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15 Pro Athletes Who Could Be Playing Other Sports

by: Esteban On  Monday, May 21, 2012

pro athletes who could play be playing another sport

Most of us sitting on the couch watching pro sports at home can’t imagine what it would be like to be so good at a sport that someone would actually pay us to play it. And I’m not saying, “we can’t imagine being LeBron.” I’m saying, “we can’t even imagine what it would be like to be that guy on the Heat nobody outside Miami has heard of [Ronny Turiaf] who has to fill in for Chris Bosh.”

So it always seems to amaze us when we hear about some pro athlete who considered going pro in another sport. We’re like, “wait, he got to choose between baseball and basketball? I have to pay fifty bucks to play beer league softball.” It seems almost unfair, doesn’t it? But when you really think about it, it’s not really that amazing. If guys are such good athletes, why wouldn’t they have been good at sports other than the one they play professionally?

Well, obviously, there have been a number of famous cases of athletes who actually did play two sports professionally—Bo Jackson being the most obvious. But going pro in more than one sports is pretty much impossible in this day and age. So today our list is going to focus on what might have been: pro athletes who could be playing other sports right now. Now, in some cases, it’s quite obvious that the athlete in questions would have been a pro in another sport. In other cases, I’m extrapolating (which is just a word that makes “assuming” sound more scientific). But bear with me. It’s a fun list.

15. Donovan McNabb

Alright, I’ll admit that I’m probably pushing it here. Donovan McNabb may have been the greatest quarterback in the history of Syracuse university (he’s like first or second in everything), but he was just a walk-on basketball player for Jim Boeheim. Still, being a walk-on for Jim Boeheim in the Big East is pretty good. And who knows, if McNabb’s main focus wasn’t football, maybe he would have excelled more at basketball.

14. Antonio Gates

antonio gates basketball

This pro bowl tight end (Chargers) wasn’t even drafted by an NFL team, so it’s safe to say that his athletic potential hasn’t always been obvious. This leads us to wonder what kind of career he could have had in basketball. He played college ball for Kent State, where he avereaged 20.6 points and 7.7 rebounds his senior year (2001-02) and led the Golden Flashes on a Cinderella run to the Elite 8.

13. LeBron James

lebron james football

LeBron never made it to college, and if he would have played only basketball. But in addition to playing basketball at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio, James was also an all-state wide receiver. So maybe he could have made it in football, too? Personally, I’d never put anything past LeBron when it comes to athletics. (Well, except maybe diving. I think he’d suck at that.)

12. Matt Holliday

matt holliday home run trot

The St. Louis Cardinals left fielder is one of baseball’s elite hitters. He’s also a massive dude (6’4″, 235 lb) and a supremely fit athlete who had a scholarship to play quarterback at Oklahoma State. He gave up football, however, when the Colorado Rockies drafted him in the 7th round in 1998 and offered him real money, the Oklahoma native decided to go with baseball. But who knows—with his physical attributes, Holliday may have been one hell of a QB.

11. Derrek Lee

derrek lee batting

Free-agent first basemen Derrek Lee has had a heck of a baseball career (.281/.365/.495 with 331 jacks and a 122 OPS+), but he could very easily have missed out on the whole thing. If he hadn’t been drafted 14th overall in 1993 by the Padres, Derrek probably would have done alright for himself, because a lot of Tar Heels (where he was all set to play basketball) tend to end up in the NBA. (There’s probably a higher rate of UNC basketball players who make it to the NBA than baseball first-rounders who make it to the big leagues.)

10. Julius Peppers

julius peppers playing basketball for UNC in 2001

This pro bowl defensive end had some choices coming out of high school: go to Duke and play basketball (he was heavily recruited by Coach K), or go to UNC and play basketball and football. In the end, he chose UNC because he could play both sports, and it looks like that was a good choice. He played football for the Tar Heels on a scholarship, making consensus first-team All-American in 2001, and played basketball as a walk-on.

9. Tony Romo

tony romo playing golf

If Tony Romo quit football today (and there are a lot of people out there who wish he would), he could probably be playing on the PGA within 6-12 months. At last check, the guy has a plus 3.3 handicap. (But what if he only had 6 seconds to tee off before getting pounded by some 300 pound guy in spandex pants?)

8. Joe Mauer

joe mauer high school football top prospect

Coming out of high school, this baseball superstar with the serious dandruff problem was the #1 high school football recruit in the country. He led his school to two straight Minnesota Class 5A Championships and was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and the USA Today Player of the Year in 2001. But he turned down a scholarship from Florida State to get drafted 1st overall by his hometown Twins.

7. Carl Crawford

carl crawford

The Red Sox’s Carl Crawford could have drastically underachieved at several pro sports. He was offered a basketball scholarship by UCLA and a football scholarship by Nebraska—the college sports recruiting equivalent of being given a 7-year, $142 million deal in baseball. I’m sure a lot of fans in Boston wish he had taken one of those scholarships right about now.

6. Jeff Samardzija

The Chicago Cubs pitcher was the all-time leading receiver (2,593 yards) for this little college in northern Indiana that thinks it’s good at football: Notre Dame. But Samardzija also played baseball for the Irish, and despite being one of the nations best wide receivers in 2005 and 2006, he declared for both the baseball and football amateur drafts. And when he was drafted by the Cubs in 2007, he withdrew from the NFL draft to focus on his pitching. This year, through 8 starts, the guy is 4-2 with an even 3.0 ERA. So maybe he made the right decision.

5. Tony Gonzalez

tony gonzalez basektball cal golden bears

Tony Gonzalez will go down as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history. But it might not have been. He also played basketball in college for the California Golden Bears. His numbers were never that great (6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game his junior year), but then he always had to jump into basketball a month into the season once football was over. So who knows what he could have done if he spent all his time and energy on the basketball court.

4. Michael Vick

michael vick

How do you know when a guy is just a ridiculously good athlete? When a professional baseball team drafts him at the age of 18, even though he hasn’t set foot on a baseball diamond in 4 years. That’s what the Rockies did back in 2000. Sure, it was the 30th round. But the point is, his athletic ability was so great that they thought, just in case football doesn’t work out, we want dibs on him.

3. Todd Helton

Todd Helton Plays Football

This potential baseball Hall of Famer (he would be a first ballot HOFer if he hadn’t spent his whole career in Colorado) actually had a scholarship to play both baseball and football for the Tennessee Volunteers. He served as the backup QB on the gridiron for two years before finally getting his shot during his junior season, filling in for the injured starter. Unfortunately, Helton himself got injured only three weeks later. He was replaced by the next guy down on the team depth chart—some loser named Peyton—and just decided to focus on baseball.

2. Nyjer Morgan

Among baseball fans, Nyjer Morgan is probably more famous for the ridiculous stable of “personas” he likes to brag about to reporters (“T-Plush” being the most famous) than anything he’s done on the field. Among hockey fans in Western Canada, he’s probably more famous for being the first African American player in the Western Hockey League (one of the three major junior hockey leagues in Canada). The San Francisco-area native played for the Regina St. Pats for the 1999-2000 season before decided to focus on baseball full-time. (I don’t think hockey players would have tolerated his kind of nonsense.)

1. Tim Duncan

tim duncan swimming

Tim Duncan is #1 because his story is the most unlikely of all the entries on the list. I mean, here’s a 4-time NBA Champion (perhaps soon to be 5-time NBA Champion), 3-time NBA Finals MVP, 2-time NBA MVP, a 13-time All-Star, and a guaranteed Hall of Famer—and he didn’t even play basketball until the 9th grade! Until then, growing up in St. Croix, he put all his energy into swimming. And he was reportedly great. But when Hurricane Hugo destroyed the only Olympic-sized pool on the island in 1989, he turned to basketball. Who knows what might have been?