBron James. With the Dallas Cowboys years ago, we were very successful signing basketball players and turning them into football players. There was Cornell Green, the Utah State basketball star who went to six Pro Bowls as a defensive back. Percy Howard was a guy from Austin Peay who we signed in 1975. He scored a touchdown in Super Bowl X and I thought he'd have a really good NFL career, but he blew out his knee the next summer and never played after that.
If I had the chance, I'd sign LeBron for sure. I can see him playing wide receiver in the NFL and creating mismatches with his great size and athletic ability -- a la Calvin Johnson. As far as getting into football shape, those basketball guys are always playing pickup games in the offseason, so I'm sure he'd be in decent shape.
One note about NBA superstars in the NFL: John Havlicek once went to camp with Cleveland Browns -- and he would have made team, but at the last minute the Boston Celtics decided to pay him what he wanted.
LeBron is one of the most well-conditioned and strongest players in the NBA, so the only thing he would really have to do to get in football shape would be to get used to the contact. So, let's say a week of practice. Of course he'd play wide receiver and be an easy target for alley-oop type jump balls. The only team we could scratch off the list would be the Browns. They might want him, Cleveland wouldn't. Since they sign every free agent with a big name, the Eagles would be in play, but I think Detroit would step in and sign him to play opposite Calvin Johnson -- so they would have the two hugest receiving targets in the NFL.
Frankly, I'd love to see LeBron line up at defensive end as a situational pass rusher. With the way he can turn a corner and get to the basket, he could be a monster. Plus, at 6-9, he'd disturb some quarterbacks' view points.
LeBron should not consider football ... Jordan tried baseball late in his career and the risk of injury wasn't the same as football. LeBron surely could catch a few red zone touchdowns, but defensive players would try to blow him up. How interesting would it be if he signed with the Browns and the same people that hated him for going to Miami would be cheering for him to grab a TD pass?
If LeBron James decided to play football, it would not take him long to acclimate to the game. He has experience from being a high school standout and his remarkable athleticism would help make for a quick transition. Naturally, teams like the Cleveland Browns or Miami Dolphins would make sense based on their need for star power and a tight end. James would fit the bill on both accounts based on his talent and name recognition. Also, I wouldn't dismiss his potential as a legitimate star in football based on the successes of other former hoop stars in the NFL. He is a much better athlete than Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, and they are likely first-ballot Hall of Famers. Given his talent and potential, James could be a rare athlete capable of earning the highest honors in two sports.
I know it can't happen -- it won't -- happen, but I would love to see LeBron James in a football uniform, giving the NFL a try. Yes, I know he was an all-state wide receiver in high school who gave up the game because of his prodigious skills on the hardwood, and that it's been a lot of years since he made pure "football moves," but admit it, like me wouldn't you enjoy seeing "King James" put on the pads? With his physical attributes, the question immediately arises, "where does he play?" On defense, I would see him as a pass rushing defensive end in a scheme like the Colts. Or as a 3-4 linebacker for the Pats' scheme. On offense -- my, my, my -- one of the "new breed" tight ends, a move guy in the mold of Dustin Keller, or the Pats' combo of Aaron Hernandez/Rob Gronkowski. What about a big, red-zone receiver like Plaxico Burress or "Megatron" Calvin Johnson? If he can run routes at any point on the field like Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson ... stop. End dream. LBJ will chase a ring on the hardwood, nowhere else. But still, wasn't that fun to think about?
LeBron James would be intriguing because his size and athleticism would make him a monster tight end. I could see him playing for the Cowboys. Not only would Tony Romo have an impressive target to throw to, but also there would be somebody on the roster who already carries the choker label, keeping that spotlight off the embattled Cowboys quarterback.
I'm not sure I care. Would I like to see him try out as a Miami Dolphins wide receiver and drop a 3-yard out pass in the fourth quarter against a German defensive back named Frederick Rindspacher? Sure, I guess. But why do that when I can watch the NBA in 2014?