NFC West: Lebron James

LeBron JamesNathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesLeBron James' passing skills could translate to the NFL, Joe Theismann believes. Warren Moon, on the other hand, disagrees.
Warren Moon, Pro Football Hall of Famer, has occasionally shared strong opinions on matters of social import. Turns out the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback is no less formidable on a subject more suitable for you, me and the guy seated at the next barstool: how well LeBron James and other NBA stars would project to the NFL.

"First of all, the mentality, the psychological and mental makeup, is totally different," Moon said Tuesday.

Then came the fighting words.

"You can't come from basketball into a football environment and succeed," Moon said. "You can go from football to basketball and have a tough mindset that will help you succeed."

Moon's opinions on the matter became known to me last year when he joined in progress a debate between reporters in a hotel lobby the night before a game Moon was working as a radio analyst. Knowing Moon threw a tight spiral (mean fastball?) on the subject, I followed up with him this week after James' suitability for the NFL made its way into the late-May news cycle through another former quarterback. Joe Theismann suggested James, a four-time NBA MVP and an all-state receiver in high school, could succeed as a pro quarterback if James set his mind to it.

We pick up the conversation there.

Moon: Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler and I used to argue for hours about who the best athletes are. I thought football players were better overall. I love basketball players for what they do for their size -- so graceful. But what else can they do? They are not good golfers because they are too tall. There is too much room for error in there when you are 6-[foot-]10. They are not tough enough to be football players, and what position but probably tight end would they play? And if you get too tall, you can't play even tight end. Football players can be baseball players.

Sando: You'll get no argument from Barkley's golf swing. The greatest basketball player of them all, Michael Jordan, was not even mediocre at baseball by big league standards when he set his mind to it completely. A few NBA players dabbled in pro baseball, Danny Ainge and Dave DeBusschere among them. Tony Gonzalez famously played football and basketball at Cal before becoming a Hall of Fame-caliber tight end in the NFL.

Moon: Three significant football players made the transition to baseball. Bo Jackson was great at baseball as well as football. Deion Sanders made it to the majors and was a decent baseball player. The strong safety who played for the Atlanta Falcons, Brian Jordan, played in the majors for years. Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest athlete in the world and the greatest basketball player, and he could not even get to the majors. We had three NFL guys do it at a high level, and a number of other guys could have done it, including John Elway. You don’t see a lot of basketball players drafted in baseball. You see a handful get drafted in football like Tony Gonzalez, but he was a football player first.

Sando: I'm picturing Barkley and Drexler shaking their heads.

Moon: They just think football is easy compared to what they do, and they could go out there and be successful. That is just their egos. They didn’t have great arguments. My argument was naming players who had done it. Think of all the things Herschel Walker could do -- going out for the bobsled team, being an MMA fighter. Anything he could do, whatever he tried to do, he could do. Watch Terrell Owens play basketball. He could play the game. There are a lot of football players who are really good basketball players who decided to go the football route because they were not tall enough or whatever. Football players, the skill guys, they are more versatile because of their size.

Sando: Guys like Barkley, Karl Malone and Wes Unseld strike me as basketball players with football players' mentalities. Why couldn't guys like them fit in the NFL?

Moon: Basketball players want contact to get a foul called. Slaps on the wrist and bumps on the shoulder are big time to them, and they don't like that. In football, you get that all the time. The whole mental makeup is different. Maybe a Ron Artest would be different because he likes physical play. Barkley always talks about how he could have been a football player. I still don't see it with him even as big and physical as he was. He was also a complainer about fouls. He always wanted a foul called. Karl Malone definitely had a football body, but he is another guy always complaining about fouls, and he was bigger than the other guys. I liked guys that wanted to draw the contact and loved it. Maybe the guard from the Pistons who played next to Isaiah Thomas.

Sando: Vinnie Johnson? 'The Microwave' had those all-world thighs. I always thought Anthony Mason had an NFL-type body and a physical mindset. Let's get to LeBron James specifically. He's 6-foot-8, 250 pounds and about as gifted as an athlete can be.

Moon: Quarterback is not a position that you come in having not played it your whole life. LeBron was a wide receiver in high school. Not having played quarterback and having the instincts that a quarterback needs to have, the intangibles, you don't just pick those up overnight because someone teaches you how to throw. And we don't even know if he could throw. There has never been a successful quarterback in the NFL over 6-foot-6.

Sando: We obviously wouldn't compare Dan McGwire to LeBron James in terms of athleticism. Then again, height wasn't necessarily what doomed McGwire in the NFL.

Moon: Once you get over 6-6, you are not as fluid, you have a longer stride in the pocket -- all those things taller quarterbacks have to deal with. As great an athlete as LeBron is, he could never make the transition with just a year or two to get ready for it. You have to grow up with it, and even then you are still learning the position. Tom Brady is still learning things at the position, but there are also things he can draw back on that he did as a little kid. LeBron does not have that.

Sando: The first time I sat near the court at an NBA game, the players' height and length were what stood out. In football, it's the speed and violence that are absolutely captivating from field level, even for people who have watched the NFL for years from the stands or from their living rooms. I'll never forget the first time I stood on a sideline at a major college game. The speed was so much faster than what it appears on TV.

Moon: Basketball players, for their size, are so graceful for what they do on the court, but it just doesn't translate other places. They don't understand this game, how violent it is. Try to get a sideline pass and watch two series from a sideline in a game and tell me if you can stand it. I remember how amazed I was my first year out of the league when I was doing sideline reporting. I was like, 'What in the hell was I thinking all those years?' It was that quick. To see how fast and violent it was -- and I did it every Sunday for 23 years.

Sando: I have a feeling you're going to hear from Barkley and Drexler on this one.

Moon: Every time we have dinner together, this is all they talk about. Charles says we wore pads in football, but I tell him contact in basketball is not the same. Those guys run into each other and they call a charge. You'd foul out in the first series if they called an NFL game that way. I don't hear about basketball players having CTE or any of those types of problems. It's just a different game.

Sando: We're not going to settle this one to the satisfaction of all. Every sport has its own special requirements. I'm sure hockey fans would love to see NBA and NFL players settle their differences on the ice. We'll leave that one for another day.

Video: Those must be NBA pushups

December, 1, 2011
It's natural for professional athletes to wonder how they might fare in another sport.

Michael Jordan's efforts at baseball showed how tough the transition can be, even for one of the all-time greats.

Watching LeBron James and some of his NBA pals try flag football provided good entertainment value (that was James doing his best Stevie Johnson impersonation, minus the $10,000 fine).

One question for Amare Stoudemire, though: Would those be NBA pushups, or was there a basketball between his chest and the floor?

Cue the video.

Chat wrap: About that Lebron James idea

October, 13, 2011
The receiver position popped up more than once during the latest NFC West chat, and that was before the Brandon Lloyd talk heated up.

I'll hit on the San Francisco 49ers' situation on that front in the highlights, but first, an NBA question relating to Pete Carroll's faux courting of Lebron James (must be the bye week).
Josh from Chattanooga couldn't help but ask about Lebron James and Carroll tweeted a photo of a Seahawks jersey with James' name on the back.

Mike Sando: Athletes are funny about the cross-sport thing. NFL guys tend to think they can play basketball at a high level, but I highly doubt very many, if any, could compete in the NBA at a high level. I do think some NBA guys could project as NFL players a little easier, but I'd be interested to hear Lebron's thoughts after he caught a pass in the flat and got chopped down at the knees by some guy earning in a season what Lebron gets in a day. Football hurts.

Michael from New Jersey wanted to know how much Josh Morgan's season-ending injury will hurt the team.

Mike Sando: The 49ers now have no depth at the position, basically. They'll be OK once Braylon Edwards returns, but one more injury will really set back the receiving corps. Fortunately for the 49ers, they're big on using two tight ends. Both their tight ends factor in the receiving game. They have a head coach and offensive staff that appears well-suited for adjusting. They just need to avoid additional injuries at the position.

Kyle from St. Louis asks if the Rams should start rookie first-round pick Robert Quinn at defensive end over veteran James Hall, in part because the team needs to boost its pass-rush.

Mike Sando: James Hall's bad back has possibly been a factor for him this season after colliding with Chris Long on a David Garrard sack during preseason. Quinn has been getting 40-50 snaps per game over the last three games. Only Long, Hall and Fred Robbins have played more snaps on that defensive line this season even though Quinn missed the season opener. One problem so far is that the Rams haven't been in the lead. They haven't been able to free up their pass-rushers. That makes it tough to get much value from a pure pass-rusher such as Quinn.

tacowrecker from parts unknown asks whether or not the Cardinals should abandon their 3-4 scheme in an effort to make better use of their existing personnel, notably Darnell Dockett.

Mike Sando: It's just a little late to be throwing out the plan. They've had five years under Ken Whisenhunt to develop a defensive identity. Whisenhunt finally got someone from Pittsburgh -- Ray Horton, as opposed to his first choice, Keith Butler -- to oversee that side of the ball. I agree that the personnel and scheme do not match up all that well, preventing the team from getting full value out of Dockett in particular. The Cardinals have used four-man lines a fair amount of the time, but they want that 3-4 to be their identity, and it's a tough sell without the rush linebackers on the outside.

Thanks for coming along. See you Friday.