At the peak of his powers, defensive end Dwight Freeney was one of the scariest forces in the NFL. A first-round pick in 2002, the seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro helped Peyton Manning and the Colts win Super Bowl XLI, and his 119.5 career sacks rank top-20 all-time.
Freeney, 36, played on the basketball team back at Bloomfield High in Connecticut—he credits basketball for the footwork that goes into his signature spin move on the gridiron—before earning a football scholarship to Syracuse. (He says fellow ’Cuse alum Donovan McNabb is still the best NFL hooper he’s seen.)
He’s also a Jordan Brand athlete, for which he’s thankful beyond the player exclusive cleats he laces up on Sundays, since the now-Atlanta Falcon is a long-time Bulls fan.
With NFL season kicking off on Thursday night, we caught up with Freeney over the phone to find out what kind of game he had on the court, and which NBA players he roots for now.
SLAM: Who’s your NBA team?
Dwight Freeney: Chicago. That was the first basketball team I ever loved, back in the mid-’80s, during the Michael Jordan era. I stayed with them and I’m loyal.
Who are your favorite players now?
DF: Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade—it’s crazy that he’s playing for Chicago now. Those are three guys that, they’re not the biggest guys in the world, but they play big for their position. I really admire what they do.
SLAM: What was your reaction when Wade signed with Chicago this summer?
DF: I was ecstatic. I wish it would have happened like four years ago [laughs], but he’s a special talent. He still has a lot of ability and I think he can still get it done, definitely.
SLAM: Butler said he could be an NFL wide receiver. What do you think?
DF: I 100 percent believe it. He’s a tough kid, man—he plays hard. He almost plays the game kind of like a football player. I don’t think it’s appreciated enough that he’s one of those guys that isn’t afraid to get hit.
SLAM: Do you have any friends in the L?
DF: I’m friends with CP3, and a couple guys like Al Harrington on the Pacers back in the day that I became close with. Carmelo Anthony and I have the Syracuse connection, so I’m always going to be a fan of his, too. JR [Smith], LeBron, I see them all from time to time. I know a lot of the guys.
SLAM: What was your bball career like?
DF: I would consider myself a Charles Barkley, without scoring that many points. If you gave me five or six inches, I could have been a problem. I would have had a real decision to make. But the problem is, you can’t be 6-1 playing power forward in college.
SLAM: What’s your game like?
DF: Man, my game is straight old man game. I’ll post up here and there, but I’m passing the ball mostly, and just trying to stay out of freakin’ trouble.
SLAM: What did you think of KD signing with Golden State?
DF: I didn’t have a problem with it. Unfortunately right now, when you’re a star like that, you’re defined by championships. As far as your legacy, if you want to be one of the best, you have to win a championship. I can understand it. It’s no different than what LeBron did, in a sense. I’m old school, as far as staying on the same team, but I understand him.
SLAM: Who’s the worst basketball player on the Falcons?
DF: About the whole offensive line. Of the linemen, I don’t think there are any great players. But, Bryan Cox, our D-line coach, he’s the worst basketball player I’ve ever seen.
Image via AP Photos