From the Paint to the Pool: The Events Your Favorite NBA Stars Would (Probably) Swim


From the Paint to the Pool: The Events Your Favorite NBA Stars Would (Probably) Swim

For those living inside of a bubble for the last few months (no pun intended), the NBA Bubble finished off a somewhat miraculous run Sunday night, as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat, four games to two, in the 2020 NBA Finals. The victory gave star forward LeBron James a fourth championship and even more credibility as the greatest basketball player of all time.

For the Lakers, the championship was practically destiny this season. Not only did they have an absolutely loaded roster with stars such as James, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard, but the tragic death of basketball and Los Angeles legend Kobe Bryant made the goal for the season clear: An NBA Championship. As I thought about Bryant, whose death in January seemed like a headliner for the year that now feels like a lifetime, I thought about his love of swimming – making appearances at several major swimming events such as the 2017 Golden Goggles Awards and the 2018 U.S. National championships, as well as the friendships that he made with swimming icons such as Michael Phelps and Simone Manuel.

As I sat there pondering all of this, I thought to myself: What would LeBron swim? What would Kobe have swam? While my thoughts were actually revolving around the fact that I had to get up for morning lift in six hours, I did ponder it, and eventually decided to celebrate the end of the season by letting my brain run wild and figure out what events the players on the two finals teams would swim?

Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James, Small Forward/Power Forward: Everything

LeBron is that guy on the team who is the jack of all trades. He logs a ton of minutes, plays insane defense, shoots from both inside and beyond the arc, and the man can DUNK.

What this translates to, in my opinion, is the person who can swim literally any event and do it well. At championships, coach can put him in literally anything and he won’t just make the final, but he’ll leave home with some ice around his neck. Just as Bron can do everything well, he would perform well in any event he contested in the pool.

Dwight Howard, Center

Howard would be the Anthony Ervin of the group. He’s a veteran and excelled at a young age like Ervin. Howard was the first overall pick in the NBA Draft at 19 while Ervin won Olympic gold in the 50 free, also at the age of 19. While Ervin won a gold medal early on, they both had a long road to winning the ultimate prize late in their careers. Also similar to Ervin, they both got more serious about training late in their careers that allowed them to experience a sort of rebirth, with Howard losing 20 pounds in 2018 to go from 285 to 265.

Anthony Davis, Power Forward/Center: Sprint Freestyle

Davis, to me, would be a great sprint freestyler. This may or may not be due in part to the fact that he was a one-and-done for Kentucky and the sprint freestyle events usually don’t last for longer than 50 or so seconds. He’s also got the height of a sprinter, as he’s just four inches taller than swimming great Nathan Adrian. He has the freaky-fast reflexes you need to succeed.

Last, but certainly not least, he also has the sprint speed on land. In an article published on The Athletic shortly after the Lakers won, one of the reasons that LeBron listed for why he picked Davis as his “co-star” to lead the Lakers to a title was his ability to outrun guards, sprint speed that would almost certainly translate well to the pool. Also listed as a reason was his ability to block shots. Those large hands would definitely be beneficial for catching water and the large turnover required for sprinting.

Rajon Rondo, Point Guard: 100/200 Back

There wasn’t a lot to go off of with Rondo. He’s got the fiery personality of a sprinter, as he’s been known to get into minor conflicts with coaches.

My main reasoning for the backstroke is that he’s a point guard. By playing that position, it’s his job to lead the floor and create the best possible scoring opportunities. Likewise, a backstroker leads off the medley relay, meaning that it’s their job to have a fast first split and put their relay in the best possible position to try and win the race. His long arms and big hands are also optimal for grabbing and pulling water behind him as he moves through the water.

Danny Green, Shooting Guard: 200/400 IM

Green’s career has been pretty much the definition of aging well. After spending parts of his early years in basketball in Europe and what was then known as the D-League, he had a solid seven years with the Spurs. That stint was followed by a single year in Toronto that ended with a ring and a first year in Los Angeles that also ended in a ring.

I would project Green to swim the I.M. events. He plays almost exactly half of every game in terms of minutes at 24.8 per game. He’s known for his shooting and defense along with his play on both ends of the floor, which I think would translate well over to the pool and being skilled enough in every stroke that he would be a good IMer. He’s also played in 89% of games since 2011, showing that he has the endurance and longevity needed to succeed in the NBA.

Miami Heat

Tyler Herro, Shooting Guard: Breaststroke

This is where things get challenging. In December 2019, Herro admitted he couldn’t swim. I’m guessing getting some laps in the pool wasn’t his priority while in the bubble, so my assumption is that he probably still can’t swim.

Because breaststroke is generally understood to be the easiest stroke, since you can do it at an easier pace with your head out of the water, I’m having him be a breaststroker. He’s fast, which works for the 100, and he usually has a higher amount of minutes which works for the endurance-requiring 200.

Jimmy Butler, Shooting Guard/Small Forward: 200 Fly/400 IM

If this video is any indication, he’s probably not a strong swimmer. Like teammate Herro, I would have him swim breaststroke.

On the other hand, the man has grit and a lot of it. There’s a photo currently going around of him in the final seconds of Game 5 last Friday, literally hunched over from giving it his absolute all over 47 minutes of a 48-minute regulation game and keeping the Heat’s season alive for another game. His sheer drive would serve him well in swimming, too, especially in an event such as the 200 fly or 400 IM.

He’s also physically built for butterfly. He stands 6-7 and has a wingspan of 6-8, an inch more than a certain flyer by the name of Michael Phelps. When you combine the physical aptitude for fly with the somewhat natural ability to swim and the fact that freestyle is generally pretty easy to learn, you also get that versatility and usefulness in the IM events.

Duncan Robinson, Small Forward/Shooting Guard: Mid-Distance Freestyle

Known for shooting from outside the arc, he holds Heat franchise records for three-point shots made in a regular-season game as well as three-pointers made in a postseason game, and three-pointers made in an overall season. After leading Williams College to the Division III Championship as a freshman, he transferred to Michigan and played for them in the Division I Championship as a senior.

I would project him as a mid-distance freestyler. According to Basketball Reference, he averaged 29.7 minutes per game during the 2019-20 NBA season. Not counting overtime, a regulation basketball game has 48 minutes, meaning that Robinson averaged just over half of a game played, from which we can reasonably infer that he has pretty decent endurance.  I would have him primarily in the 500 free, and maybe in the 200 free.

Bam Adebayo, Center/Power Forward: Butterfly

Adebayo, a former first-round pick out of blue-blood Kentucky, got his nickname at the age of one when he flipped over a coffee table “in a manner similar to Flintstones character Bam-Bam Rubble.” Know what also makes a “bam” noise? A fly race.

This past season, he averaged 33.6 minutes per game. The man has endurance, we know that much. According to The Ringer, he’s 6-9, 255, and possesses bounce and speed, a combination critical for elevating oneself out and forward in a butterfly stroke. The bounce also means that he theoretically could get off the blocks fast, and get pretty far off his start. He’s also incredibly mobile and agile, as shown in this video of him defending Steph Curry. With a wingspan of 7-1, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to infer that he would be an incredible butterflyer.

Jae Crowder, Small forward/Power forward: 100/200 Back

Crowder has had a bit of an NBA journey. After playing for South Georgia Tech and Morehouse College, he was selected 34th overall out of Marquette in 2012. He’s also played for his fair share of teams, including the Celtics from 2014-17.

I would put Crowder as a backstroker. He plays good defense with his back to the hoop and is strong and muscular. His skill at rebounding shows that he is good at going up for the ball, possibly without knowing where the hoop is, just as it is critical that a backstroker be rock solid on knowing what their stroke count is.

Now that the very strange 2019-20 NBA season has ended, several things come to mind. First, this article would have been infinitely easier to write if Tim Duncan had still been playing, and a member of either team. It’s crazy to think about just how wild the bubble truly was, especially those few days following the shooting of Jacob Blake when the Lakers and Clippers didn’t just boycott, but briefly decided to not continue the season. Who wins the title if that still happens?  I think we can all agree about how much fun they would have been to watch with Kobe in the audience, not to mention an entire arena full of adoring fans.

So, I think it would be appropriate to end this article with a tribute to arguably the greatest Laker of all time.

Mamba Forever.

1 comment

  1. avatar

    A lot of thought went into this article. I really enjoyed your insight!

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