NBA to NFL Players: Crossing the Ultimate Sports Divide

nba to nfl

This article explores the remarkable transition of athletes from the NBA to the NFL, highlighting notable examples like Otto Graham and Bud Grant, and delves into the unique challenges and future prospects of this athletic crossover.


The crossover between the NBA and the NFL is a rare and fascinating phenomenon in the world of sports. While both leagues represent the pinnacle of athletic achievement, they require vastly different skill sets and physical attributes.

Lets take a closer look at the select group of athletes who have not only transitioned between these two professional sports but have also found success on both courts and fields.

NBA Players Who Have Transitioned to the NFL

The crossover between the NBA and NFL is highly unusual due to the distinct skill sets required for each sport. However, a few athletes have made notable transitions, showcasing their versatile athletic talents.

Otto Graham

Before becoming a football legend, Otto Graham played professional basketball with the Rochester Royals, winning the National Basketball League (NBL) championship in the 1946 season. Graham was a three-sport star at Northwestern University, excelling in football, basketball, and baseball.

He was named an All-America in both football and basketball, which showcases his diverse athletic skills.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Graham joined the Rochester Royals and contributed to their championship win.

Following his basketball career, Graham transitioned to football, where he became one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, leading the Cleveland Browns to numerous championships and setting several records.

His success in both basketball and football makes him a unique example of an athlete excelling in both NBA (or its precursor) and NFL contexts

Bud Grant

Bud Grant was an American professional football player and coach, known for his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

He started his professional sports career playing in the NBA for the Minneapolis Lakers, where he was part of the 1950 championship team, before moving to the NFL to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. Grant is celebrated for being the first coach to guide teams to both the Grey Cup and the Super Bow

NFL Players With significant associations with basketball

Other athletes we mention below did not play in the NBA but had significant associations with basketball.

Tony Gonzalez

While known more for his collegiate basketball career, Gonzalez played basketball at the University of California, Berkeley, before becoming one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history.

Antonio Gates

Did not play college football but starred in college basketball for Kent State. He transitioned to the NFL and became one of the most prolific tight ends in the history of the league.

Julius Peppers

Played basketball for the University of North Carolina before becoming a renowned defensive end in the NFL.

Demetrius Harris

Played basketball for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs as a tight end.

Although these athletes did not play in the NBA, their experiences in basketball provided a foundation that helped in their NFL careers, highlighting the transferable skills between the two sports and the potential for crossover success.

Athletes Involved in Both NBA and NFL

Some athletes have been involved with both the NBA and NFL, albeit in different capacities, showcasing the crossover appeal between the two leagues.

Charlie Ward

Won the Heisman Trophy and played quarterback at Florida State University but chose to pursue a career in the NBA instead of the NFL.

Dave Winfield

Drafted by both NBA and NFL teams but chose to pursue a career in Major League Baseball instead.

Renaldo Nehemiah

A world-class hurdler who played in the NFL without a college football background and later worked in roles associated with the NBA.

Randy Moss

Known primarily for his NFL career, Moss played basketball during his high school years and was a talented player, though he ultimately chose football as his professional path.

Quinn Cook

While primarily a basketball player, Cook has expressed interest in football, showing the athletic versatility present in some athletes.

These individuals highlight the interchangeability and athletic prowess required to be associated with both the NBA and NFL, whether through actual play or through draft considerations and athletic potential in multiple sports.

Challenges and Adaptations

Transitioning from the NBA to the NFL is fraught with challenges, from the physical (altering body composition to suit different athletic demands) to the tactical (learning an entirely new playbook and set of strategies).

Athletes must adapt to the different pacing, physical contact, and mental approaches required in football compared to basketball.

Successful transitions often involve rigorous training, mental fortitude, and the ability to quickly learn and apply football techniques, demonstrating the remarkable adaptability of these athletes.

Modern Day and Future Prospects

Today, the crossover between the NBA and NFL is less common due to the increasing specialization in professional sports. However, the athletic traits that make players successful in basketball—such as height, agility, and hand-eye coordination—continue to be valued in football, particularly for positions like tight end and wide receiver.

As training methods and scouting approaches evolve, there may be new opportunities for athletes to cross over between these sports.

The future may see a continued, albeit selective, flow of talent between the NBA and NFL as athletes seek to maximize their career opportunities and teams look for unique competitive advantages.

Final Words

The journey from the NBA to the NFL is a testament to the incredible versatility and athletic prowess of certain individuals.

While not common, the successful transition of some athletes between these two professional leagues highlights the raw athletic talent and adaptability required to compete at the highest levels in different sports.

As we look to the future, the legacy of those who have bridged the gap between the NBA and NFL continues to inspire current and future athletes to explore their full athletic potential, regardless of the arena.

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