In light of RGIII going down with a torn knee this past weekend, it got us thinking about great athletes whose careers were cut short by injuries. We are by no means saying that Griffin’s career will be over, but it is interesting to take a look at players who came into their respective leagues with so much promise, only to be hampered by injuries. Over the next few days, we will look into such players in the NBA, NFL, and MLB. Let’s kick it off on the hardwood.
The 7th overall pick by the New Jersey Nets in 1977, Bernard King lit up the NBA with 23 points and 9 rebounds in his first two seasons while shooting 50% from the field. He then missed more than two-thirds of the following season in order to seek help for substance abuse. King returned to dominate over the next five years as one of the elite offensive talents, even leading the NBA with 32.9 points per game in 1984-1985 with the Knicks before succumbing to a major knee injury that March that forced him to miss all of that season, and then the following season, and all but six games of the next season. King did return and had another three seasons of 20-plus points, including 28.4 points in 1990 with the Wizards at the age of 34. King had a game very similar to Carmelo Anthony and may have had the nicest jumper of all time. He retired with 22.5 points per game on 52% shooting, yet he is not a well-known legend in the NBA.
Imagine a 7’6 center with a finesse touch and an extremely high basketball IQ. Such a player did exist and it was Yao Ming, the Rockets center who averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks from 2005 to 2008. In the 2009 season, Yao Ming played 77 games, but a hairline fracture to his ankle in the playoffs forced him to miss all of the following season. He tried to return the next season, but only made it through five games before calling it a career. Ming had hit 52.4% of his field goals and 83% of his free throws, but his bum ankle and feet could not handle his 7’6” frame, as 486 games (barely six full seasons) is all that basketball fans would witness.
Imagine a center who can average 19 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2.5 blocks, and a steal. That was Bill Walton with the Blazers in the late 1970s. He was the NBA’s MVP and Finals MVP with a bright future until injuries forced him off the court. He missed two seasons due to injuries to his feet, and though he returned as one of the greatest role players for a Celtics franchise, NBA fans were robbed of one of the all-time well-rounded stars.
Through his first four seasons, Brandon Roy was a 20-5-5 player who shot extremely well and had remarkable ball control. In fact, Knicks legend Walt Clyde Frazier used to say that Roy was the closet comparison to the Hall of Famer. Roy has since played just five games over the last two seasons as his chronic knees may force him to retire once and for all.
A legend that very few people know about, Maurice Stokes averaged 17 points, 18 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in what turned out to be his third and final NBA season. In the final game of that season, Stokes got hit, fell to the floor, hit his head, and lost consciousness. He actually returned to the court in the playoffs a few days later, but on a flight suffered a seizure and fell into a coma. He was paralyzed, all the result of a brain injury. Stokes died at the age of 36 years old.