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Doc Rivers says LeBron James could have been the best player in the NFL if he had played football

Doc Rivers hypotheticals aren’t always accurate, but this one just might be.

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Current LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers has a ton of experience game-planning to try to deal with the threat of LeBron James. From his days trying to slow James with the Celtics to his current time trying to scheme against the Lakers, Rivers has seen how impressive James can be up-close-and-personal plenty of times.

All of that history between the two has left Rivers with one takeaway about James’ place in NBA (and sports) history, and he shared it on Uninterrupted’s “Go Off” podcast:

“I would put LeBron as the best athlete (in NBA history). I don’t think there has ever been, and Michael was a super athlete and so was Kobe, and so is Kawhi, (but) I don’t know if there has ever been an athlete in our league like LeBron James... I really believe that if LeBron James had played football he may have been the greatest football player ever at whatever position. If he can catch (laughs). Or (play) defense!”

If you watch this moment in the pod around the 37-minute mark, you can almost hear Rivers wishing that James had done just that.

And while James and Rivers probably don’t agree on tons of things after all their battles against one another, this is something they can probably find common ground on. James is so confident in Rivers’ hypothesis, in fact, that he also revealed this week that he trained to potentially play in the NFL during the 2011 NBA lockout, even receiving a contract offer from the Dallas Cowboys.

While James ultimately chose to remain a one-sport specialist, the special athleticism and coordination — even among NBA players — that allowed LeBron to even consider that possibility after years of not playing football is a big part of what makes him so special in the sport he does play professionally. Rivers tried to explain why it makes James so dangerous:

“Here is the thing when someone asks me about LeBron, ‘explain to me why he is so dominant.’ And I said ‘okay, he weighs 10 pounds more than Karl Malone. Karl Malone was a power forward and was looked upon as the biggest, strongest guy in the league. LeBron weighs 10 pounds more than him at the small forward, moving at the speed that he moves at.’ That explains LeBron James in a nutshell.”

It really does describe him pretty well. And given that Rivers just seemed to be trying to show respect to James’ historical status in the game here, I think we can all agree that Lakers fans don’t need to get him fined for tampering again. We can all let this one slide.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.