Hawks Players Have Strong Ties To Football

Players
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

With the Atlanta Falcons set to take on the New England Patriots Sunday, the city of Atlanta is flush with football fever, and that sentiment extends to Dwight Howard, who was born and raised here.

"I want to see the hometown team win," Howard said. "I think it would be great for our city and just bring people together."

In fact, the enthusiasm is so great that the Hawks even went so far as to simulate the big game on Madden 17 on Facebook – with Hawks players sprinkled throughout the Falcons’ roster in the simulation.

One might hesitate and scoff at the notion of the Hawks playing football. But before dismissing it entirely, consider that the members of the Hawks are among the world's 500 best basketball players and that they are some of the most elite athletes in the world. It's at least worth a look at their football-playing credentials.

As you would expect of the team that can pass for days (ATL is 7th in the NBA in assists), the Hawks have former quarterbacks up and down the roster. Here's a list of the Hawks and their football (and non-football) exploits:

Dwight Howard, defensive end

Howard has perhaps the most experience in football among the Hawks, or at the very least, he is the one who stuck with the sport longest.

"I played football all the way up until I was age 17," Howard said. "I was a defensive end. My job was to hit people, and hit them hard. That's what I wanted to do. I didn't care about nothing else."

Then Howard cracked into a mischievous grin.

"I just wanted to hit people," he chuckled. "And I did it pretty good."

Paul Millsap, quarterback 

Millsap and his three brothers all played college and professional basketball. But as a kid, Millsap played football in middle school in Denver and loved it. It was only when the Millsap family moved back to Louisiana – shortly before Paul started high school – that he began to focus solely on basketball.

“I used to idolize Paul because he was pretty good,” Elijah Millsap once told Grantland. “If he put effort into being a quarterback, he probably could’ve made it to the NFL. He was that gifted.”

Tim Hardaway Jr., wide receiver/cornerback, and Mike Dunleavy Jr., quarterback

Hardaway and Dunleavy, both sons of former NBA players, played football growing up but were talked out of the sport by their fathers.

"I tried out for football in ninth grade," Hardaway once told the New York Post.  "My dad said stop. He didn’t want me to do it. He was scared because he tore his ACL."

Dunleavy went through the same thing.

"I was probably best at basketball and football," Dunleavy once told Cavs.com. "I was a really good quarterback. When I got to high school, I really wanted to play football, but my dad and my high school coach talked me out of it. And that worked out pretty well."

Given that Hardaway and Dunleavy made it to the NBA, it's hard to argue with that logic.

Mike Muscala, quarterback/wide receiver

Muscala said that he played football until 9th grade.

"I didn't really like football that much," Muscala said. "I liked throwing the ball and messing around, but it got way too physical for like no reason."

Muscala was quick to differentiate between what it meant to be physical in basketball and football.

"I don't mind the physicality in basketball," he said, "but when we started playing other (football) teams that were like crazy and going nuts and the play was over and they were still hitting you, that was when I knew it was time to quit."

Dennis Schroder, Tiago Splitter, and Thabo Sefolosha, ummm, midfielder?

Schroder (Germany), Splitter (Brazil) and Sefolosha (Switzerland) grew up outside of the United States in countries where American football meant nothing and futbol meant everything. To wit: Schroder and Sefolosha often gently kick-dribble a basketball back and forth during pre-game warmups.

"I've never played it," Schroder said of American football. "I've seen TP (Taurean Prince) throwing the ball and he looks good as a quarterback."

For his part, though, it should be noted that Sefolohsa's Twitter avatar is of him sitting on a cooler in a flag football uniform. Perhaps he has the most experience of the three. With his wingspan and hands, it's hard to argue that Sefolosha wouldn't be a great receiver. 

Taurean Prince, wide receiver, and DeAndre' Bembry, free safety/quarterback:

The Hawks' young rookies played football until middle school.

"I played a little bit of peewee football growing up," Prince said. "It would keep you out of trouble. It would keep you out of mom's face. (I played) until I was 14. I almost played for my high school team but I wanted to focus on one sport."

Bembry said that he played a lot of sports ... and a lot of positions. 

"Growing up as a kid, you play anything -- soccer, football, baseball -- all of it," Bembry said. "(This) doesn't match in any way, but I played quarterback, wide receiver and free safety. I stopped when I was in about 8th grade."

When asked why he stopped, Bembry played coy.

"I just decided it wasn't for me," he laughed. "But yeah, I definitely played."

In addition to concentrating on football, Prince had one other very valid reason for sticking to hoops. 

"I didn't like the heat. There's a big difference playing outside in Texas."

Kent Bazemore, wide receiver/safety/return specialist

Growing up in Kelford, NC, Bazemore took part in baseball, track, and football. He stuck with the gridiron until the 8th grade, when a growth spurt hit and the bumps and bruises took their toll on his lanky frame. 

"I played quarterback a little bit, but my offensive line wasn't that good, so I kind of got demoted. I got too frustrated. They moved me to receiver and I was pretty good too. I was fast and a punt returner and kick returner."

As a teenager, Bazemore may have been better at football and track as he was as basketball. His agent, Austin Walton, once told ATL and 29 about hooping with Bazemore during Bazemore's college summers.

"When I first met him, he was the last guy picked," Walton said. "He was a track guy trying to play basketball.”

“I joke all the time with him that I was better than he was when I first saw him," said Walton, himself a former college basketball player. "But he made the most miraculous jumps from summer to summer than anyone I've ever seen, and I think it's a testament to his work ethic."

Kris Humphries and Mike Scott, athletes 

Humphries once told USA Basketball that football was his favorite non-basketball sport, and his father, Bill, earned All-Big Ten second team honors in 1981 and 1982 as an offensive lineman at the University of Minnesota. On the other hand, Humphries' best sport away from the hardwood has to be swimming, doesn't it? As a grade schooler, Humphries set multiple state and national records, eclipsing some future Olympians.

According to ESPN, when Scott was in elementary school, he "competed in several track events, qualifying for the AAU nationals and finishing in the top three in each event: second in the long jump, first in the 400m and third in the 800m."

Malcolm Delaney and Lamar Patterson, quarterbacks

Both Delaney and Patterson followed their older brothers into sports. Unlike their older brothers, the two picked basketball over football in college. Vincent Delaney played cornerback for Stonewall College and Perry Patterson started at quarterback for Syracuse from 2004-2006.

"Lamar always was a little more hyper than his brothers were," his mother Loreen Patterson told Hawks.com in 2016. "He was very outspoken. But Lamar's goal has always been to be better than (his brother Perry). He went to Perry's games and he always said he was going to be better. He wanted to beat Perry at everything. It was never Perry. It was always Lamar who was competitive. Perry is very quiet."

As a kid, Delaney was happy to follow his brother outside and play just about anything.

"My brother was a better football player than he was a basketball player, but we had the basketball goal in my backyard," Malcolm said. "The whole neighborhood used to come play. I was outside every day, I was more of the basketball guy. Football was my best sport growing up, but basketball was fun. Every day, if it was snowing, it didn't matter. I always went outside and played in the back."

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