The romanticized view of pro athletes is that they've dreamt about doing whatever they do for a long, long time.
That's how it works, right? A kid picks up a basketball while he's still in diapers, instantly falls in love with the game, works super hard and eventually realizes his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA. Although that's the case for many athletes, some of the best players in the world actually envisioned themselves going pro in a totally different sport. They might've grown up enamored with one sport only to find out their physical skills translate better to a different sport.
Let these seven players be a lesson that it never hurts to get outside your comfort zone and try something new.
1. LeBron James Wanted to Be an All-Pro Wide Receiver
When you watch LeBron James rampage his way to an And-1 play, it's hard not to envision him as an NFL player.
At a beefy 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, James would be an absolute monster inside the red zone. The elevation he shows off during his signature chase-down blocks would be a valuable asset on the gridiron, since almost no throw would be outside his range. It's no mere coincidence that James looks like he could excel in the NFL. Football was his first love.
He grew up playing the game from a young age and attracted legions of college recruiters as a wide receiver for St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. During his junior season (which would be his last playing football), James caught 61 passes for 1,245 yards and 16 touchdowns. "Scoring touchdowns was the best for me. I grew up playing football, and I always loved just going out and competing," James told the New York Times in a 2009 interview.
But as talented as LeBron was in football, his basketball skills were simply too good to ignore. He was ultimately drafted straight out of high school as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. How good could LeBron have been if he stuck with football?
Urban Meyer, who tried to recruit LeBron to play football while he was a wide receivers coach at Notre Dame, told Bleacher Report James would've been "a first-round draft pick, a Hall of Famer."
For what it's worth, LeBron has stated he'd like to play in one NFL game before he calls it quits on his athletic career:
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 19, 2013
2. AI Thought He Was the Greatest Football Player Ever
At his recent induction into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame, Allen Iverson couldn't help but contain his disbelief. Why? Because he'd grown up envisioning himself getting enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
Allen Iverson can't believe he made it to the Basketball Hall of Fame: "I thought I was the greatest football player God ever created."
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) September 8, 2016
"Football is always going to be my No. 1 sport," Iverson told CBS Sports in 2015. "It was my first love. Obviously if things went another way, I probably would have ended up playing football instead of basketball, but God got his way of doing things."
At Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia, Iverson was an electric quarterback, defensive back and return man. He was named the state's AP Player of the Year in football following a junior season in which he put up bananas numbers. Iverson passed for 1,423 yards and 14 touchdowns, rushed for 781 yards and 15 touchdowns, returned five kickoffs and four punts for touchdowns and snared eight interceptions on defense.
3. Russell Wilson Won't Let His Baseball Dreams Die
Russell Wilson has proven himself one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. However, he isn't ready to write off the idea of one day playing in the MLB.
"Baseball was my first love since I was 3 years old. It's something that's meant a lot to me. It was my dad's dream for me to play two sports, so I've never killed the dream and probably never will. It's something that I think about all the time," Wilson told Colin Cowherd during a 2015 interview.
Wilson played baseball for three seasons at N.C. State, compiling a career .384 OBP while also earning a reputation for terrific defense. He was good enough that the Colorado Rockies spent a fourth-round pick on him in the 2010 MLB Draft, and Wilson subsequently spent two summers playing minor league ball. He then switched his focus to football, a decision that has worked out pretty well for him.
4. Baseball Was Giancarlo's Third-Favorite Sport
Giancarlo Stanton can now be seen crushing mammoth home runs for the Miami Marlins. However, baseball wasn't even his favorite sport in high school.
At Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California, Stanton was a three-sport star. His senior year was perhaps one of the best showings by a multi-sport athlete in high school history. In baseball, he hit .393 with 12 home runs. In football, he racked up 745 yards and 11 touchdowns. In basketball, he averaged 19.7 points and 13.5 rebounds per game.
"Baseball was probably my third-favorite sport at the time," Stanton told the Los Angeles Daily News. "I'm glad I played all those sports. I wouldn't take anything for those challenges. You leave one sport, the next day you pick up another one."
5. J.J. Watt Adored Hockey as a Kid
J.J. Watt is known as the most dominant defensive player in the NFL.
But during his younger days, Watt pictured himself going pro in a different sport—hockey. Watt shared his love for the sport in an interview with the MMQB:
"I grew up in Wisconsin loving hockey. I mean, I started when I was 3 years old on skates. I played all over—in Canada all the time, all over the U.S., over in Germany for a 10-day tournament. Hockey, honestly, was my first love. The excitement, the fast pace, the intensity of the game . . . I still love it to this day. Really, I had to quit. It was financial. I have two younger brothers and we were all playing on a travel team, and it was extremely expensive. My family is a middle class family. When I grew up and learned how much it actually cost for us to play hockey, I could not believe that my parents let us play as long as they did. Now I'm forever grateful for my parents even giving me the opportunity, because honestly those were some of the best years of my life. Now that I understand how much it cost, I'm so thankful to my parents. I wasn't always this big, so I was more of a center back then and a goal scorer. Loved the game. Still do."
The thought of the now 6-foot-5, 295-pound Watt punishing some poor sap against the boards is certainly entertaining.
6. Before His Growth Spurt, Dirk Was All About Tennis
Dirk Nowitzki has been an NBA star for the better part of the last two decades. However, the 7-footer didn't start playing basketball until he was 15. Prior to that, he focused on his first love—tennis. But once his growth spurt came on, basketball seemed like the better choice.
"The height and my [issues with] movement helped to make the decision for basketball," Nowitzki told TennisNow.com. The big man still plays tennis frequently as a hobby.
7. Luol Deng Dreamed of Being a Soccer Star
Before he became a two-time NBA All-Star, Luol Deng dreamed of playing professional soccer. As a kid in South Sudan, Deng was so talented at the sport, he even earned an invite to try out for England's U-15 national team. However, by that time he had decided that basketball deserved his full attention.
"I always wanted to be a soccer player. That my was first love," Deng told ESPN FC. "Soccer was what I wanted to do, but I had this growth spurt where I became taller than everyone. [Basketball] just made more sense."