As a gesture to the Dallas athlete who only Dirk Nowitzki outdoes in terms of professional athlete service time in the city, the Mavericks are letting Romo dress for the season’s final home game Tuesday night.
While the 14-year NFL quarterback Romo will be in uniform as “a Maverick for a day” against the Denver Nuggets, as some tell it, he wouldn’t embarrass himself were he to see the floor. Far from it, actually.
Caron Butler, who played with nine teams over 14 NBA seasons, played high school basketball in Wisconsin against Romo. And as Butler tells ESPN, an NBA career could have been in the works for the longtime Cowboys QB.
“Believe it or not, man, when we were in the prime of our careers, I used to always talk about it: [Romo] could have easily been a professional basketball player,” Butler told ESPN. “And a lot of people were like, ‘Man, you’re crazy for saying that,’ but Tony could shoot. He could handle the ball. He had a knack for scoring, man, he really did.
“He was a really good football player, obviously, being a quarterback. He was great at golf. And he was really good at basketball. Obviously it worked out for him with the football, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have made it playing basketball. He had a great feel for the game, man. And it’s not surprising. Golf is a cerebral game; you gotta have that mental component to conquer the course. And then football’s the same thing; you gotta be able to think on the fly and do all these things. And then basketball, I thought, all those components worked together.”
In 1998, Butler and Romo were each named to the All-Racine County (Wisconsin) boys basketball team. While Butler played for Racine Park (Racine, Wisc.) and averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds, Romo was shining at nearby Burlington, averaging 24.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
Butler went on to Maine Central Institute (Pittsfield, Me.), followed by two years at UConn and a long NBA career. Romo, meanwhile, headed to Eastern Illinois where he won the Walter Payton Award as the best player in Div. 1-AA (now FCS) before a long career in Dallas. Per ESPN, mid-major schools like Wisconsin-Green Bay recruited Romo for basketball. No wonder, as he remains the all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,080 points.
“Quite honestly, his thing was filling the entire stat sheet,” Romo’s high school coach, Steve Berezowitz, told ESPN. “He was just a quiet player. He had seven 3s in one game, but it wasn’t like he scored in one way. All of a sudden you would look in the book and he had his 25 points, eight or nine rebounds, seven or eight assists and because he had such great hands he also averaged over five steals his senior here. He completely filled the stat sheet. He did that with a group that wasn’t incredibly skilled, so he had to basically do every part of the game for us to be successful.”
Berezowitz told ESPN that what made Romo great was also one of his best attributes as a quarterback: his vision.
“It seemed like he never forced anything,” Berezowitz said. “Never forced a bad shot because he was always in control and he saw what was going on around him. That’s what separated him from everybody else. When I first met him, this one-day contract or whatever it is would fulfill his dreams. Most kids dream of an NFL career, but for a long time this is something he wanted to do, so I’m sure it will be a pretty good experience for him.”
For a bit of proof of Romo’s skills on the court, here he is playing then-Blue Devils star Quinn Cook 1-on-1 in 2015.
You can read more of ESPN’s story on Romo’s former hoop dreams here.