To make it in any professional sporting league, especially the National Basketball Association, you have to have a combination of abilities that few other people on the planet possess. But once you make it to the pros, anyone will tell you that the two most important abilities among them all are “durability” and “availability.”
Unfortunately, the history of the NBA is completely littered with guys whose careers were ended too soon because of injury issues. Here’s a quick look at promising NBA careers that were ended by injury — a list which includes some of the biggest names in the history of both leagues:
Brandon Roy was an All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2006 as a member of the University of Washington Huskies, which led to him being taken sixth overall in the NBA Draft that year.
As a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, he was a three-time All-Star, highlighted by being named All-NBA Second Team in 2009, and All-NBA Second Team in 2010. Yet, less than two years after the latter All-NBA selection, Roy announced his retirement from the NBA due to a degenerative knee condition.
Bill Walton was perhaps one of the most skilled big men in the history of the NBA. He was not only a capable scorer, but one of the most gifted passers (for a man his size) that we’ve ever seen.
But Walton’s brilliance was severely curtailed thanks to a merciless string of foot injuries, which eventually led to other body parts shutting down and needing surgeries of their own. Walton infamously underwent nearly 40 orthopedic procedures in his life, and professed to considering suicide after his latest back injury.
Yao Ming was a revolutionary 7-foot-6 center from China, that was supposed to change the way the game was viewed — both from a basketball standpoint, as well as from an international standpoint.
While the former #1 overall pick played just over six seasons in the NBA, his incredible height led to a whole host of injury issues pertaining to his feet. He missed over 250 games in his shortened NBA career.
Greg Oden is destined to go down as the “Sam Perkins over Michael Jordan” of the early 21st Century. The #1 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, Oden went one spot ahead of Kevin Durant. Just about three months after being drafted, Oden had the always-risky microfracture surgery on his knee, missing his entire rookie season. In his first NBA game the following year, he suffered a foot injury that forced him to miss two more months.
One year later, Oden fractured the patella in his left knee, and missed basically the entire 2009-2010 season. As if that wasn’t enough, he then had microfracture surgery again on that knee, ending his 2010-2011 season. Oden recently proclaimed himself that he might go down as the biggest draft bust in NBA history.
Not many people remember this fact, but the Orlando Magic went out and tried to form the first “superteam” in the summer of 2000, signing Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady in free agency. The Magic signed Hill to a $92 million contract just weeks after he broke his ankle in the playoffs as a member of the Detroit Pistons.
That injury would endure multiple complications, and be subject to numerous questions about whether the Magic mishandled Hill’s recovery. Hill played in only 57 games for the Magic over the next four years, but that ankle led to a myriad of other related injuries for Hill during the latter portion of his tenure in Orlando.
Standing 6-foot-7, with a lethal combination of passing and scoring, we once thought Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was the second coming of Magic Johnson. Alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Hardaway and the precocious Orlando Magic of the mid-1990’s took the league by storm.
But after O’Neal left Orlando, Hardaway had a brutal string of knee, foot, and ankle injuries that plagued him during his remaining days with the Magic, as well as when he was eventually traded to the Phoenix Suns. He eventually forced to retire due to an arthritic knee condition that would not respond to all his rehabilitation efforts.
The third member of the Miami Heat’s “big three,” Chris Bosh almost signed a maximum deal with the Houston Rockets in 2014, but elected to stay in Miami, even when LeBron James returned back home to Cleveland. Just months later, Bosh was admitted to a Miami hospital for lung tests, where they found a blood clot on one of his lungs.
He was able to briefly return to the court before doctors found yet another blood clot, this time in his leg. Eventually, it got to the potential dangers of the recurring medical condition were just too great, and Bosh was forced to retire from the NBA this past May.
When the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame itself calls you “perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history,” that’s when you know you’re good. “Pistol” Pete Maravich was a scoring supernova the likes of which the game had yet to see.
But at the peak of his scoring powers, a myriad of knee problems began to limit him of his incredible flair. He began to miss more and more games each year, eventually coming to the realization that his knee problems would never go away.
For Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, everything quickly went downhill after Rose was named the Most Valuable Player during the 2010-2011 NBA season, and signed a $94.8 million contract that would tie Rose to the Bulls payroll for the next five years. Rose struggled with injuries during the 2011-2012 season, culminating in him tearing his ACL in the 2012 playoffs.
In November of 2013, he tore the meniscus in his other knee, and kept him out for the next year-and-a-half. Both knee injuries robbed Rose of the explosiveness that made him such a promising player, and he now looks destined to finish his NBA career as a washed-up journeyman.
Amar’e Stoudemire rewarded the Phoenix Suns, who selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, by being named to the All-Star game four times, and being named to the All-NBA Team four times (First Team in 2007, second team in 2005, 2008, and 2010). Stoudamire parlayed those exploits into a maximum contract deal with the New York Knicks following the 2010 season, rejoining head coach Mike D’Antoni.
But many people believed that D’Antoni overused Stoudamire during his first two seasons in New York, and Stoudamire began to be plagued by knee injuries. He missed 88 games over his ensuing two seasons in New York. Those knee injuries destroyed his signature athleticism.
Affectionately known as “the hick from French Lick,” Larry Bird led the Boston Celtics to three NBA Championships during the 1980’s, and remains one of only eight players in the history of the league to win three Most Valuable Player awards. But after the 1988 season, which many consider to be Bird’s best year, his body broke down rapidly as a result of back problems that compounded over the years, robbing him of at least a couple of seasons in his prime.
After enduring agonizing pain through the late 80’s and 90’s, Bird laced up his sneakers one more time as a member of the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team for the 1992 Summer Olympics — better known as the legendary Dream Team — and retiring for good, shortly after winning the gold medal in said Olympics.
Allan Houston was the heir-apparent to the great John Starks for the New York Knicks, and was an instrumental member of the team that went to the 1999 NBA Finals.
The Knicks eventually signed Houston to a maximum contract extension worth over $20 million per year, and got virtually no return on said investment after he subsequently went through a myriad of injury problems. Between 2003 and his premature retirement in 2005, he missed over 100 games due to injury.
Jay Williams was supposed to be one of the cornerstones in which the post-Michael Jordan era Chicago Bulls were to be rebuilt upon. After one of the most decorated college careers in the history of the NCAA, the Bulls selected Williams with the #2 overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. After completing a promising rookie season, which saw Williams record the first triple-double by a Bulls player since Jordan himself, Williams was involved in a self-inflicted motorcycle accident, when he crashed his Yamaha R6 motorcycle into a streetlight.
Williams injuries included a severed main nerve in his leg, fractured pelvis and three dislocated ligaments. The damage was so bad that he required physical therapy just to regain the use of his leg. Those injuries instantly stripped him of the athletic ability he showed while at Duke University, or during his rookie season. He never again played in a meaningful NBA game.
Bernard King might be the godfather of what we refer to today as a “explosive wing player.” At 6’7, he had long arms, a great release, a lethal first step, and a deft scoring touch.
But late in the 1984-1985 season, King suffered a catastrophic injury to his right leg, which included a torn anterior cruciate ligament, torn knee cartilage, and broken leg bone. Even though he did make a borderline miraculous return to the NBA and actually made an All-Star team in 1991, we never again saw the pre-injury King.
In all fairness, you could argue that Brad Daugherty did end up having a distinguished basketball career, even if it didn’t last as long as it possibly could have.
Daugherty was a two-time All-American at the University of North Carolina, the first overall pick of the 1986 NBA Draft, and the all time-leading scorer for the Cleveland Cavaliers when he retired. But Daugherty was forced to retire at only 28 years old because of recurring back injuries. He never played another game after the 1993-1994 season.
The Houston Rockets selected the 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson with the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft (the same draft in which Michael Jordan was taken #3 overall).
Just two years later, alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, Sampson took the Rockets to the NBA Finals, thanks to an epic upset of the vaunted “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers (Sampson hit the buzzer-beating shot to win that series).
But Sampson hurt his knee the following season, and rushed back to the court way too soon. THe result was the destruction of the cartilage in his knee, which led to a myriad of other related injuries that plagued him for the rest of his career.
Danny Manning was the namesake player of the 1988 University of Kansas Jayhawks basketball team — nicknamed “Danny and the Miracles” — that won the National Championship.
But after the Los Angeles Clippers took him with the first overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft, Manning only played in 26 games as a rookie after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. The recovery from said injury was much more arduous back then, and Manning never really fully recovered or made good on the promise he showed when he came out of college.