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One-Sport Athletes Who Tried to be Two-Sport Athletes

March 4, 2021

Sure, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders both played pro baseball and pro football, and simultaneously at that. But several other professional jocks who had what it took to make it one big league couldn’t quite cut it in another.

Michael Jordan at Boston Garden

Michael Jordan, baseball player

In October 1993, shortly after winning his third straight NBA title with the Chicago — and devastated by the murder of his father — Michael Jordan abruptly retired from basketball, citing a loss of passion for the game. He’d pursue a different sport instead: baseball, because Jordan’s father loved baseball. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also owned the Chicago White Sox, and signed Jordan to its minor league farm system. In the 1994 season, Jordan suited up for the AA-level Birmingham Barons. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t terrible, hitting .202 with three home runs and 30 stolen bases, along with striking out 114 times. In 1995, with a players’ strike looming, Jordan quit baseball, returned to the Bulls… and then won another three NBA championships. 

Mookie Betts, bowler

Betts is one of baseball’s best. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ right-fielder, and recently-minted World Series winner, is a four-time all-star, five-time Gold Glove winner, and was named the American League MVP in 2018. He’s also a pretty good bowler. With just two weeks of preparation, he entered the Professional Bowlers Association’s World Series of Bowling in 2015. Out of 241 players — most of whom were the best bowlers on the planet — he ranked as high as number 122 in the standings. Just before the start of the 2016 baseball season (yes, he returned to baseball), Betts was still keeping his bowling skills sharp — he completed two games with a perfect score of “300” (meaning he bowled strikes every time).

Wizards v/s Heat 03/30/11

LeBron James, football player

In 2011, a contract disagreement between the NBA’s players union and team owners led a five-month lockout that reduced the length of the 2011-2012 season. LeBron James, the league’s marquee player and two-time MVP, was so worried that the stoppage in play would last for so long that he started making plans to jump to the NFL. A decade earlier, James had been a star wide receiver in high school, and was recruited by powerhouses like Florida State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. When he put out feelers, the Seattle Seahawks extended an invitation to try out, which he declined in order to stick to basketball. “I would have made the team,” James confidently told The Athletic in 2021. “I would have tried out, but I would have made the team.” 

Wilt Chamberlain, volleyball player

Wilt “The Silt” Chamberlain was one of the greatest NBA players ever, easily dominating the competition in the 1950s and 1960s. He averaged over 30 points a game in nine different seasons, including his 1961-62 campaign for the Philadelphia Warriors, when he’d get 50.4 points per game. (It was during that season when Chamberlain set a still-intact record of scoring 100 points in one game.) Unsurprisingly, Chamberlain was extremely tall — he stood 7’1”, which aided him in the other team sport where height provides a major advantage: volleyball. While an active basketball star, Chamberlain played volleyball for fun, and when the International Volleyball Association came together in 1974, a year after his retirement from basketball, he joined its board of directors and then became its president. Chamberlain also played for the IVA’s Seattle Smashers, and the league’s all-star game was only televised because The Silt agreed to play in it. He was named the game’s most valuable player, and likely would’ve kept playing pro volleyball a lot longer had the IVA not folded in 1979. 

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