NBA players are some of the most elite athletes in the world, as the psychical attributes and skills they possess can easily be used in other sports with great efficiency. But some NBA players started out their athletic career in others sports before switching to basketball, all while benefiting from the skills they gained in another sport. While looking at the athletic records of these players, it is easy to assume they could have gone professional in their original sport rather than playing basketball. Here are some of the best multi-sport athletes in the history of the NBA that easily could have followed a different career path:
Even though now he is more known as the guy Michael Jordan picked on in “The Last Dance” documentary, Burrell was a great role player and talent for those Chicago Bulls teams. Back in high school, Burrell played basketball, baseball, and football, showing incredible ability to perform in various sports. Before he was drafted to the NBA, Burrell played 2 seasons in the Minor League Baseball league, becoming one out of two players to ever get drafted in the first round of two major professional sports leagues.
Even though Humphries is more known for his short-lived Kardashian marriage, he still had a solid 13-year NBA career. But probably the biggest success of his athletic career came when he was 10 years old. Kris was the top-10 year old in swimming, beating the notorious Michael Phelps in all the events. For 18 years, Kris even held the record for the 50-meter-freestyle discipline for 10 and under boys until it was broken recently. Considering Phelps became the best swimmer of all time, it is only logical to think Humphries could have been the one if he didn’t switch to basketball.
Budinger was a highly ranked prospect coming out of high school, both in basketball and volleyball. After getting offers from UCLA and USC to play both sports, Budinger eventually committed to Arizona, a school without a men’s volleyball program. That would be the end of his volleyball career, as he was drafted by the Rockets and played seven seasons in the NBA, where he was known for his impressive jumping ability, even participating in the dunk contest. A skill developed by his volleyball career. Interestingly enough, after retiring from basketball back in 2018 Budinger, started playing beach volleyball professionally, returning to his origins.
Nate Robinson-American Football
The 5’9” Robinson was one of the most electrifying players in his time, using his athleticism and speed to play bigger than his height. That would make him a valuable player for years and 3x Dunk Contest champion. The athleticism allowed him to dominate the football field, playing cornerback at the University of Washington on a football scholarship. But after his sophomore season, Robinson would focus on basketball and eventually make his way to the NBA.
When receiving offers out of high school, Pat was a much more desired baseball player than basketball player. In the end, he would commit to the University of Notre Dame, spending four years there playing basketball and baseball. One year he even left the program to play professionally with the Aberdeen IronBirds, catching some attention due to his talent. But Pat would eventually return to college and get drafted in 2015. Pat managed to find a place in the NBA as a valuable role player that played a part in the Bucks winning the championship this year.
LeBron James-American Football
Considering how much of an athletic specimen LeBron is, it is hard not to think he could have played the sport he wanted. At 6’8” and 250 lbs of power and speed, James has all the tools of a perfect NFL player. His unbelievable frame could have put him in various positions, from a tight end, defensive end to a linebacker. But while he was playing for his high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary., LeBron was playing a wide receiver before quitting the team in his junior year to focus on basketball. Smart decision.
Who would have thought that one of the best power forwards in NBA history almost didn’t even end up playing basketball? Back in his home of The Virgin Islands, Duncan was a teenage swimming standout, training to be an Olympic athlete. But after a hurricane destroyed the only Olympic-sized pool on the island, Duncan was forced to train in the ocean, which didn’t last long due to his fear of sharks. That would be the end of Duncan’s competitive swimming career, as he switched to basketball. The rest is history.
Allen Iverson-American Football
“The Answer” is one of the flashiest and most iconic players in NBA history, as his unprecedented skill with the ball mixed with flashing speed made him one of the most unguardable players ever. But long before he was an NBA star, Allen Iverson was starting as a quarterback in his high school team. During his junior year, AI would lead both the basketball and football team to Virginia State championships, all while being the Associated Press High School Player of the Year in both sports. Luckily for NBA fans, Iverson chose basketball and blessed us with numerous amazing highlights, but he easily could have been in the NFL.
Wilt’s legacy and career are by some measures a myth. The most dominant player in basketball history that averaged some of the most ridiculous stats ever and is the only player to score 100 points in an NBA game is something unique. Wilt was a player ahead of his time, too big, too strong, and too fast to be stopped by anybody in that time. But when you dive into his intangibles and talent, it’s crazy to see what Wilt was able to do. Even though basketball was his sport, Wilt played volleyball professionally for a short time, with tremendous success. But what Wilt did, maybe even the best, was athletics. Wilt would participate in the high jump, triple jump, shot put, and quarter-mile races. Basically everything. Considering his 7’1” athletic frame, I can only imagine how Wilt was dominating all those competitions. But in the end, basketball was the best choice for him. He could be considered the best athlete of all time due to the fact he dominated basketball, volleyball, athletics and even got offered boxing, American football, and soccer contracts in his time. Just a freak of nature.