Reaching the pinnacle of the sport is the ultimate accomplishment for any professional athlete. Sportsmen and women put in all the hours in training and preparation in their bid to master their craft. When they’ve achieved their goal or put in as much work as possible to compete to their best, only then are athletes truly satisfied.
However, there are some players that are not fulfilled enough to master one sport to a high level, they have to attempt to reach the heights of a second. We’ll now look at five players that successfully transitioned across two major sports.
5. Danny Ainge
Ainge is now the general manager of the Boston Celtics, who he played for during an impressive career in the NBA. However, before he joined the professional basketball ranks, Ainge was selected in the 1977 amateur baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Ainge was still at college at BYU and focusing on a career in the NBA. He managed to work his way up the minors before making his MLB debut in the 1979 campaign for the Blue Jays.
Ainge played three seasons for Toronto, accumulating over 211 appearances. Ainge played as a second and third baseman over the course of his career, but struggled to make an impact as a batter. He scored only two home runs, with an average of .220. Ainge’s career tailed off as it became clear his basketball talent was superior to that in baseball.
The Celtics drafted him in the second round of the 1981 Draft, and he enjoyed an eight-year spell with the team, winning the NBA Championship twice in 1984 and 1986, along with being named an All-Star in 1988.
He had an ill-fated three-year spell as head coach of the Phoenix Suns, failing to progress beyond the first round of the post-season. After resigning in 2003, he did not return to the NBA until 2003 when he re-joined the Celtics as their general manager. Ainge orchestrated the Celtics’ triumph in the 2008 NBA Finals, earning the Executive of the Year award, proving that he made the right decision reverting back to basketball.
4. Tim Tebow
Tebow was a college football star at the University of Florida. He was the quarterback of the Gators side that won the National Championship in 2006 and 2008. Tebow’s excellence on the field in both passing and rushing disciplines saw him crowned with the Heisman Trophy in 2007. He was named the Maxwell Award winner twice, along with scooping the Davey O'Brien Award, before making the decision to declare for the NFL Draft in 2010.
The Denver Broncos selected Tebow in the first round, but he found life difficult in the league. Head coach Josh McDaniels was fired in his rookie term, while he struggled to contend with the transition in style between the college game and the NFL. However, he did guide the Broncos to the playoffs, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the process. A defeat to the New England Patriots ended his time in Denver. He failed to catch on elsewhere in spells with the New York Jets, the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, resulting in a change in approach from Tebow.
In 2016, he was invited to try out for 30 MLB teams before being signed by the New York Mets. Tebow has worked his way through the Mets’ affiliates in the minor leagues and is currently one level below the majors, plying his trade for Syracuse. The 2019 season has been a tough one for the 31-year-old, although he has enjoyed success in the levels below. It may take time for his MLB dream to become a reality.
3. Michael Jordan
Jordan is arguably the greatest player in NBA history due to his exploits for the Chicago Bulls during his 15-year career. The guard was the driving force of the Bulls’ six NBA Championship wins, being named Finals MVP in all six triumphs. Jordan earned five regular season MVP awards, displaying a level of brilliance that has not been matched on the court since his final retirement in 2002.
However, Jordan was perhaps a victim of his own quality. During the opening seven years of his career, Chicago were contenders for the NBA Championship but failed to get over the line. The arrival of Phil Jackson turned the Bulls into a Championship-winning machine. Chicago dominated the NBA over a three-year stretch, triumphing three times in a row. Their imperious hold over the league resulted in Jordan becoming disillusioned with his NBA career. Jordan stunned the world by joining the Chicago White Sox in 1993 on a minor-league contract, retiring from basketball.
He did not take to baseball as well as expected, struggling to make an impact for the Birmingham Barons in Double-A, averaging .202 and hitting only three home runs. Jordan also appeared for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Fall League, but came to the conclusion that his future was back in the NBA, prompting his return to Chicago in 1995.
The rest was history as the Bulls three-peated once again between 1996 and 1998. Jordan retired for the second time after the Bulls’ final triumph, although on this occasion he stayed away from baseball. Jordan returned to play two seasons for the Washington Wizards where he remained a quality player before calling time for good in 2002 at the age of 39.
2. Deion Sanders
Sanders enjoyed long careers in both the NFL and the MLB. He played three sports during his college career at Florida State, splitting time between football, baseball and track. Sanders’ talent resulted in him being selected in the 1985 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals, although he did not make an appearance for them. When he emerged from the college ranks, Sanders was drafted in the 30th round of the MLB Draft by the New York Yankees, while a year later he was picked fifth overall by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1989 NFL Draft.
Sanders had to bargain with the Falcons to appear for the Yankees after impressing at the Triple-A level. He reached an agreement and appeared for both teams in the 1989 season, becoming the first player to score a touchdown and hit a home run in a single week. Sanders moved to the Atlanta Braves to ensure that he could prolong both careers in the two sports.
In 1991 he was named to the Pro Bowl and as an All-Pro with the Falcons and played a decisive role in guiding the Braves to playoffs. For the Braves in 1992, he averaged .302 and scored eight home runs in their run to the World Series, although it ended in defeat. Sanders’ time with the Falcons ended in 1993 when he joined the San Francisco 49ers, winning Super Bowl XXIX in his only term with the team along with the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
He signed a lucrative contract with the Dallas Cowboys and added another Super Bowl ring to his collection of titles in 1995. However, he struggled to maintain both careers in spells with the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants before calling time on his baseball tenure in 2001. Sanders played in the NFL until 2005 before he ended his career as one of the greatest cornerbacks in the history of the game and was rightly inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
1. Bo Jackson
Jackson’s story is one of the most frustrating in sporting history given what could have been if not for a devastating hip injury. He was a star in the college football game, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1985, while he also excelled in baseball. Due to his talent on the football field, Jackson was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL Draft.
However, he refused to sign for the club due to an illegal visit to their facilities that cost him his final college baseball season at Auburn. As a result, Jackson made the move to the MLB after being selected by the Kansas City Royals. He impressed enough to earn a major call-up in his rookie season and fared well enough. Jackson was offered the chance to play in the NFL after the Buccaneers gave up their rights to his contract. He joined the Los Angeles Rams and played for both clubs, beginning in 1987.
Jackson was a rare phenom in both disciplines. As a running back in the NFL, he averaged over five yards per carry, scoring 18 touchdowns in his four seasons. His MLB statistics were equally impressive, earning an All-Star berth in 1989, scoring 32 home runs over the course of the season. Jackson’s career in football was ended in 1991 when he dislocated his hip in a playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals, damaging blood vessels in the process. He kept his baseball career alive in spells with Chicago White Sox and California Angels, and although he was still successful, Jackson ended his tenure at the age of 32 to spend time with his family.