When news broke last month of Derrick Rose’s season-ending surgery, painful thoughts darted through the minds of not only Bulls fans, but everyone who enjoys the NBA.
Here was a young superstar with his hometown team on his back, a mere ten games into his comeback from a year-long absence, robbed of another season whose plot he was to play a vital role in. His well-chronicled rehab now begins another leg (literally), as Chicago and everyone else are left to wonder “What If?”.
Armed with a good long-term prognosis and his stoic mentality, Rose can still bounce back from this massive setback. It would be tragic to have to add him to this list of Ten Recent Careers Robbed by Injuries:
(Honorable Mentions: Antonio McDyess, Michael Redd, Amare Stoudemire)
10. TRACY MCGRADY
T-Mac makes this list with somewhat of an asterisk; a high-scoring, high-flying superstar for most of the 2000’s, McGrady enjoyed an outstanding career that might just land him in the Hall of Fame.
Still there’s no denying that knee and back issues plagued the latter part of his career, straining his explosive athleticism and forcing him to the sidelines for much of his hyped union with Yao Ming.
McGrady’s ultimate legacy will likely be having never played in a Playoff series his team won, but had his body not betrayed him so quickly, he’d have had much better chances.
9. DAJUAN WAGNER
A high school legend from his days in Camden, New Jersey, Wagner’s NBA career was mangled by ulcerative colitis. The debilitating illness limited him to 103 games over four seasons, and crippled the potential of a player many likened to Allen Iverson.
Wagner – who last played in the NBA six years ago - had long been forgotten as a tragic footnote in basketball’s history, but it hasn’t changed his devotion to the game. As recently as last year, he was still training with his eyes on a comeback, and can still fill it up at will, even if it’s just in a Summer League game.
8. JONATHAN BENDER
Bender’s potential-filled NBA story ended quickly when the lanky prep-to-pros swingman was grounded by knee injuries before he ever took off.
But what separates Bender from other injury-ravaged athletes was his Plan B: Invest his contract earnings into the development of knee-strengthening equipment for training and injury rehab.
Using his broken basketball career as the inspiration for a successful business, Bender is a rare off-court NBA millionaire, and stands out among many depressing “Where Are They Now” stories.
7. TJ FORD
Few sports – particularly basketball – careers have been as potentially perilous as that of TJ Ford. 55 games into his rookie season, Ford’s tailbone slammed into the floor violently after a mid-air collision with noted co-ordination master Mark Madsen.
He underwent fusion surgery to repair damaged vertebrae, but the impact on his spinal cord was permanent. While he rebounded from a potentially career-ending scare to grind out several solid NBA stints, Ford was prone to back injury and heard the word “paralysis” more than most athletes.
His brave, seemingly successful, comeback was abruptly severed as a precaution in his seventh season, after a series of further spine injuries forced his hand.
6. JAY WILLIAMS
Once a can’t-miss prospect at the point, Williams’ NCAA POY status failed to resonate in an unspectacular season with the Bulls. Before he got much of a chance to adjust to the NBA, Williams suffered a career-flatliner, almost dying in a motorcycle accident shortly after his rookie season.
Although the Bulls broke him off a generous buyout settlement (which given their ownership’s reputation is somewhat surprising), Williams was going through serious personal lows with his career on the rocks. Fortunately, after an unsuccessful NBA comeback attempt, he was able to stay connected to the game as a college analyst for CBS.
5. YAO MING
Many attribute Yao’s premature demise to the “too big” syndrome that took Gheorghe Muresan, and while his 7’6” frame was plenty to carry around, Yao seemed structurally sound enough for the NBA. He played in 82, 82 and 80 games his first three seasons, while revolutionizing All-Star voting.
Meanwhile, he was not only the man on China’s national team, but the face of basketball in a rapidly-developing country of 2 billion people who adored it. He’d spend most if not all of every offseason carrying the squad through various international tournaments; it’s not as though he could decline the honor. Constantly pushing his massive body through competitive basketball eventually wore on Yao, who missed most of his prime with foot injuries before retiring at 30.
A team owner in China and lifelong national ambassador to all things Basketball, Yao’s impact on the NBA likely would have been greater had he been given a rest every now and then.
4. PENNY HARDAWAY
A legend both for what he did on the court and the shoes that he wore doing it, “Anfernee” as some called him, was an iconic player bound for the Hall of Fame before he blew out his knee and his explosiveness waned.
Teaming with a young Shaq, Penny made an immediate impact, helping lead the Magic to the Finals as an All-NBA First Teamer in his second season, with a devastatingly unique scoring/playmaking game. Just two years later, his injury would reduce him to a shell of his former self.
He went on to several productive seasons in Orlando and Phoenix, before cameos with the Knicks and Heat capped what should’ve been a far more memorable career.
3. GREG ODEN
A Draft-day debacle bound for a legacy of near-Bowie>Jordan misfortune, Oden was a potentially-revolutionary defensive center taken first overall in 2007 by the Blazers (who also took Bowie second in ‘84).
At the time, the choice was seen as painfully close by most scouts and analysts between Oden, and Longhorns gunslinger Kevin Durant. Since then, Oden has appeared in only a season’s worth of games while injuries of all walks of life have danger-zoned his career and –after Oden, Bowie, and Bill Walton – made Portland think twice about ever drafting a franchise center.
Most of you know what Durant’s been up to.
2. BRANDON ROY
Yet another sad story in a long line of Portland Trailblazer casualties, Roy immediately exploded onto the NBA scene amid a paltry ’06 Draft class, only to have his knees explode on him almost as quickly.
Paired with fellow ’06 anomaly LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy’s dynamic backcourt play signaled the Blazers as a team on the rise, but just as he was racking up All-NBA selections and breaking into the Playoffs, his legs gave out on him and forced him to retire five seasons in.
He bravely came back with Minnesota in 2012, but the brutal, bone-on-bone condition of his knees cut the return short after five games.
1. GRANT HILL
Hill’s story is one of relentlessness and perseverance, returning to a long and productive NBA career after his ankle basically exploded and cost him several seasons of his prime.
But it’s also one of potential and loss; one that sticks with fans far beyond Detroit and Orlando as a devastating case of injury-robbery. The new Inside Stuff’s host was one of basketball’s truly unique players; a rare apex combination of skill, IQ and athleticism that hinted at one of the game’s all-time, all-around greats.
His ability to overcome a total of five lost seasons – from ages 28 to 33 – speaks to Hill’s devotion to the game, but his injuries robbed us of a transcendent talent. SLAM may have been exaggerating, but not by much.