There’s a strain of American-sports exceptionalism that asserts that if the greatest athletes in the USA chose to dedicate themselves to a sport, any sport, they would dominate it. You hear this a lot from people who pay attention to soccer every four years and get angry that the U.S. isn’t a global superpower. They think Adrian Peterson and Russell Westbrook would be better at soccer than Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard. And as people who actually know soccer will tell you, they’re wrong.
That brings us to team handball, a sport that is sort of like soccer, except players use their hands. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, U.S. national team-handball coach Javier Garcia-Cuesta was asked how long it would take for LeBron James to become the best player in the world. “Maybe six months,” the coach said. “This is just a hypothetical. He has everything. When you see him playing, your mouth drops.”
Of course, handball and basketball have a lot more in common than handball and soccer. LeBron’s skills would transfer a lot better to a game that lets him use his hands and is played on a similarly sized court. Still, it’s striking to hear the coach of U.S. handball admit that a guy who’s never played the game could destroy lifelong players after six months of practice. Then again, maybe the learning curve wouldn’t be that bad for LeBron. After all, the rules of team handball say players can take three steps after picking up their dribble, and LeBron already does that.