So Much Game
Before he started wreaking havoc on the gridiron, San Francisco 49er NaVorro Bowman was a stopper in hoops, too.
NaVorro Bowman has always excelled at defense, no matter the sport. Nowadays, the 23-year-old is known for leading his team, the San Francisco 49ers, in tackles. But as an adolescent in the DMV, he was known for his ability to lock down opponents while playing his first love, basketball. One of the leaders behind the NFC West-winning Niners’ resurgence this season, the 6-0, 242-pound linebacker credits his extensive background in basketball for his ever-bright future in football.
SLAM: We’ve heard you were a helluva basketball player coming up in the DMV.
NaVorro Bowman: [Laughs] Yeah, I played a little bit.
SLAM: There was one story about you and OJ Mayo…
NB: Yeah, I shut him down. I played for DC Assault and was always checking the other team’s best player. When we played against Mayo’s AAU team, I locked him down. He was known as a real good player around that time, and I was on him, and I did a good job on him. That’s where I earned my nickname, Big Game Bowman.
SLAM: You grew up playing with Kevin Durant, right?
NB: Yeah, I played with KD, Tywon Lawson, Nolan Smith, Mike Beasley, Jeff Green—and I held my own. I made a name for myself.
SLAM: Did you ever dream that one day you’d make it to the NFL and he’d make it to the NBA?
NB: Shoot, I was just playing both sports for the competition back then. Just knowing we could play and have top schools come to watch our games was huge. Me excelling in football, that was just another game to compete in at first.
SLAM: Do you get to play bball anymore?
NB: I do try to work it into my off-season workout. For me to play linebacker and be as quick as I am and move sideline to sideline, there’s no doubt that’s come from playing on the hardwood.
SLAM: You played with some pretty great basketball players; what’s it like playing with Patrick Willis, a great football player?
NB: It’s huge. Just being mentioned in the same sentence as him is exciting, and being compared to him. It all goes back to competition. Anytime you have the best guy in the League playing right next to you, you always want to make sure you’re not too far behind. Ever since I’ve got drafted, that’s the mindset I’ve approached every day with. I just want to get better, stay up to speed with him and get better.
SLAM: The type of athlete he is, you think Pat could play hoops on your level?
NB: [Laughs] Nah, I’m a different breed. People see NFL players and say, “Y’all think you can play basketball.” Well, I really can. I understand the game. Basketball was my first love before football, and that’s helped me out.
SLAM: On the flipside of Pat, could you picture KD playing football?
NB: Yeah, if he put some meat on his bones! He’s tall, can run a little bit, I’m sure someone would put him outside and throw him a jumpball like they do to Calvin Johnson.
SLAM: Basketball and football require two different types of athleticism. It seems you kind of have both.
NB: It’s just something that I’ve been blessed with. I played basketball first, and football just came second. I’ll never forget: I wasn’t even gonna play football in high school because I liked basketball so much, but I was playing JV, and in my first scrimmage I went out and scored like nine times and then I got moved right up to varsity. Ever since, I’ve been getting better and better. It got me a scholarship to Penn State and now I’m here with the 49ers.
SLAM: You should’ve played both sports at Penn State.
NB: Yeah, I should’ve. I played a lot of pickup at Penn State, and people were saying, “Damn, he can really play basketball.” Like, I was bringing crowds to open gym, winning nine games a day—and that included playing with the basketball players. They wanted me try out. I never got a chance, because of how Joe [Paterno] ran his program he never wanted his players playing basketball, and football is the reason I went to Penn State.
SLAM: Otherwise you would’ve been a regular Julius Peppers.
NB: Oh yeah (laughs). I would’ve been playing March Madness.