It's long been said that as great as Miami Heat forward LeBron James has been at basketball through his life, there's a lot of untapped football potential there, as well. James played quarterback as a freshman on the St. Vincent-St. Mary High School team in Akron, Ohio in 1999, and then switched to receiver for the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He quit the game to focus on basketball in 2002, and that decision seems to have gone pretty well for him. But there is an undercurrent of football people who have always wondered, "what if?" What if a 6-foot-8, 250-pound elite athlete, with an obvious ability to jump at the right time and get free in tight spaces with defenders all around him, actually trained for the NFL?
Most think that James could be an amazing NFL receiver if he really put the time in, but one former NFL quarterback truly believes that LeBron might be best-served at his old position. Joe Theismann, who played for the Washington Redskins from 1974 through 1985, thinks that if the hoops star ever wants to make that switch, he's the man to make it happen.
"I would love to work him out and also serve as his agent," Theismann told FOX Sports Florida last Saturday. "I'll go wherever he wants this summer. He could play another four years in the NBA before seriously trying the NFL. ... There are not a lot of 38- or 39-year-old basketball players, but there are 38- and 39-year-old quarterbacks, so there's always time for him."
James was asked about the possibility of quarterback success at the NFL level, and to the surprise of some, he seemed intrigued by the possibility.
"I think so," he said after the Heat beat the Indiana Pacers in overtime in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. "I have the ability. I can see and read plays. I study a lot, so I know defenses and things of that nature. So I would have been pretty good if I had decided to go for it."
James is 28 now, and he's got a few more good basketball years left (to say the least) on a pretty dominant team. So, there's that. If he was to decide to take a shot at the NFL quarterback idea, as much as his athleticism would benefit his case, there would be a few little things in his way. Deciphering NFL defenses at freeway speed? Well, that's a task that has taken some pretty talented college quarterbacks and put them through the wringer.
As the always-talkative Theismann admitted, there is a bit of self-interest in any football pitch to LeBron. He's been an NFL analyst for a long time, but appears to be between gigs at this point.
"I need a job," he said. "The first thing I would do is teach him the snap. Then I'd take him through dropbacks, quick hitches, throwing the deep ball. Wouldn't that be a great piece of footage to see, LeBron throwing the football? Whether he could play quarterback, that's one of the great ifs in sports."
Personally, we'd rather see LeBron try his hand at receiver -- his combination of height, size, speed, toughness, intelligence in short areas, and ability to run the floor might make him an unstoppable target -- if he could get used to the level of contact he'd face in the NFL. Having Patrick Willis waiting for you in the flat? Well, that's a lot more potentially painful than any Hack-a-Shaq in NBA history.
Still, it's fun to think about. During the 2011 NBA lockout (October, to be precise), LeBron worked out in full pads with the St. Mary's team, and famously tweeted ESPN reporter John Clayton, wondering when the deadline was to sign free agents. Clayton responded a couple hours later: “LeBron, sorry to get back to you so late. Trade deadline next Tuesday 4 p.m. Free agency goes until last team is eliminated. Game on.”
And in 2009, James did a commercial for State Farm in which the receiver theory was put to the test.
Is there a football future for LeBron James? In the pantheon of things we'd like to see in the NFL, it's right up there.