LeBron James nearly tried out for NFL during 2011 NBA lockout

LeBron James nearly tried out for NFL during 2011 NBA lockout
Sep 8, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Miami Heat guard LeBron James throws a football on the sidelines of the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Following a disappointing effort in the NBA Finals in the midst of a pro basketball lockout, LeBron James was closer than anyone realized to making a massive career change to the NFL.

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar confirmed in an interview that ran Tuesday he received invitations to try out for the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, and James believed he would’ve made one of those two teams.

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LeBron James’ inner circle had to talk him out of pursuing NFL

Christopher Kamrani and Bill Oram of The Athletic reported on James’ shocking disclosure about how he was adjusting his training, running receiver routes and preparing to change gears in a prospective return to the gridiron.

Personal invitations from Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones arrived for James, and he was intrigued by the possibility. James commented on how he felt at the time — and what his thoughts are looking back today:

“I would have made the team. I would have tried out, but I would have made the team. One thing about it, I don’t mind working for something, so if I would have had to try out for the Cowboys or the Seahawks, or if I’d have stayed home and went back home to Cleveland, I’d have tried (out), but I would have made the team. I just know what I’m capable of doing on the football field. Especially at that age.”

LeBron James on trying out for the NFL

Imagine how different things would be had LeBron gone to the NFL. If he’d excelled at the level he did in high school as a football star who was basically unguardable due to his blend of size, speed and athleticism, there would’ve been little reason for James to return to the NBA, unless he wanted to try being a two-sport star, or realized after a brief time in pro football that the hardwood would result in a longer career.

Once basketball became his primary focus in high school, James gave up donning the shoulder pads and helmet to dedicate himself to one sport. Many of the major programs sent recruiting letters to James during his junior year, and he was even recruited by one Urban Meyer.

Avoiding the temptation that football provided then proved easier, yet it is absolutely true that James’ close friends really had to steer him in the right direction during the 2011 NBA lockout when he was really thinking about going to the NFL.

In any event, that famous ad where James fantasized about joining the Cleveland Browns wasn’t as seemingly far-fetched as it once appeared.

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How would LeBron James have fared in NFL?

Sep 18, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James on the sidelines before the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

What’s crazy is, LeBron probably could’ve pulled it off at least for a while. He’s listed at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, with an incredible vertical leap, and has experience as an all-state pass-catcher from his days at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

During practices in high school, James would practice one-handed catches, much in the same way Odell Beckham Jr. has become famous for, only The King was doing it before OBJ made it so cool.

So in addition to the freakish athleticism, it’s obvious James has incredible ball skills. All the rebounds he’s grabbed in the NBA, combined with his demonstrated ability to haul in a football with one hand, suggest the 36-year-old has the skill set to at least be a lethal red-zone target at either tight end or wideout.

Just think about James in the NFL for a second, particularly when he was in his physical prime at age 27. Even now, it wouldn’t seem like the most incredulous thing to ever happen, but back then, there’s reason to believe he could’ve been absolutely dominant on the field.

Had he gone on to pursue football off his 2011 NBA Finals collapse, LeBron would’ve likely been considered the greatest underachiever in basketball history, who left so many years on the table in his prime. Questions about his mental toughness would be endless, and who knows if he would’ve been able to handle all the media scrutiny, which he hadn’t done well at the time.

Instead, cooler heads prevailed, as James and his friends came to the conclusion that he should stick it out in the NBA. What a decision it turned out to be.

In addition to winning two championships with the Miami Heat, James rallied the Cleveland cavaliers from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Golden State for the Cavs’ first NBA championship, and won a title with the Lakers franchise in the Orlando bubble. Those latter two account for a pair of the most memorable NBA Finals runs of all-time.

Who knows how things would’ve played out if James had paused his basketball prime in favor of football? Durable as he’s proven to be in the NBA, any given play could result in serious injury for anyone in the NFL.

It really is one of the greatest “what if?” sports scenarios ever, and provides some fun offseason fodder for football fans who are seeking things to preoccupy themselves with in lieu of NFL Sundays.

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