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5 NBA stars who play other sports during the offseason

These NBA stars found a different sport to play during the offseason
Damian Lillard boxing and Steve Nash playing soccer

Damian Lillard and Steve Nash

If you think about it, the NBA’s regular-season alone, 82 games to be exact, is already arduous. Not to mention that it gets even more tiring if the team manages to make it to the playoffs. So when the offseason comes, most players tend to relax and spend their well-deserved break.

However, there’s no way these players are spending their entire time off unwinding. We’re totally right about that, as some players, even teams, still train and sweat during the offseason. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be basketball.

There’s a great chance a wide array of NBA players play/train in sports other than basketball, but let’s take a look at the select five for now.

Honorable mention: The Detroit Pistons - MMA

Before we go to the main list, let’s kick things off first by acknowledging the efforts of the entire Detroit Pistons organization as an honorable mention.

In the summer of 2015, the Pistons and its coaching staff decided to channel their inner “Bad Boys” by training mixed martial arts (MMA). The plan was not to really follow in the footsteps of the dirty style of playing, but more on to add some physicality and develop team camaraderie.

Pistons then president and head coach Stan Van Gundy green-lighted the team’s request to “work out MMA-style.” What’s even more interesting? Detroit did not just train in some combat sports gym, but at the UFC's Las Vegas facility.

The partnership benefited both parties as the deal involved a number of UFC stars sent to Auburn Hills to hoop and do some basketball drills inside the Pistons’ home court along with the team’s staff. Among the UFC fighters who were picked were Forrest Griffin, Stipe Miocic, Jessica Eye, Aljamain Sterling, Ryan LaFlare, and Kevin Lee.

5. Leandro Barbosa – Soccer

As a Brazilian, former Phoenix Suns guard Leandro Barbosa has always been in love with soccer. Growing up in Sao Paolo, Barbosa was exposed to the sport at a young age, with his father being a member of the popular Brazilian soccer club Sport Club Corinthians.

To this day, Barbosa is still in touch with the club. Of course, they still play their beloved sport every once in a while.

"My father was Corinthiano and from the time I was born, we had the bandera [flag] of the team and we went to the Pacaembu stadium,” Barbosa told Boston.com's Frank Dell'Apa. "Even now, many Corinthians players are my friends. [Emerson] Sheik is a great friend, a super amigo. We are always together."

On the other hand, basketball also has a special place in Barbosa’s heart, and he intentionally tried to balance the two different sports. Fortunately, Barbosa managed to do so, and he even realized that playing soccer was actually beneficial for his basketball skills.

"I always talk about soccer and basketball in terms of vision and facilitating passes and how that happens,” he added. “At the same time, you get the timing, you gauge the distances, the angles of passes, when to defend, when to attack. You learn a lot from soccer and it makes basketball easier."

4. Steve Nash – Soccer

Steve Nash may have made a name for himself in basketball, but the truth is, he’s always been a soccer player at heart.

The two-time NBA MVP grew up in a family of Tottenham Hotspur faithful. While playing as a professional in the world’s most prestigious basketball league, Nash also competed for two New York City-based soccer clubs during the offseason.

Aside from playing, Nash has also been an influential advocate for the sport, having been one of the original investors in the Women’s Professional Soccer league. In 2020, Nash took it to the next level when he became a part-owner of Real Mallorca, a Spanish club that rivaled the likes of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga, the country’s top-tier league.

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Through his Steve Nash Foundation, Nash has also hosted a few soccer charity events in which he has once invited his fellow NBA stars Tony Parker, Brandon Jennings, Grant Hill, and Jared Dudley to play.

3. Damian Lillard – Boxing

Some may not know, but six-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard has long been a boxing fan. It’s only fitting that he is playing for the Portland Trail Blazers as the team has “fully embraced boxing workouts” during the offseason, a win-win situation for Dame.

Every offseason, Lillard uses boxing training to stay in shape and continuously work on his body and mind coordination.

2. Joel Embiid – Boxing

To help Joel Embiid prepare for the 2017/18 season, the Philadelphia 76ers “used boxing training” as part of their summer workout program. The Sixers were happy with the results as “The Process” had his first monster season that year, having logged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game in 63 games.

From then on, Philadelphia has continued boxing training during the offseason for Embiid and some of his teammates. From the look of it, it seems like Embiid has been enjoying it too.

1. Deron Williams – Weightlifting, Swimming, Biking, MMA, and Boxing

There could be a number of players who train in multiple sports during summer, but arguably, nobody does it like Deron Williams.

During his playing years in the NBA, D-Will keeps himself busy even in the offseason. He works out “5-6 times per week” and typically starts his day doing some, “strength training.”

After the appetizer, Williams would continue all the way to his main course, which involves weightlifting, swimming, and biking.

“Most of my focus is on core strength and stability,” Williams told USA Basketball in 2011. “I do a lot of bodyweight stuff. I also focus on quickness and agility and proper movement. For cardio I do a lot of biking and swimming to give my joints a break.”

Just when you thought Williams would be done doing all that after he left the NBA in 2017, he added two more sports to his list- MMA and boxing.

According to Williams, he always knew that there was a fighter inside him, and he has long been fond of combat sports. In fact, the three-time NBA All-Star has been following the sport even during his active years in the league.

“I’ve always been drawn to combat sports,” Williams said. “Wrestling was my first sport. I’ve always been a big boxing fan, a big MMA fan. I’ve always wanted to do a fight since I retired [from the NBA].”

“Look, I’ve been training for years,” he added. “Part of MMA is, of course, boxing. This opportunity came and I just felt like if it was here and I passed it up, that I’d kick myself for it.”

In December of 2021, Williams, at age 37, finally felt he was ready for the next stage and made his boxing debut in an exhibition match against former NFL star Frank Gore.

Williams won via decision, and it’s still his lone combat sports appearance to date. Despite having quite a success, D-Will said he might never enter the ring again.

Now that it’s the offseason once again, we can be sure that some NBA players are already doing their cross-sport workouts. Hopefully, we can have a good look at some of them and add a few names to the next list.

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