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The 30 Best NBA Careers Ruined By Injury

The NBA sees a lot of talent come in and out at a rapid pace. Some players make it and become legends, but others are not as fortunate. Throughout the history of the league, there have been players that have an unlimited amount of skill and potential, but constant injuries slow them down.

Here is a list of 30 current and former NBA players that suffered from career-altering or career-ending injuries. Some of the players on this list, at one point in their careers, reached a high level; others were expected to become stars, but deplorable circumstances took their careers along a different path.
Videos will be attached to show you how productive each player was before their injury.

Honorable Mention:
Bernard King (1977-1993)
The reason Bernard King is placed on the honorable mention list is simple. Yes, he did tear his ACL, and he lost a significant amount of the explosiveness that made him great, but he did make a comeback with the Washington Bullets and was able to improve his scoring output every year he was with them. He also made one final All-Star Game before he retired, and to top it all off, Bernard King was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

LaPhonso Ellis (1992-2003)
LaPhonso Ellis is not the most commonly known NBA player, but when he came into the league he had a solid season early on. Some NBA analysts said he had the potential to be one of the better forwards in the game. A stress fracture in his right knee kept him out of action for the larger part of his third season. After he attempted his comeback, it was clear Ellis had lost a step or two. Later in his career, a hernia and another knee injury stymied Ellis until he decided to retire in 2003.

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30. JONATHAN BENDER (1999-2010)
Bender is not a common name among NBA fans, but he certainly had potential. Standing at 7-0 and weighing 230 pounds, Bender was a rare athlete. He had the body of a center, but he moved like a wing player. It was always peculiar how he was able to maneuver himself around the rim, and then extend his game and knock down a three-point shot with such ease. His career took a turn for the worst after the 2001-2002 season. He was only able to play in 46 games the following year. The next season was significantly worse as he only played in 21 games. He did flash his potential in a few first-round games against Boston in the 2004 Playoffs, but later on his right knee troubles resulted in him being cut by the Pacers in 2006. Bender tried to make a return to basketball when the New York Knicks signed him to the league minimum contract in 2009, but this was also a quick stint.

29. T.J. FORD (2003-2012)
T.J. Ford’s ability to see a play before it happened was once compared to Magic Johnson‘s and Larry Bird‘s. Everything looked promising for him when he came out of Texas, but the injury calamities hit Ford in the middle of his rookie season. He missed the final 26 games of the regular season and the 2004 Playoffs. In a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mark Madsen fouled T.J. Ford. He suffered a contusion on his spinal cord. Doctors called this a career-ending injury. He showed signs of improvement at some points during his tenures with different teams, but his back problems always caught up with him. T.J. Ford last played for the San Antonio Spurs during the 2011-2012 season.

28. SHAUN LIVINGSTON (2004-present)
On February 26, 2007, Shaun Livingston suffered one of the most horrifying injuries in NBA history. He dislocated his knee cap, laterally snapped his left leg, tore his ACL, and tore his PCL and the lateral meniscus. He also sprained his MCL and dislocated his tibia-femoral joint. Due to his misfortune, it is fair to say that Livingston will never turn into the player many thought he would. He miraculously returned from his knee injury, but has yet to find a long-term home with an NBA team. He is currently signed to be Deron Williams‘ backup in Brooklyn.

27. ZYDRUNAS ILGAUSKAS (1994-1996 – played in Lithuania; 1996-2011 – played in the NBA)
It is not conclusive whether Ilgauskas would have been one of the better centers in league. Early in his career, he displayed a unique and versatile skill-set. He was blocking shots, rebounding and showcasing an impressive midrange game. Like most big men, Ilgauskas suffered from a copious amount of foot injuries. He missed the entire 1996-1997 campaign due to a broken bone in his foot. To the surprise of many, he actually saw an increase in production as his career went on, but it was noted that he struggled with movement around the court for the duration of his career. For someone who had their fair share of impairments, Ilgauskas made the best of his situation.

26. GREG ODEN (2007-present)
Steve Kerr once described Greg Oden as a “once-in-a-decade player.” The expectations for Oden were of astronomical proportions. But his career didn’t takeoff like many had projected it would. He started his NBA career with microfracture surgery on his right knee in September of 2007. When Oden returned, he record 24 points and 15 rebounds in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks, but more of the same occurred. Oden went down with more knee injuries. He has yet to play through an entire NBA season. Oden still found new life in the league as the Miami Heat signed him to a league minimum deal recently. It is still uncertain if he can stay healthy for a full season. Only time will tell.

25. FAT LEVER (1982-1994)
Fat Lever was an awesome point guard. He was also a great rebounder, considering his size. There was a point in his career where he averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game. After his early display of offensive excellence, Lever suffered a knee injury that kept him out of action for the majority of the next three seasons.

24. ALLAN HOUSTON (1993-2005)
The only reason someone would not like Allan Houston is if they are a Miami Heat fan and they are still upset about “The Runner.” Houston’s last second miracle propelled the eighth-seeded Knicks to become the second team in NBA history to defeat a No. 1 seed. Allan Houston was a great scoring option for the Knicks, he could generate offense from anywhere on the floor. If defenders gave him too much space, he would make them pay from the three-point line. After the Knicks gave Houston a max contract, a knee injury that was not properly cared for forced Allan Houston into early retirement. It also landed him on our list of the 20 worst contracts ever.

23. GILBERT ARENAS (2001-2012)
For a few seasons in Washington, Arenas was an offensive powerhouse on the court. He was another player that made the game look like anyone can go play in the NBA; when he dropped 60 in L.A. against the Lakers, it felt effortless. Arenas led the Wizards to a few playoff appearances, and was averaging close to 29 points per game. Towards the end of the 2007 season, Arenas suffered a torn MCL, and was never able to play a full 82-game season again.

22. JAY WILLIAMS (2002-2006)
Jay Williams was an amazing player coming out of college, winning the John R. Wooden award, the Oscar Robertson Trophy and the Naismith College Player of the Year award. The Chicago Bulls drafted him second overall in the 2002 Draft, yet his rookie season was not what everyone was expecting it to be. He was inconsistent and had to battle for playing time. In 2003, Jay Williams was involved in a severe motorcycle accident. He tore three ligaments in his knee and severed a main nerve in his leg. The Bulls ended up releasing him from his contract shortly after news broke that Williams might not be able to play basketball ever again.

21. DANNY MANNING (1988-2003)
Danny Manning, a former No. 1 draft pick, was hampered with injuries for the majority of his career. He tore his ACL in his rookie year, and went through a series of nagging knee injuries for the remainder of his career. Manning was able to scrounge up some decent seasons in 1992-1994, but he was never able to play through a full season for the rest of his time in the NBA.

20. SAM BOWIE (1984-1995)
Sam Bowie is a household name, but not for any positive reasons. He is often laughed at for being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft. The pick made sense at the time — Portland already had Clyde Drexler and their only true option at center was Mychal Thompson. It is just ironic, after they had to deal with Bill Walton in the late ’70s, how they selected another big man with his own set of limitations. Sam Bowie could never stay healthy. His issues with his legs go back to his college days, and they carried over directly to the NBA. Who knows what Sam Bowie could have done with his time in the league if he stayed healthy, but now he is just another name in a woeful history of injury-riddled Portland centers.

19. BARON DAVIS (1999-2012)
Baron Davis use to be one of the more exciting players to watch in the NBA. He was hit with the injury bug early in his career. When the Hornets made the move New Orleans, Davis was limited to 50 games. The next year was not much better, and from there, Davis’ production level slowly started to decrease. (In Golden State, he went through a period of brief resurrection, looking like one of the league’s best point guards.) His run with the Knicks ended tragically; Davis tore his ACL, MCL and his patellar tendon in his right knee. This was the last we saw of him on the court.

18. JAMAL MASHBURN (1993-2004)
Jamal Mashburn cemented himself as one of the best scoring forwards in the league at one point in his career, and is the fourth-youngest player to score 50 points in a game. Injuries diminished Mashburn’s value, and the Mavericks eventually traded him to the Miami Heat. His career was ultimately brought to an end when he had a microfracture surgery on his knee. Since he was able to display offensive prowess early on his career, it is not outlandish to assume that if Mashburn was able to stay healthy, he could have been one of the better forwards in the league for a long time.

17. BOBBY HURLEY (1993-1998)
Bobby Hurley’s story is an unfortunate one. He was a talented guard at Duke University, and helped them win two national championships. Early in his NBA career, he was involved in a car accident where he was ejected from his car because he was not wearing his seat belt. Hurley suffered nearly career-ending injuries, and was only able to play five years in the league.

16. BRAD DAUGHERTY (1986-1994)
Brad Daugherty retired at the young age of 28. Back problems took their toll on the young and dominate center. When he retired, he was the Cavaliers all-time leader in points scored and rebounds until LeBron James took over the scoring record and Ilgauskas rooted himself as the franchise’s top rebounder. Brad Daugherty was a true center with outstanding post work. It is a shame that his career was cut short. He possibly could have been one of the better scoring big men the league has seen.

15. ARVYDAS SABONIS (1981-2005)
Sabonis was an international mystery man with undeniable talent. Standing at an attention-grasping 7-3, he was not the typical basketball center. He was a great passer and had a nice midrange game. Obviously, rebounding came naturally to him. In 1985, Sabonis tore his Achilles tendon. After he recovered from the injury, he was never able to fully regain his dominating form. Due to his level of greatness on the international level, Sabonis was still inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame.

14. JERMAINE O’NEAL (1996-present)
Jermaine O’Neal was a five-time All-Star in his prime. He was a key component to the Pacers’ success in the early and mid-2000s. His well-rounded game made him difficult to gameplan for. At one point in his career, he was averaging 20 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. After the Malice at the Palace, his luck seemed to turn. A myriad of shoulder, ankle and foot injuries kept O’Neal sidelined for significant stretches from 2005-2008. As he comes to the end of his career, O’Neal has been dubbed a journeyman that produced some good seasons.

13. BRANDON ROY (2006-present)
Before the knee troubles, Brandon Roy was evolving into one of the better shooting guards in the league. He scored 52 points in a game and even made three All-Star teams before his knee situation took a turn for the worse. Teams always had concerns about his knees, even as far back as before the 2006 NBA Draft. Over his first few seasons, his knees slowly started to degenerate. He’d try arthroscopic surgery and even the platelet-rich plasma procedure Kobe Bryant had done recently. Nothing seemed to work for Roy, so he decided to announce his retirement from the game of basketball in 2011. It did not take long for him to miss the game. The following year he attempted his comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves and lasted just five games.

12. RALPH SAMPSON (1983-1991)
Ralph Sampson was another center that had legendary expectations. Experts thought he would be an offensive powerhouse like Wilt Chamberlain, and it was difficult to disagree. Sampson was a freak of nature on the college level. His agility and size made him impossible to contain in the paint. When he came to the NBA, for his first three seasons, it was more of the same, averaging at least 19 points and 10 rebounds per game in each season. After his early dominance, Sampson was hampered by a back injury and three knee surgeries. In the end, he was only able to play in two full seasons during his career.

11. YAO MING (2002-2011)
Yao Ming had a slow start to his NBA career, but when he figured out how to use his body as an advantage, he became one of the better centers in the league. He was kept out of action for the majority of his fourth season due to the development of osteomyelitis in his big toe. The issue with his big toe snowballed into a fiasco of foot injuries. He dealt with a broken foot bone, a broken knee cap and had microfracture surgery. Yao decided to call it quits in July of 2011. It is disappointing that injuries kept Yao from reaching his full potential.

10. AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE (2002-present)
Amar’e Stoudamire had it all. He was quick, powerful and a hard worker. He was also in a perfect situation with the Phoenix Suns — Steve Nash was willing to feed Amar’e the ball on a consistent bases. In 2005, it was discovered Amar’e had cartilage damage in his knee. He underwent microfracture surgery, but was still able to regain most of his explosiveness that made him such a threat. After he left Phoenix for New York, Amar’e was still a productive player, but more injuries followed him. A main concern with Stoudemire is that it is unclear if he can recover like he did when he was younger. He still has some years left in the NBA to prove his naysayers wrong, but his days of being a force to be reckoned with are far behind him.

9. LARRY JOHNSON (1991-2001)
Larry Johnson was a stud at the power forward position. He was a versatile scoring option for the Hornets, and he was a fantastic rebounder. Back injuries forced him to change up his style of play from aggressive brute on the block to savvy perimeter specialist before retiring after a 10-year career. There is no doubt that without his back problems, he would be talked about as one of the better players at his position.

8. PENNY HARDAWAY (1993-2007)
Penny Hardaway did have a lengthy career in the NBA. The only problem was he could not stay healthy. Everyone knew the talent Hardaway possessed. He showed glimpses of it when he was Shaq‘s partner in their early Orlando days. To the dismay of many NBA fans, Hardaway suffered a devastating knee injury and missed the majority of the 1997-1998 season. Despite the injury, Hardaway was still voted to the All-Star team. In the end, Penny Hardaway only managed to play a full 82-game season twice in his 14-year career.

7. CHRIS WEBBER (1993-2008)
Chris Webber was a special talent, dunking on anyone who dared to challenge him at the rim and passing with flair. He was not limited to being a scoring option on the block; he could also hit the midrange jump shot and handle the rock. But in 2003, with Sacramento looking like a possible Finals team, Chris Webber suffered a career-altering knee injury that required microfracture surgery to repair the damage. When he returned, he was nowhere near the player he once was. His speed and movement around the court were not at the elite level they once were and after landing in role-playing roles in a handful of different cities, C-Webb decided to retire in 2008.

6. TRACY McGRADY (1997-present)
If Tracy McGrady never suffered from various injuries, he might have gone down as one of the best scorers the league has ever seen. T-Mac was in a class of his own at one point. He made the game look easy. If he was not scoring 13 points in 35 seconds, he was throwing alley-oops to himself. When he was at his best, McGrady made the game exciting for fans. Regardless of his playoff failures, he brought fans to their feet every night he stepped out on that floor. Back and shoulder injuries slowed McGrady down significantly, and then the microfracture surgery was the nail in the coffin on his career. It is only natural to wonder where McGrady would be in his career now, in terms of statistical achievement, without his injuries.

5. GRANT HILL (1994-2013)
Grant Hill played a long time in the NBA, but he was just unable to be as productive as predicted for it. Early in his career, Hill was a versatile player with solid rebounding skills and a nice midrange game, a Scottie Pippen clone. But continuous ankle injuries thwarted Hills’ career. After in left Detroit for Orlando, Grant Hill managed to play only 47 games in his first four years. All of the players on this list are talked about in admiring terms, coulda-shoulda-woulda beens, but Grant Hill might be one of the more talked about circumstances. After starting his career as a star player, he finished with the Los Angeles Clippers as a role player, retiring for good this summer.

4. BOB McADOO (1972-1993)
Bob McAdoo was a rebounding and scoring machine. He had an immediate impact on the league when was drafted. He was awarded Rookie of the Year honors, and in his second season, he won the first of three straight scoring titles. McAdoo kept adding to his extensive collection of accolades when he won an MVP award and two NBA championships. After his rise to fame, injuries slowed down McAdoo’s progression as a player and even if his numbers were still very good, they paled in comparison to the staggering stats he put up during his first few years with the Buffalo Braves. He became a little bit of a journeyman towards the end of his career, and he played some European League basketball.

3. PETE MARAVICH (1970-1980)
Pete Maravich was always an amazingly productive player. Scoring was never an issue for him, but he was never surrounded by talented players. Maravich’s inadequate help forced him to carry the majority of the offensive duties for every team he played for; this style of play eventually caught up with him, and forced him to retire due to a plethora of knee injuries. If Maravich was never forced into being a one-man show — some would argue he forced it on himself — his career definitely takes a different path.

2. BILL WALTON (1974-1987)
Bill Walton was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1974. He is just another story in the Blazers book of injury nightmares. His NBA tenure started off great, he was a rebounding animal and led the Blazer to the title in 1977. Walton also won a regular reason and Finals MVP award. But like most big–bodied centers, Walton suffered from constant foot and ankle injuries. He had a stretch in his career where he stopped playing due to injury at age 27, and did not play again until he was 30 years old. Bill Walton still managed to secure a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but fans will always wonder how dominant he could have been.

1. MAURICE STOKES (1955-1958)
Maurice Stokes’ injury is one of the most tragic in the history of the NBA. In the final game of the 1957-1958, Stokes was fouled while attempting a layup. He fell to the ground and struck his head, immediately losing consciousness. A couple of days after his accident, Stokes had a seizure and went into a coma, and was diagnosed with post traumatic encephalopathy. His motor skills diminished rapidly, and he became paralyzed. Maurice Stokes died 12 years later at the age of 36. In his short NBA career, Stokes was a multifaceted player. It was easy for Stokes to score at a high and efficient rate, and he was also a monster on the glass. The injury stopped him from teaming up with Oscar Robertson, which might’ve been the makings of a dynasty.

Which players were ruined the most by injuries?

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