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Michael Jordan's brief foray into the world of professional baseball might not have been a smashing success, but he certainly proved himself a skilled athlete across multiple sports. Which brings up an interesting point: while some professional athletes are probably one-trick ponies, many of them likely possess the athleticism, work ethic, and skill to succeed outside of their area of expertise.
So while it's unlikely we'll get many more Michael Jordan-style crossovers, it is fun to consider the NBA players who would be great in the NFL or any other professional league, and just what skills and traits might make them suited for new roles. So here are some of the greatest basketball players today, who we would love to see trade the basketball for the football, if only for a day.
Another exceptional defensive NBA player who would be great in NFL is Kawhi Leonard. Like Gobert, Leonard's impressive wingspan of 7'3", which gives him a great defensive edge on the basketball court, also suits him to a defensive role in the NFL. And at 6'7" and 225 pounds, the up-and-coming NBA star won't be easily knocked down or side-stepped.
But there's no reason to relegate Leonard to defense alone—the versatile player, with such an impressive wingspan and hand size, would also make an excellent wide receiver in the NFL, with the speed and agility to make quick runs, and the hand size to catch any pass.
Like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook is a versatile basketball player that might succeed just about anywhere in the NFL. But it's not just his sheer athleticism—Westbrook is known for his explosive playing style, his tendency to give 100%, 100% of the time as one of the top 10 active NBA players.
The Thunder point guard is able to drop back and play defensively, but also thinks quickly and is willing to put it all out there, every time, making him perfect for a position like running back. He could end up being one of the best NFL running backs of all time! But he's certainly no one-trick pony, and I would be interested to see him try his hand at a number of NFL positions.
Stephen Curry is one of the hottest names in basketball at the moment—and for good reason. The two-time MVP, record-breaking scorer is a brilliant point guard in the NBA. But he's not just an impressive scorer—Curry is also a team player, and a smart leader, traits that would translate well into an NFL role as a QB. And, while of course shooting a basketball and throwing a football are two very different ball games (ha! Literally and figuratively), Curry's three-point record shows an incredible hand-eye coordination across distances, indicating a definite potential for success in the NFL, where accurately throwing across long distances, under pressure, is crucial.
With a wingspan of 7'9", it's no wonder that Rudy Gobert was named 2018 defensive player of the year, running away with the season record for blocks. This kind of reach and defensive skill isn't only useful in basketball: in fact, it would suit Gobert very well in the NFL as well.
While being extremely tall is not as beneficial to playing football as it is to basketball—and in fact might not be ideal, at Gobert's height of 7'1"—his defensive ability would suit him for a role as a defensive end, easily able to block any offensive moves.
Marc Gasol (or Pau, Frankly)
A strong player for both Spain and Memphis, Marc Gasol is a team player with a brain for the game. With over 700 NBA games under his belt, and a record-breaking majority of them as a starter, Gasol is a veteran of the game, with a sound understanding of the ins and outs of basketball. And a little veteran wisdom is something every team needs—especially in the even more notoriously hot-headed NFL.
Honestly, I would love to see either Marc or Pau Gasol take a turn on the football field, using their strategic minds for a whole different kind of play.
I'm sure there's no surprise to find LeBron James on a list of NBA players who would be great in the NFL‚or any other league, for that matter. In fact, I imagine there would be great outrage were his name not to appear. At 6'8" and 250 pounds, James is an athletic force to be reckoned with. And that incredible size does not slow him down—James is also one of the fastest players out there, an overall athlete of incredible skill and talent.
It would be a shame to pigeon-hole such a great player with a particular role in the NFL. As in the NBA, his overall athleticism gives him the potential to be a very versatile player—though between his size and overall speed and athleticism, he has all the versatility needed to be a killer tight end. But there's no doubt that this incredible athlete could succeed just about anywhere. If he did move to the NFL, it would be the end of another LeBron James era.
John Wall, one of the most impressive players and leaders in the NBA today, is without a doubt one of the few NBA players who would be great in the NFL. In his role as point guard for the Wizards, Wall has demonstrated a well-rounded skill and agility that suits him to multiple roles on the court, and would likely suit him to multiple roles on a football field as well. Perhaps most notably, Wall is one of the fastest NBA players, making him a good candidate for a speed-necessitating role like running back in the NFL. But agility isn't just about physical speed: Wall has also proven himself a quick thinker, able to take advantage of split-second holes in the court to get up and make incredible plays—and dodging the defense is one of the running back's primary duties.
Gordon Hayward might be a surprising NFL player, but he was an equally surprising NBA player. Originally, Hayward was actually a rising tennis star before he began his basketball career. And that says a lot about his versatility—and where it comes from. Tennis is a uniquely mental sport, one that relies on constant moment-to-moment strategic decisions, thinking ahead, and understanding the most subtle tricks of the game. So while Hayward doesn't bound onto the basketball court and immediately break scoring records, he is a brilliant strategist and smart player. This is an asset that does not limit itself to any one sport, showing that Hayward might have what it takes to be a subtle, impressive addition to any sports team.
At 6'11" and about 270 pounds, DeMarcus Cousins is a perfect center player. But this same massive size and athleticism would make him an excellent offensive lineman in the NFL. I would be surprised to find many players—even professional NFL players—that could take on Cousins in terms of strength, fortitude, and size. But sports aren't just physical—you also have to have the right mindset for it. Cousins may be a bit of a headstrong player, but it takes a lot of mental fortitude and attitude to play an aggressive game in the NFL, whether aggressively offensive or aggressively defensive.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the "Greek Freak," is genuinely gifted with pure, raw power to channel into whatever sport he chooses. While he's chosen basketball, and is certainly a star at 6'11" with a wingspan of 7'3", this raw power—and his unique ability to channel and control it—makes him an NBA player who would be great in the NFL as well. His wingspan would make him a great candidate for the defensive line, while his notoriously massive hands would give him an edge in passing and receiving. Whatever role he takes, this rising star would likely succeed in any sport.