There has never been a shortage of elite athletes in the NBA and there's always “what if?” questions about certain players trying their hand in other sports. Many believe LeBron James would be an excellent football player if he left basketball and Nate Robinson, a former two-time dunk contest champion will try his hand in football this season.
Being a two-sport athlete, and a good one is not easy. The Bo Jackson reputation of excelling in two athletic fields is often a pipe dream but here are athletes who showed prowess for not just their preferred sport but in some cases, several others.
5. Danny Ainge
Currently a prominent member of the Boston Celtics front office, Ainge spent parts of his athletic career as both a professional basketball and baseball player. He was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1977 amateur draft out of Brigham Young University. He made his MLB debut in 1979 and played through the 1981 season, compiling a .220 batting average with two home runs and 37 runs batted in, in 211 career games.
Ainge decided to pursue basketball after the 1981 season and after a legal battle involving his contract, the Celtics brought him to Boston. He spent nearly a decade in Boston, developing a reputation as a hard-nosed player who is willing to sacrifice himself for the team. He finished out his career with stints in the Sacramento Kings, Portland Trailblazers, and Phoenix Suns.
4. Nate Robinson
As mentioned, he’s two-time dunk contest champion and despite his small frame has enjoyed a successful decade-long career for eight NBA teams since 2006. However, before basketball, he was a standout football player at the University of Washington. He was a starting cornerback in his freshman year. His career is most remembered for his interception in the final minutes of regulation of the 2002 Apple Cup against the Washington State Cougars.
Robinson had a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks earlier this offseason and while it’s still a longshot, the highly athletic, five-foot-nine guard has proven himself time-and-time again.
3. Michael Jordan
It’s unheard of for a player at the top of his profession to leave and pursue another venture. But Jordan did just that, leaving the Chicago Bulls to play baseball in 1994. He joined the Chicago White Sox and spent the entire season with the White Sox’ Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons. He hit a meager .202 with three home runs, 51 RBIs, 30 steals, 114 strikeouts, 51 walks, and 11 errors as an outfielder. Jordan finished his career with the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League in 1994.
However, the hardwood and Jordan missed each other too much and he returned in 1995 and eventually led the Bulls to three more championships. MJ’ baseball career left a lot to be desired but few can play a professional sport with success, much less two. Jordan did both.
2. Tim Duncan
“The Big Fundamental” has officially retired from the NBA after a hall of fame worthy career. However, before he joined the San Antonio Spurs and won five championships, he was a competitive swimmer growing up in Saint Croix, a part of the U.S. Virgin Island. Duncan was poised to be a part of the 1992 Olympics until Hurricane Hugo destroyed the only Olympic-sized pool on the island.
Duncan left his swimming dream to pursue a career in basketball. Now a former two-time MVP headed for entrainment in the hall of fame, Duncan’s teenage career switch worked out wonderfully.
1. Mark Hendrickson
A two-sport athlete throughout his high school and college career, Hendrickson was drafted by an MLB franchise six times, including in 1996 when MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays and NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers drafted him at the same time. However, he chose to play basketball and started with the 76ers for the 1996-97 season.
The six-foot-nine Hendrickson only played 118 games from 1996-2000 through stints with four teams. He also played in the Continental Basketball Association on a few occasions when he was unsigned by an NBA team. He left basketball and began a pitching career in baseball the last over a decade, most prominently with the Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, and Baltimore Orioles. He finished his MLB career a 58-74 pitcher a 5.03 ER.