Could LeBron James Have Been a Star in the NFL?


A couple of years ago, LeBron James, the unstoppable star behind the back-to-back NBA champion Miami Heat, starred in a State Farm commercial in which he daydreamed announcing a switch to the NFL, becoming an instant sensation. While the commercial was obviously remarkably dramatized with scenes of LeBron dunking a football on the goal post from the goal line and leading the Cleveland Browns (of all teams...) to a championship, it still raised the question: Could LeBron, a 6'8" 250-pound pure athlete, make it in the NFL? Professional football is one of the most competitive and grueling sports in mainstream athletics, differentiating the situation from Michael Jordan's awful transition to the more technical based sport of baseball, but LeBron is also a human specimen of strength, crushing defenders and blocking shots better than nearly anyone who's played before him.

According to Dez Bryant, the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver who established himself last year as an elite competitor with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, LeBron would need almost no time at all to adjust to the NFL. In Bryant's own words during the Cowboys' training camp Thursday, "I think it would take him probably about a good two weeks to get very acquainted with football, knowing what he's supposed to do. I think that's all he'd need with his physical ability." 

This is far from the first time LeBron's been considered for the NFL as former star quarterback Joe Theismann believed that LeBron could be a quarterback even after he retired from basketball and Eric Mangini, the former coach of the Browns, practically begged LeBron to come on down and help his struggling franchise. LeBron himself even said that he'd be "pretty good" in the NFL if he dedicated himself to it, but he also admitted that the types of stamina for football and basketball are incredibly different. Since LeBron never went to college, he could theoretically get a scholarship and practice football, but that would mean severing some pretty massive basketball sponsorships including a $90 million shoe deal from Nike.

But the main problem with LeBron playing football isn't necessarily whether or not he could do it. LeBron was an all-Ohio receiver in high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary and has his name scattered across their record books, plus his frame is very comparable to those of all-star wide receivers and tight ends such as Antonio Gates (who also played basketball in college). He just doesn't have the kind of experience and raw technique to dominate in the sport like he can in basketball. So then why bother?

In the past, the records of crossover athletes have been slightly mixed. Renaldo Nehemiah, a former record-breaking track sprinter, played for the championship 49ers for three years and even under Joe Montana was only able to rack up 43 catches for 754 yards and four touchdowns. Carlin Isles, another unbelievably quick runner, entered rugby recently and has been putting on a show with almost no previous experience, but there's no guarantee that LeBron could have that same kind of explosiveness in the NFL.

Ultimately, as several sports analysts at ESPN have discussed, LeBron probably would have the potential to make the roster for a professional NFL team, but being a "beast" seems slightly far-fetched for an athlete just coming into a sport. Also, if LeBron were to make that transition, there's simply no way he would be able to get such a strong grasp on the NFL in just two weeks like Bryant proclaimed. It would probably be best to stick to the sport in which he's been named a scoring champion, two-time Finals MVP, two-time Olympic gold medalist, four-time league MVP, and nine-time all-star.