Superstars That Could've Been

The NBA has been gifted with some of the most outstanding athletes in the world. These athletes have captivated audiences around the U.S. and around the world, wowing them with their lights out shooting and ways they can contort their body in order to get the shot off. Everyone has a favorite player. One of my favorite players of all-time is Brandon Roy. He was a phenomenal talent when healthy and could’ve been a superstar in this league had his body not broken down on him. It’s happened since the league began. People with through-the-roof potential go down because their various re-occurring injuries drag them down. We portray these athletes as superhumans, when in fact they are anything but.

(Honorable Mentions: Sam Bowie, Bill Walton, Brad Daughtery, Jamal Mashburn, Chris Webber, Grant Hill, Pete Maravich)

Yao Ming

This man was a phenom, physically. Standing 7’6”, he made anyone standing next to him look tiny, including Shaquille O’Neal. Ming was a revolutionary player, acting as a bridge between American and Chinese fans. His reasons for retirement were numerous injuries to his feet and ankles, including the third fracture to his left foot. He is an 8x NBA All-Star (03-09, 11), and a fan favorite of those around the country. He helped lead the Rockets to 4 playoff berths, including leading the Rockets to a 2009 1st Round series victory, their first playoff victory since 1997. Ming is without a doubt the best player to have come to the NBA from China, and it was sad to see such a talent get forced to retire early due to injury.

T.J. Ford

Once compared to Magic Johnson for his ability to see a play before it unfolded, Ford was a promising young talent coming out of Texas. The 8th Draft Pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, Ford only played 55 games in his rookie season. In a game on February 24th, 2004, Ford went down onto his tail bone and suffered a spinal contusion after a hard foul from Mark Madsen. The injury was defined as “career threatening.” Ford missed the entire 04-05 season, spending the entire season training intensively, working hard on improving every facet of his game. While he did come back and have a decent NBA career, injuries prevented Ford from reaching his full potential, which was sky high.

Gilbert Arenas

Winning the 2002-2003 Most Improved Player award, Gilbert Arenas was quickly becoming one of the fastest rising stars the NBA had seen in recent years. Teaming with Larry Hughes in Washington (forming the highest scoring backcourt duo that season), Arenas was a freak of nature, making scoring seem so easy that anyone in the stands could do it. In the '05-'06 season, Arenas averaged 29.3 PPG and made his second straight All-Star appearance. The very next season, Agent Zero tore his MCL after Gerald Wallace fell onto his leg. Arenas went on to have an injury riddled career after April of 2007, never playing more than 49 games in a season, whether it was due to injury or suspension. Eventually, after he couldn’t keep/find a job in the NBA, he took his talents overseas to the Shanghai Sharks.

Jay Williams

Probably the most notorious injury a player in the NBA has ever experienced, Jay Williams was an absolute baller coming out of college, winning the John R. Wooden award, Oscar Robertson trophy, and Naismith College Player of the Year. He played for the U.S. National team in the 2002 FIBA World Championship. In his rookie season, his play was inconsistent, which is why his playing time was inconsistent. On June 19th, 2003, Jay Williams crashed his motorcycle into a streetlight. He was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash and was violating his contract with the Bulls by riding a motorcycle. His injuries included severing the main nerve in his leg, tore three ligaments in his left leg (including the ACL), and a fractured pelvis. Though he has made several attempts to make a comeback, none came to fruition. Williams remains one of the saddest stories in NBA history; such an incredible, young talent, wasted because of a freak accident.

Brandon Roy

Get the tissues. Coming into the league in 2006, Brandon Roy’s rise to fame was well-documented. He quickly became one of the most popular and talented shooting guards in the NBA, winning the Rookie of the Year award for the 2006-2007 season. The very next season, Brandon Roy injured his ankle right before the All-Star break. The injury showed ill-effects on Roy over the next month. In the 2008 preseason, Roy underwent a 20-minute procedure in which his doctor removed part of the cartilage in his left knee, the first of many procedures on his knees. In the '09-'10 season, Roy got a bone contusion on his right knee. In December of the following season, it really started showing that his knees were ailing due to the lack of cartilage in them. On January 17th, 2011, Roy had arthroscopic knee surgery on both of his knees. He returned later that season, but experienced limited playing time. Prior to the next season, Roy announced his retirement, stating that his knees had degenerated to the point where there is zero cartilage between the bones of both of his knees. He tried to make a comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but required surgery on his right knee after 5 games. Many people, feel that Roy could’ve been a top-5 shooting guard in the NBA had his knees allowed him to. Roy was one of the most entertaining players to watch, a sentiment shared by most hardcore & casual NBA fans.

Amar’e Stoudemire

Amar’e was a fantastic physical specimen. As a power-forward, he had it all. He was quick, powerful, and had an unbelievable work ethic. He was in the perfect situation in Phoenix. with a phenomenal point-guard (Steve Nash) willing to pass it to him on a consistent basis and a coach (Mike D’Antoni) who let his players run a run’n’gun, west-coast style offense. In 2005, cartilage damage was discovered in Amar’e’s knee, and he underwent microfracture surgery. After two relatively injury-free years, Stoudemire suffered a detached retina in a game against the Clippers. The next season, Stoudemire suffered from a bulging disk in his back; he proceeded to miss a few games and appeared to have no ill after-effects. Last season, Stoudemire missed a good chunk of games through parts of the season. Stoudemire has had various injuries to his nose, eye, back, ankle and knees since 2010 and has never been able to recover and become the talent that he once was.

Penny Hardaway

Don’t let his lengthy NBA career fool you. Penny Hardaway battled injuries throughout most of his NBA career. Everyone knew about the prolific scoring ability Hardaway possessed, and it showed in Penny’s early years playing with Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic. In the 1997-98 season, Hardaway experienced an extremely devastating knee injury that made him miss most of the season. In the 1999-00 season, Penny Hardaway was troubled with a nagging foot injury that only allowed him to play 45 games with Jason Kidd (Kidd also had a nagging ankle injury). The next season, microfracture surgery on his left knee made Penny miss all but four games. After a healthy 01-02 season, Hardaway was riddled with a hand injury that caused him to miss 24 games of the 02-03 campaign. Hardaway was dealt to the New York Knicks in 2004 and spent the rest of his career fighting various injuries. In all reality, Penny only had 5 great seasons (excluding the 01-02 season in which he was healthy but his stats were down), a shame because of the talent that was simply wasted due to inability to stay healthy.

Tracy McGrady

Don’t take this statement lightly: had Tracy McGrady stayed healthy, he would’ve gone down as one of the best pure scorers the NBA had ever seen. McGrady is mostly known for his 13 points in 33 seconds against the San Antonio Spurs, but at one point, he seemed to be the best scorer in the league (yes, even better than The Black Mamba). He was piling up quite the career until the 2005-2006 season when the various back injuries really hit McGrady. Whether they were spasms or injuries caused by him falling on his back, his back injuries really slowed him down. In an interview with TNT the very next season, McGrady said that he felt like his body was slowing down. He actually had Synergy Release Therapy done on to him, the purpose being trying to cure his chronic back problems (specifically the spasms). The next season, McGrady was riddled with knee and shoulder troubles, and it showed throughout the season and in the playoffs. In May of 2008, McGrady underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and left shoulder. Nine months later, McGrady announced that he was having another procedure done on his left knee and would miss the remainder of the '08-'09 season, and would never be the same again. It’s sad to think where McGrady would be (in terms of statistics) had he not been riddled with injuries early on in his career. On August 26th, 2013, Tracy McGrady formally announced his retirement from basketball. A true talent, McGrady will forever be remembered by fans of the game as one of the most prolific scorers the league has ever seen.

Maurice Stokes

Maurice’s story is a story unknown by many fans of the game, but I think it’s the most tragic injury in the history of the game. On March 12th, 1958 (in what was the final game of the regular season), Stokes drove quickly to the basket, soaring past his defender and drawing contact. Stokes crumbled to the floor directly after the contact and immediately lost contact. He was revived with what was termed smelling salts and returned to the game! Three days later, he became ill on a team-flight, at one point telling a teammate he felt like he was going to die. He suffered a seizure which induced him into a coma and was left permanently paralyzed, diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy. He died 12 years later from a heart attack. Stokes was an unbelievable talent back then, possessing the ability to play all positions - being second in the league in rebounds and third in assists for the 1957-1958 season.