LeBron James has taken a beating while leading the injury-plagued Cleveland Cavaliers to a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals. But ask 16-year-old LeBron about it, and he'd say it’s nothing compared to what he would have taken on a college football field.
In a 2001 video that’s been making the Internet rounds (including here) Thursday, teenage James, who at the time had earned all-state honors on the gridiron as well as on the basketball court, gave Kirk Herbstreit a fairly logical reason for not wanting to take his talents to Ohio State.
“I don’t know about college football,” James laughed. “Nah. They hit too hard.”
Once again, James was ahead of the curve. This year, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland decided that he’d retire after just one season instead of taking a beating that might lead him to long-term head injuries, and others have made the same choice.
LeBron's attitude toward the game hasn't changed. Earlier this year, he said he wouldn't allow his kids to play football either.
"It's a safety thing," James told ESPN. "As a parent, you protect your kids as much as possible. I don't think I'm the only one that's not allowing his kids to play football, it's just that I'm LeBron James and it gets put in the headlines for no reason."
But the idea that The King could have starred on a football field wasn't a joking matter. A long-time NFL veteran and coach who saw him play up close, in fact, called him one of the best wide receivers he’d ever seen.
“I’ve been around a lot of great receivers,” ex-Green Bay Packers safety Mark Murphy, who was a defensive coordinator at St. Vincent-St. Mary High when James was there, told ESPN in 2009. “I tell people that I rate my top receivers -- coaching, playing, or watching, as James Lofton, Jerry Rice, Steve Largent, and LeBron James.”
“I felt like that was one kid that could have gone from high school to the NFL and played,” he added.