Players Who Have Been In Both the NBA and NFL

The NFL officially kicked off its season last night. The Buffalo Bills defeated the Los Angeles Rams 31-10, and the overreactions have already started.

Was the Rams’ Super Bowl win fraudulent? Are the Bills the best team in the league? Does Allen Robinson, who only had one catch, regret signing in Los Angeles?

There will be lots of chatter, especially since there aren’t any other games until Sunday. But we don’t care about any of that here.

Instead, we’re concerned about something else. Has anyone ever played in an NFL game AND an NBA game?

Why, yes, yes, someone has. Let’s explore!

There have been players who have been drafted by NFL teams and NBA teams. Or maybe a player took on one sport in college and then switched to the other.

I went to the University of Miami at the same time NFL tight end Jimmy Graham did, and he played basketball in three out of the four years I was there before switching to football. He’s made millions of dollars carving out a career that’s lasted more than a decade, so I’d say he made the right choice.

He was also very friendly when I approached him in a parking lot for a story I was writing that required interviewing a basketball player.

More recently, former Baylor player Mark Vital won an NCAA championship in 2021 and then joined the Portland Trail Blazers for the NBA Summer League. The team released him before he ever played a game.

A month later, Vital said he was switching to football and signed with the Seattle Seahawks. He was released about a week later, and then joined the Kansas City Chiefs. He lasted a bit longer there, but the Chiefs also said goodbye in July 2022.

Otto Graham played basketball in the NBL to kill time before joining the All-America Football Conference (and then the NFL). He won a title in one season with the Rochester Royals, then became a dominant quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

This whole prelude is meant to underscore that it’s really friggin’ hard to play one professional sport, and it’s really friggin’ insanely hard to play two.

Here’s our guy—Bud Grant

Only one player has reached the highest levels of basketball and American football and appeared in actual NBA and NFL games, and he did it more than 70 years ago.

Bud Grant played basketball, football, and baseball in both high school and college, with a brief enlistment in the U.S. Navy in between.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Grant was drafted by both the Philadelphia Eagles (with the 14th pick of the first round) and the Minneapolis Lakers (42nd overall in the second round).

He chose the Lakers because they were a local team, and his friend was the general manager. Oh, and they also offered him a raise after his first season. C.R.E.A.M., and all.

Grant only played in two NBA seasons, averaging a mere 2.6 points. But he won a championship in 1950, which is pretty cool.

In 1951, Grant decided he’d give football a go. He called the Eagles, the team that previously drafted him, and said something like, “Hey, I know I spurned you two years ago, but I reallllllyyyyy would like to play football now.”

And the Eagles, in true brotherly love fashion, said, “Sure.”

He played defensive end his first NFL season, leading the team in sacks, which weren’t officially counted as a stat back then. The next year, he thought, “hey, I’ve already switched sports, why not switch positions?”

So, Grant switched from defensive end to wide receiver and finished second in the NFL with 997 receiving yards.

That versatility led Grant to believe he was worth more money, but the Eagles didn’t want to pay him, so he left the arena and walked all the way to Canada (okay, he probably drove or flew).

There, he joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League and continued to put up monster numbers as an offensive end. He led the league in receptions and receiving yards multiple times over his four-year CFL career and recorded five interceptions in an October 28, 1953 playoff game.

Five interceptions in a playoff game is STILL a record to this day.

Heading into the 1957 season, the Blue Bombers needed a coach, so they turned to Grant and asked if he wanted the gig. He accepted, becoming the youngest coach in CFL history at age 29.

We don’t need to get into Grant’s entire coaching career, but he eventually moved to the Minnesota Vikings before retiring in 1985. That’s nearly three decades of coaching after already playing in two pro sports leagues.

In the summer of ’69, Grant got his first real six-string…er, led the Vikings to a victory in the NFL Championship, and then the team lost the Super Bowl.

The NFL Championship is what we would today call conference championship games, but that’s a funny statement to see.

After retiring in 1985, he became less prominent but supported environmental reform. You love to see it. Grant died in 2023, about two months shy of his 96th birthday.

May we all have such vibrant and varied careers.