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LeBron James and the NFL: A Fantasy Based In Reality ~ ESPN.com


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LBJ and NFL: A fantasy based in reality

By Tim Graham


Mark Murphy hasn't merely witnessed the finest receivers of his generation. He has experienced them.

Murphy's 11-year career at strong safety was good enough to get him into the Green Bay Packers' Hall of Fame. He has covered, tackled and occasionally been scorched by legends.

On the subject of greatness, he knows what he's talking about.

"I've been around a lot of great receivers," Murphy said. "I tell people that I rate my top receivers -- coaching, playing or watching -- as James Lofton, Jerry Rice, Steve Largent and LeBron James."

Murphy wasn't delivering a joke or some abstract concept. He meant James, the NBA superduperstar, simply was that spectacular on a football field. Murphy saw it as the defensive coordinator at James' alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron, Ohio.

James was an all-state receiver as a sophomore and junior, setting records that still stand. He gave up football as a senior to become a multimillion-dollar, teenage basketball corporation.

"People laugh at me, but it's true," Murphy said of placing James in the same class as three Pro Football Hall of Famers. "The kid had everything you could want.

"I felt like that was one kid that could have gone from high school to the NFL and played."

Makes you wonder, doesn't it; what might have happened had James chosen football over basketball?

Domination on Friday night doesn't mean much when a colossus is leaping over pimple-faced twerps, but James has proven he can compete against world-class competition. It's not silly to think he could have made it in the NFL, too.

He's a 6-foot-8, 250-pound freak of stature. He would tower above NFL defensive backs and other receivers. Plus, he owns a 44-inch vertical leap, which would rank among the top 10 recorded at the NFL scouting combine.

Actually, it's not too late for James to change his mind. He's 24 years old. New York Jets rookie running back Shonn Greene left the University of Iowa a season early yet will turn 24 in August.

For fun, let's stop to consider what might happen if James decided he wanted to give football a whirl.

"I would tell him I think he needs to lay down on the couch and have some warm milk and listen to some soft music," Miami Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells said. "Football's not something he needs to do. If he asked my advice, I'd tell him to keep playing basketball because he's doing OK.

"But I wouldn't put anything past this guy because it looks like he's tremendously exceptional at what he does."

Predecessors indicate basketball skills -- stamina, explosiveness, range, ability to change direction in a blink -- translate to the gridiron.

In discussing the merits of James as a football player, an obvious barometer is San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, a Pro Bowler the past five seasons. Gates originally signed with Michigan State to play both sports, but eventually transferred and played just basketball at Eastern Michigan and Kent State.

"I think LeBron could come in and do better than Antonio Gates," New England Patriots receiver Randy Moss said. "LeBron James is the athlete that comes around every so often.

"He's at a point in his career where the things that he does are something we haven't seen before.

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