Recently, I have come across several sports fans who have been discussing the hypothetical scenario of NBA superstar LeBron James leaving basketball to dominate in the NFL. I pondered on whether or not he is capable of this, and I quickly realized that the crossover of professions would not only be highly unlikely, but extremely unsuccessful.
By the way, I am a high school student interested in becoming a sports analyst/journalist when I grow up. I would really appreciate your feedback on my article.
Argument No. 1: LeBron James is the greatest athlete of all time. He is god-like. He can play any sport he wants.
LeBron James is a good athlete. He has a rare combination of size, speed, and strength…for an NBA player. However, it is statistically proven that NFL players are, overall, faster and stronger than NBA players are.
In my opinion, LeBron compares best to WR Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. Let’s compare their physical attributes.
LeBron James: 6’8” 250 lb.
Calvin Johnson: 6’5” 235 lb.
LeBron has a slight, yet insignificant, size advantage.
Speed (40 yd dash/100 m dash)
LeBron James: 4.92 sec/11.58 sec
Calvin Johnson: 4.33 sec/10.23 sec
Usain Bolt: 4.05/9.58 (World Record)
To play WR or TE in this league, you need to create separation, and LeBron simply does not have the elite speed that the NFL demands. While he may have the size of a prototypical TE, he has the speed of an offensive lineman.
Note that Calvin Johnson is not even the fastest NFL player. All-Pro RB Chris Johnson ran an NFL record 4.24-second 40-yard dash at the 2008 NFL combine, and All-Pro WR Randy Moss covered the distance in 4.25 seconds.
Vertical Leap (from standing position)
LeBron James: 44 inches
Calvin Johnson: 48 inches
The presumption is that NBA players can jump higher than NFL players. To some degree that is true. However, there are DBs and WRs who can indeed jump higher than LeBron and other basketball players. The ability to go up and tenaciously snatch the ball at its highest point is critical for a receiver.
Strength (Bench Press of 225 lb)
LeBron James: 15 reps
Calvin Johnson: 22 reps
If you want to survive in the NFL, you have to be physically strong. Not lean and toned, but raw and built. The type of weightlifting football and basketball players do are different due to the fact that their respective sports’ require a different skill set.
While basketball players do several repetitions of lighter weights, football players max out in order to bulk up. Guys like LeBron and Dwight Howard may look strong, but in reality they don’t have the same muscle mass as NFL athletes.
Now, most would think that Calvin Johnson would be the number one receiver in football due to his mind-boggling physical attributes. Don’t get me wrong; the 24-year-old is extremely talented. However, in the 2009-2010 season he ranked 24th among receivers in terms of yardage and 32nd in receptions. Let’s take a look at the top 10 receivers in football.
- Andre Johnson (6’3”, 225 lbs)
- Wes Welker (5’9”, 185 lbs)
- Miles Austin (6’3”, 214 lbs)
- Sidney Rice (6’4”, 202 lbs)
- Randy Moss (6’4”, 210 lbs)
- Reggie Wayne (6’0”, 198 lbs)
- Santonio Holmes (5’11”, 192 lbs)
- Steve Smith (5’11”, 195 lbs)
- Hines Ward (6’0”, 205 lbs)
- Desean Jackson (5’10”, 175 lbs)
Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice was not a physical beast either. He was a modest 6’2”, 200 lbs. However, he struck fear in the minds of defensive coordinators with his ability to take over a ball game and beat every defender who dared try come in his way.
In the NFL, athleticism does not make you the best receiver in football. Instead, you need great hands, route-running ability and understanding of the game.
And if Calvin Johnson (a man who dominated at Georgia Tech, is coached by professionals, and plays football for a living) isn’t a Top-25 receiver, what makes you think that LeBron can simply waltz into the league and be great?
Argument No. 2: LeBron is a basketball star, so why can’t he play football?
You can’t say that just because LeBron is dominant on the court, he will be able to translate his skills to the gridiron. Basketball and football are two different sports. Comparing the two would be like:
- Saying a baseball player could play cricket
- Saying a quarterback could be a pitcher
- Saying a soccer player can kick field goals
- Saying a swimmer can be a track star
- Saying a tennis player can play badminton
The list goes on and on. Every sport is unique in its own special way. Every sport requires its players to possess different skills.
Many people say that LeBron is best suited to play WR as he did in high school or TE due to his large frame. However, LeBron lacks the ability to block vicious defenders, is not used to catching balls thrown 45 miles per hour while being tightly covered by corners ready to knock him out, and his old high-school routes are useless in the NFL (if he can remember them that is).
He does not have the football IQ of a pro NFL player either. He would not be able to digest the playbook, and would get lost in film study. I also think that the amount of necessary preparation and the adjustments made during the 60-minute course of the game will overwhelm him.
Basketball is a much simpler sport to comprehend than football. Rookies in the NFL say that the transition from college to the pros is extremely difficult, as do players switching from one team to another. It often takes years for players to feel comfortable and start executing in the league.
LeBron also lacks the mental toughness to be an NFL star. In the NBA, you play in a nice, comfortable, air-conditioned arena. In the NFL, weather is a factor as it ranges from 100-degrees in the Arizona desert to the 30 mph winds and heavy snow in Lambeau Field. You and I sure wouldn’t be able to play in those harsh conditions, and I highly doubt LeBron could either.
Moreover, LeBron would be scared to go over the middle of the field because he wouldn’t be able to take hits from guys like Troy Polamalu or Ray Lewis. In the NBA, he is used to overpowering everyone in his path and being the “bully”, not the other way around.
Basketball is primarily a no-contact sport. In the NBA, if a player slaps your wrist, a foul is called. In the NFL, players are constantly taking painful hits.
Ask any NFL player and he will tell you that, even with pads and a helmet, going up against guys who are trying to kill is excruciatingly painful.
And don’t think LeBron is just going to push smaller defenders to the ground. Forget about the fact that he needs to learn the proper technique of using one’s hands to get off the line of scrimmage. I guarantee you that LeBron would not even think about laying a finger on players like Ed Reed.
In addition, injuries in the NFL are more prevalent than they are in the NBA. Rarely do you see a career-ending injury in basketball. In the NFL, however, we see life-threatening ones.
Argument No. 3: LeBron is very good at football already. He made the Ohio high school football All-State team in 2001.
Yes, LeBron did make the 2001 Ohio high school football All-State team. According to you, obviously that translates into becoming a great NFL player right? Wrong! Let’s take a look at some statistics from the 2001 High School Football All-American Team.
Out of the 92 then-high school student-athletes awarded with the prestigious honor of being on the 2001 High School Football All-American Team, 21 (23 percent) are in the NFL.
Of the players in NFL, zero are Super Bowl winners, one has been an All-Pro selection (one percent), five have made the Pro-Bowl (5.4 percent), four were first round draft picks (4.35 percent), six are starters (6.5 percent), and one is deceased.
Here are the guys from the 2001 High School All-America team that made it to the NFL, including their status on the All-America squad:
Vince Young (First Team)
Lorenzo Booker (First Team)
Marcedes Lewis (First Team)
Justin Blalock (First Team)
Haloti Ngata (First Team)
Kedrick Golston (First Team)
Ahmad Brooks (First Team)
Patrick Watkins (First Team)
Darren Williams (First Team) R.I.P.
Maurice Stovall (Second Team)
Eric Winston (Second Team)
Marcus McNeil (Second Team)
Trent Edwards (Third Team)
Jason Avant (Third Team)
Leonard Pope (Third Team)
Winston Justice (Third Team)
Leon Washington (Third Team)
Kamerion Wimbley (Third Team)
Devin Hester (Honorable Mention)
Tamba Hali (Honorable Mention)
None of these players are household names, and as you can see, according to the statistics, even if LeBron was selected to the All-America team in high school, he would only have a minuscule 6.5 percent chance of being a starter in the NFL.
LeBron quit football after his sophomore season due to a wrist injury he suffered in a game (wow what a tough guy…imagine what’ll happen if Bob Sanders were to get a shot at him). He has not played organized football since then (eight years ago).
And what many don’t seem to realize is that LeBron is way behind the learning curve. What every other NFL player learned about the game in college…he did not.
While every other NFL player has been playing competitive organized football at an extremely high level for the past 15 years, he has been playing basketball. If you think that LeBron could just go in there and play football in, let’s say, the 2010-2011 season, you must also think that Deion Sanders, the undeniably most dominating shutdown cornerback of all time, could return to the NFL after retiring eight years ago (the same time that LeBron hung up his cleats).
Also, you must understand that athleticism can only take you so far in the world of professional sports. Any great sports star will tell you that in order to be great or even good at a sport at the profession level one must have intense passion and dedication, and tremendous understanding of the game.
In addition, there are countless examples that a collegiate star, let alone a high school star, will NOT be dominant in the pros. To prove that, you just have to look at recent history: Former UNC basketball star Tyler Hansbrough has a legacy as one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. However, in the NBA he is mediocre at best.
And to think that NFL franchises would salivate over the opportunity to draft LeBron is just foolish. In fact, I don’t even think he would get an opportunity to play for a team.
His phenomenal basketball skills have made him into a celebrity. He is set to receive a record-breaking NBA contract in the summer of 2010. If he were to leave the NBA in pursuit of the NFL, he would demand a huge sum of money, which no NFL organization is willing to pay for such an unproven commodity.
So, LeBron, continue to dominate in the NBA, because you would not in the NFL.