The currently unemployed King of Something just ask him keeps tweeting about the NFL.
LeBron James is lots of things; boring is rarely one of them. Maybe this whole NFL thing is a product of his own NBA lockout-induced boredom, maybe its a(nother) cry for attention, or maybe LeBron really does miss playing football. Most likely, its some combination of all three.
For those of us writing, tweeting and talking about what LeBron is tweeting and apparently daydreaming about, its strictly a hypothetical situation. We know its never going to happen.
James needs neither the money nor the bruises to his knees, elbows or ego that a journey into the NFL would bring. We presume hes smart enough to know that the NFL is a fast, violent game, too violent for a guy who has enough time to make hundreds of millions more playing basketball to get any closer to the field than a third-level luxury suite.
The thought that he could give it a shot isnt an entirely crazy one and it certainly is an intriguing one. The thought he could last, however, is a different story.
"It wouldnt be easy," Bengals cornerback Leon Hall said. "I recommend he keep his NBA contract and just play the Madden video games if he misses football."
Back when James was a wunderkind at Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and the nations top high school basketball player, he was also a football player. He was a 66 string bean then, a receiver who preferred the outside and was impossible to cover when an end zone fade was thrown in his range.
James is much bigger now probably 69, 250 and anyone whos ever seen him take a rebound coast-to-coast in four or five dribbles knows he has top-shelf speed and explosion. But he wasnt much for breaking tackles in his football-playing days, and at the high school level he rarely dealt with either press coverage or opponents who were either over 510 or could match his athleticism.
The guys he was jumping over for those touchdown catches? Theyre now teachers, car salesmen, chiropractors, regular folks. One of them might do Leon Halls taxes, but they dont do what Hall does for a living.
Like James, Bengals safety Chris Crocker was also drafted by Cleveland in 2003. Crocker was picked by the Browns, and he spent many evenings courtside at Quicken Loans Arena watching James up close.
"There arent many guys with the athleticism and strength LeBron has in any sport," Crocker said. "But I also think guys pick the sports they pick for a reason. Just like (Chad) Ochocinco thinks hes a soccer player until he gets up close and sees how skilled pro soccer players really are, theres nothing easy about the NFL."
The topic was broached on Columbus (Ohio) radio Thursday afternoon with former Ohio State and NFL linebacker Chris Spielman, a tough guy if there ever was one. Spielman said hed love to see James give the NFL a shot, saying he knows James is big and fast enough for the test.
Spielman said James is the "greatest athlete Ive ever seen," but theres more than just the physical contact hed worry about in a hypothetical transition.
"Hes the mentally weakest person Ive ever seen," Spielman said.
Yes, the NFL is still playing four full quarters.
Perennial Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates was a college basketball player who never played a down of college football, but still caught on and caught fire after signing with the Chargers. Spielman said James "has surpassed Bo Jackson" on his list of greatest pure athletes and would have a chance to join Gates in the club of rare athletes who make successful transitions from one sport to another.
If hed be willing to take the punishment, of course.
"I think LeBron has a better chance of making the NFL and being an impact player than Michael Jordan had of making it in Double-A baseball," Spielman said. "Id pay money to see him run routes.
"Theres no doubt, physically, that he has the skills."
Crocker also used the Gates comparison and said James would be better suited as a potential tight end than wide receiver in the NFL.
"He could be a tight end that doesnt have to block," Crocker said. "Hes very athletic. You see basketball players make the transition. Antonio Gates and Jermichael Finley, those guys play tight end. If he can catch he could be a pretty good tight end."
Hall agreed with Crocker that Finley might be the best NFL tight end comparison. Finley (65, 247) was offered both football and basketball scholarships by the University of Arizona before picking Texas football. After three years at Texas, he was still more raw athlete than football player when the Green Bay Packers drafted him in the third round in 2008, but hes become a weapon in the Packers potent passing attack.
"(Finley) is tough to cover," Hall said. "It would be a tough matchup, but it would be fun. "
NFL defensive backs are regular-sized people; Hall is 511, 195, and Crocker is 511, 197. And though the NFL has cracked down on head-hunting in recent years, those regular-sized people protect their area the middle of the field the offense is trying to attack with punishing hits. NFL collisions are neither pretty nor for the weak at heart.
Youve seen James lie under an NBA basket after getting fouled on a drive, right? Theres often time to brew a whole new pot of coffee before he gets up.
"Youre going to get hit in the NFL, and you have to be able to take it," Crocker said. "You have to learn to get hit, you have to learn to fall, you have to learn about where people are coming from when you think youre in space. The hardest thing for a lot of receivers is that its easy to run a route with nobody out there, but its harder with people bumping you and coming from your blindside.
"He possibly could play tight end. Any other position would be tough. If just anybody could play in the NFL, theyd be doing it. There are a lot of guys in the barber shop who think they deserve their shot. Let them run down on one kickoff and well change that."
In defending passes to James, Crocker said hed rely both on physicality and technique.
"I cant out-jump you," Crocker said, "but the minute you touch this ball Im getting my hands and my hat on you."
"When you go against big guys like that, its all about positioning," Hall said. "LeBron, he might have a whole foot on me. I dont even know. Hes big. He can run. "
James showed up at a St. Vincent-St. Mary football practice last week, donning a helmet and football pants and going through drills as a receiver. The NFL conversation got started this week following the announcement that NBA had cancelled two weeks worth of games when James first sent a tweet asking if there was a deadline for NFL teams to sign free agents, then later listed five teams he could see himself playing for.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll responded, first asking if James knew the NFLs rookie-minimum salary and then inquiring about his preferred position. Carrolls latest tweet, Wednesday night, included a picture of a custom-made LeBron Seahawks jersey.
Carroll has plenty of experience recruiting oversized kids with oversized egos, but he also knows when hes chasing a recruit he ultimately wont get. Theres also no truth to the rumor LeBron called Roger Goodell about the possibility of the Seahawks also adding Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Ndamukong Suh. That might be how he rolls, but thats not going to happen.
"If you go off (prototypes) and his size and the way he can jump, youd love to have him on your team," Hall said. "Hed be worth a shot."
Bill Romanowski, another former NFL linebacker, also thinks James be worth a shot -- the kind of shots would-be pass-catchers take while operating over the middle in the NFL.
"If youre playing offense, buddy, I might suit up too," Romanowski tweeted.
By Thursday, James was off to England for another kind of football. Hes a part-owner of Liverpool FC of the English Premier League.
That means he has something to occupy his time, even if the NBA lockout lingers. He has his annual summertime flag football games with his friends in Akron, and per Halls recommendation he has his copy of Madden.
The football dream is likely to remain a dream, though James has shown in the past that almost anything is possible.
"LeBron is definitely a world-class athlete," Crocker said. "So if he really wants to play, Im sure (Bengals coach) Marvin Lewis would let him come out here and well see what he has.
"For longevity, though, hes playing the right sport now. He made the right decision a long time ago."