When you hear the name Allen Iverson, you probably think of him crossing defenders over on the basketball court. While AI did find plenty of success in the Association, his talents weren’t limited to hoops. Growing up, the guard was also an accomplished football player and even hoped to hit the gridiron in college.
At Georgetown, however, John Thompson had another idea. He told Iverson in no uncertain terms that football was off-limits.
While that’s understandable, it also raises another question: Could Allen Iverson have been a legitimate two-sport threat ala Bo Jackson?
Allen Iverson couldn’t convince John Thompson to let him play football in college
During his time in high school, Allen Iverson split his time between the gridiron and the basketball court. When his on-court abilities took him to Georgetown, the guard never forgot about football.
“I would have definitely tried to do both,” AI explained on The Dan Patrick Show. “You know, just from the love that I had for basketball and I have ever since Michael Jordan gave me the vision. I definitely woulda tried to play both. I really put in the effort because, when I went to Georgetown, I asked Coach Thompson, ‘Could I play football?’ Because we had to walk to the gym every day from class, and I always had to ask the football field.”
While Thompson was always willing to go to bat for his players, allowing AI to hit the gridiron was apparently a step too far.
“I remember going past the football field, I used to always get emotional. Tears would be coming out of my eyes,” the guard continued. “And one day, I built up enough courage to ask [Thompson], ‘Could I play?’ And I don’t think I, with the language, I don’t think I can say what he said.”
Could AI have been a legitimate two-sport threat like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders?
Based on his quotes, we know that Allen Iverson certainly had a passion for football. Based on a previous conversation with Shannon Sharpe, we also know that he believes he would have been even better on the gridiron than he ever was on the hardwood. Given his NBA resume, that’s certainly quite the statement.
While there’s certainly a precedent for playing two professional sports concurrently, those situations are few and far between. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders both bounced between football and baseball. That’s a bit different than trying to balance football and basketball.
On the basketball side of things, you could argue that the NBA takes more of a toll on one’s body than baseball does. While an MLB season is certainly a grind, Iverson absorbed punishment just about every time that he drove to the hole. That, combined with the wear and tear of pro football, would be quite the physical burden.
Then, on the logistical side of things, AI’s choice of positions probably wouldn’t help his cause. Both quarterback and point guard require some understanding of the team’s dynamic; you have to read your teammates’ movements, not pass the ball behind them. It’s reasonable to imagine coaches in both sports forbidding Iverson from leaving them and potentially jeopardizing that internal understanding.
Lastly, there’s the issue of size. While Iverson’s stature — the guard clocked in at 6-foot-0 and 165 pounds — isn’t that different than Jackson or Sanders — 6-foot-1, 220 lbs and 6-foot-1, 195 lbs, respectively — he’s still quite small for a quarterback. While it’s certainly possible for a talented player to overcome a height disadvantage, it would probably be another strike against him. Imagine a general manager trying to convince his head coach that the starting quarterback was only six feet tall AND would be playing both football and pro basketball. It would take a very specific type of character to sign off on that deal today, let alone in the 1990s.
Those factors might seem pretty damning, but there are a couple of counterarguments.
First, Iverson has admitted that he never really lifted weights but knows that he would have had to in order to hit the gridiron. While that wouldn’t have made him any taller, it would have helped build out his frame and potentially provided a bit more protection against injuries.
Secondly, neither Jackson nor Sanders had 20-year careers playing both sports at the same time. If that’s the standard we’d be holding Iverson to, things get a bit more reasonable. It’s easier to play a few football seasons before focusing on basketball than it is to balance both for more than a decade.
At this point, though, there’s simply no way of knowing what Allen Iverson would have done if he’d tried to play basketball and football at the same time. While there’s no doubting his raw talent, it’s tough enough to build a career in one professional sport, let alone two.
Iverson’s potential football career will simply have to remain a mystery. You can thank (or blame) John Thompson for that.
Heights and weights courtesy of Sports-Reference