The games are similar, basketball and soccer. Both are contact sports with little protective equipment; both have goals (or baskets) on the two sides of the field (or court) where a player must put the ball in to score points. Both have situations where a costly turnover could quickly turn into a counterattack or fast-break and cost a team points. Both games require elite athleticism, and players from both sports get paid tons of money to play their game at an elite level.
That’s where the similarities end between soccer and basketball, but that hasn’t stopped us from compiling a full soccer team with NBA stars.
One sport plays 5-on-5, the other plays 11-on-11. One sport has rosters with multiple players who are 6-9 or bigger, while the other has rosters with multiple players who are shorter than 5-9.
Still, fans can’t help but wonder what star players would be like if they played in opposite sports. Fans have seen the videos of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki kicking around and Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero comes from a family of basketball players.
Kobe Bryant grew up in Italy and is a huge soccer fan. LeBron James went to Brazil this summer to watch the World Cup final, and some fans have always wondered what if a freak athlete like Allen Iverson played soccer from the very beginning, like he did with hoops?
How good of a striker would The Answer have been? Would he have made the National Team? Would he have made baggy shorts and XXXL t-shirts popular among soccer fans? Would he have turned a generation of basketball hopefuls into MLS freaks?
Who knows, but for a hypothetical barbershop talk, let’s build an 18-man soccer squad of current NBA players.
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THE NBA STARTING XI (4-1-3-2 formation)
Goal Keeper: Anthony Davis
This one is a no-brainer. Davis is a freak athlete who is 6-10 with a 7-6 wingspa. He also has the right amount of speed to be able to cover a 24-by-8 foot soccer goal. With those measurements, combined with his leaping ability, speed, and hands he should make an all-star hypothetical soccer goalie. Leading the league in blocks per game last season made this decision a lot easier, too.
Outside defenders: Tony Allen, Patrick Beverley
I know what you’re thinking, NBA fans: “These guys are too small. Why didn’t you pick Kwahi Leonard or Paul George?” But size does not exactly matter here; Brazil’s Dani Alves is one of the best right backs in the world and stands at about 5-8. Besides, I have other plans for George and Leonard.
What I want in my outside backs are guys who are great on-ball defenders, and who can act as pests; guys that just bug the hell out of the man across from them to the point where they can force easy turnovers and push the ball up the field. I couldn’t think of two bigger pests than Allen and Beverley. I might have to worry about red cards with these two, though.
Center Backs: Paul George, Kwahi Leonard
Anthony Davis and his ridiculous wingspan are in the goal while Beverley and Allen will force the ball inside or take it away. So at left and right center back, I’d like to have two more versatile defenders, but who are also bigger than my outside defenders and can guard multiple positions. Two guys who are great at defending on the ball, while also having the speed to chase down, catch up, and get in front of scoring threats if they are beat. Paul George and Kwahi Leonard are two guys who are both above 6-7, can head out crosses (probably) in case Beverley or Allen blow an assignment. Oh, and they can also do all of the things I just mentioned above on a basketball court, and hopefully on a soccer field, too.
This pair wouldn’t be on the field just for defensive purposes, either. They’d also be valuable joining the attack on a counter while acting as threats, or a decoy, on set pieces.
Central Defensive Midfielder: Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe is a good enough offensive player and a good enough passer to get up the field, create some space and dish out assists. But as well as he can facilitate an offensive attack, he’s also a freak of an athlete with blazing speed, a ridiculous vertical, and he isn’t afraid to challenge a seven-footer on a dunk or block attempt. Bledsoe’s versatility will make him a valuable CDM on this make-believe team.
Outside Midfielders: John Wall, Russell Westbrook
There are a few things I need out of my wingers:
1. Speed – Check.
2. Elite Passing – Check.
3. More Speed – Check.
4. Elite Athleticism – Check.
5. More Speed – Check.
6. The ability to score – Check.
Not only are these two players really fast with the ball in their hands (or, in this case, with the ball at their feet) but they’re also great passers, scorers and they defend their position well. Westbrook and Wall should be able to get a pass on the sideline, beat a defender or two on their way to a goal or a cross into the box. My assistant coaches might have to work with Westbrook on that whole “passing to the open man” thing, but nevertheless these are the two best men for the job. Did I mention that Wall and Westbrook are among the fastest players in the league?
Also, let’s make sure Westbrook and Beverley play on opposite sides of the field.
Central Midfielder: Rajon Rondo
Think of the central midfielder as a point guard. The guy who creates the opportunities for others and who breaks the defense down with precision passing and touches. That’s Rajon Rondo, right? Despite the Celtics recent slump and his ACL tear, let’s not forget that Rondo is a tactician on the basketball court. He doesn’t need to score, but will if that’s what the team needs. Instead, Rondo will break the defense down with his speed, finesse, moves, and passing, thereby creating an open space for nearly any other player around him. He also fits the “pest-on-defense” label and will be valuable defending against any counterattacks.
Strikers: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki
This has nothing to do with Nowitzki being German or LeBron being the best player in the NBA. Here’s why these two are the men to score all of my goals:
1. One is 6-8 and the other is 7-1. Who’s out-jumping them on set pieces or when Wall or Westbrook cross a ball in?
2. Both are pretty good at flopping. More set pieces and more penalties = more goals.
3. Both bring different skills to the table.
I’d like to think of LeBron as my Zlatan Ibrahimovic: a player who just bullies defenders until he gets enough space to shoot (kind of like backing a man down in the post until you get close enough to the rim). Dirk on the other hand would be my guy who sits at the top of the box waiting for a pass and an open shot (like shooting a three from the top of the key).
THE VII RESERVES:
Steve Nash: Let’s be honest, in his current physical state, he’s really just here if I think the game is going into penalty kicks. Then again, many feel Nash could have played for the Canadian national team, and he went to Santa Clara, one of the preeminent soccer schools on the west coast.
Jimmy Butler: A guy who can guard multiple positions and can be a valuable substitute should one of these defenders go down.
Ray Allen: A long distance sharpshooter who can be the free-kick specialist off the bench.
DeAndre Jordan: A couple things make Jordan a valuable substitute to have. First off, if this squad is down by a goal and needs one with about 10 minutes to play, I’m taking Dirk out and putting in DeAndre Jordan to sit in the box and poach. Jordan grabbed 331 offensive rebounds this past year. Innstead of a put-back dunk, he’ll be kicking or heading it in.
The second is if Anthony Davis should go down, Jordan is 7-1 and blocked 203 shots last season, only trailing Anthony in that department. Combine that with his athleticism that we have seen on display during one of his alley-oops in Lob City and he should make for a decent goal keeper.
Carmelo Anthony: ‘Melo just trained with train with Real Madrid. No, really — though he looked absolutely befuddled with the ball at his feet. Anthony would be a solid substitute for either LeBron or Dirk up top, but a formation change could likely put him in more one-on-one situations.
Kobe Bryant: Like Nash, he’s here if I need a late goal and for penalties. I’m not sure how much the Black Mamba has left, but if this team needs a goal, they’ll call his number. Plus, growing up in Italy trained him for this moment.
Matt Barnes: Sometimes you just need a goon, a guy who can send a message a certain type of way. Barnes can do that while also being a solid defender and halfway-decent long distance shooter. Mostly, he’s just there to knock people around while trying not to pick up a red card.
Perhaps one guy we’re overlooking would be Joakim Noah, who would add some rah-rah spirit and show guys how to properly freak out after scoring:
Who did we miss?
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