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Tony Gonzalez talks NBA dreams, Falcons

4/26/2013
In 2002, Tony Gonzalez, defended by Fred Jones, played for the Miami Heat's Summer League. Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

Future football Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez isn't just bragging when he says he could play in the NBA.

In fact, he did.

In 2002, Gonzalez, who was in a contract dispute with the Kansas City Chiefs, was invited by the Miami Heat to take part in their Summer League. They had invited 18 players to try out, and Gonzalez was one of the 12 to make it.

"Confidently speaking, I believed I could play in the NBA," said Gonzalez, who averaged seven points and five rebounds at the University of California. "I'd be like a 6-5 power forward. Granted, there had been only one who had done it successfully and that was Charles Barkley."

Gonzalez, who was a little rusty, played 29 minutes and had 11 rebounds and three points. His team was winning, and he felt vindication.

"Coaches told me, 'If you want to play this game for a living, you could do it,'" Gonzalez said. "They then wondered why I'd do it since I was playing football so well."

Heat assistant coach Stan Van Gundy, who was coaching the summer games, said: "If we were flat-out playing, with no other objective than to win, he would be playing [a lot], based on what he showed tonight."

That's all Gonzalez needed, and he headed back to the NFL. The 13-time Pro Bowler is returning this fall for the Atlanta Falcons for his 17th season.

"They said I could play. That's all I needed to hear. It was music to my ears," Gonzalez said. "Or maybe they could have just been lying to me."

Gonzalez, who has become a big ambassador for the city of Atlanta, is taking part in the Final Four festivities this weekend promoting a men's scalp therapy product. Playbook had a few minutes to talk about the city and what's ahead.

Does being there in the basketball environment make you think about what you're missing? Your team at Cal in your junior year had made the Sweet Sixteen.

"I got the answer I wanted. I know that I would have been something like the ninth or 10th man off the bench in the NBA, but that's OK. I made the right decision."

You played with the Heat way before LeBron James. Do you think he could play in the NFL?

"Yeah, I think so. He's a little tall and the defensive backs aren't going to hit him up top. They will hit him down low. I see him as a wide receiver. You put him on the edge and see what happens. I see him like Detroit's 'Megatron' Calvin Johnson. Both are freaks of nature. I definitely think LeBron could play."

What does the Final Four in Atlanta mean?

"It's great for this community. There are 100,000 people a day here and it's good for our economy. People are getting a great kick out of this town. There are great restaurants and great entertainment. It's buzzing."

What has Atlanta meant to you as a football player?

"It's been an unbelievable resurrection to my career. Nothing against Kansas City, but our teams weren't too competitive, especially near the end of my time there. To be part of this organization, from the top down, is amazing. The owner. The general manager. Franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan. Unbelievable wide receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Playing this past season with Michael Turner and now getting to play with Steven Jackson, it's a dream come true. The fans have shown so much support. It's been a long time coming."

At 37, you stated this definitely is your final year. What's next?

"I don't know. We'll see. I possibly could do some media, like television, if a network out there would have me. I'll try to make it happen. You just sit around a little table and not get hit and talk about the game you love."