What Could’ve Been: NBA Careers Dimmed By Injuries

Her name’s Amy and she’s just one year old. But yet the NBA’s Empire State Building says if he ever comes back, ever overcomes the foot/ankle problems that have crumbled his foundation, it’ll be his tiny daughter that’ll be the reason. Yao Ming wants his baby girl to see him play. He wants her to see more than YouTube videos and more of him in the flesh, playing like he did from 2003-09. She’s his motivation, his Shooter.

But Yao is stuck in rehab purgatory. You can’t will yourself through ligament tears and cartilage destruction. It comes down to something greater. Only thing you can do is work at it. It’s doubtful the big man ever becomes what he once was. He’s not alone. There were plenty of Yao Mings in this era, guys who failed to reach their potential or just straight never had careers because of injuries.

Bill Walton. Sam Bowie. Danny Manning. Doctor visits have failed a great many. Here are some from this era who were the most heart-breaking.

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Shaun Livingston
Livingston was too talented for his own good, and in one twisted, ugly landing, his body failed him. He’s back playing now, but looks more like Mickey Rourke in the ’90s. It’s just not the same.

Dajuan Wagner
One More Road To Cross. One More Risk To Take. Wagner was the bastard child of Allen Iverson, a little less exciting, a little less athletic, but a little bigger with a slightly larger prodigy rep. As a teen, he was Miley Cyrus. As a B.M.O.C., the sun of his celebrity settled, but it was still high enough to justify having fans. As a rookie, he averaged 13.4 points and while he struggled to draw fouls at a rate that would offset his putrid shooting percentages (37% from the field), Wagner was a scorer. He would’ve got buckets no matter what.

Wagner eventually fell victim to ulcerative colitis, something that wasn’t treatable with medication. It digested enough of his promise and youth that he eventually never really made it back.

Grant Hill/Penny/Larry Johnson/Tracy McGrady
I’ve always looked at these as the Junior Griffeys of the NBA. Maybe that’s because they came up around the same time that Junior was changing the game of baseball. But more than likely, it’s because much like Griffey, all three had bouts with injury problems that eventually wore them down.

Once injuries gripped them, their careers slowly spiraled down, from Gods to decent to old and crumbling (give Hill credit for finding a late-career niche).

Michael Redd
The homeless Ray Allen, who also once happened to backup Jesus, was once amazingly “the guy” who would help save Team USA. For six straight years, Redd shot flames, averaging over 21 a night. Redd is extremely religious, and yet even that couldn’t save him as he tore up his knee twice over the last few years. Will he ever get back? Doubtful.

Jonathan Bender
Don’t laugh. The seven-foot wing player had game. I remember watching an Orlando/Indiana Christmas game in his second season. Bender made T-Mac’s sleeve-length look tiny. He was huge. It was one of the best games of his shortened career, scoring 20 points with four blocks. Before the chronic knee injuries, Bender was a bowl of potential: a two guard that could hit jumpers, but was rangy enough to blocks shots and finish at the rim.

He could’ve been a taller version of AK-47. But once his knee injuries started coming, they never stopped.

Jay Williams
Can we agree that while he wasn’t even my favorite Jason Williams, the original point guard savior for Chicago was on his way to big things? It’s ironic. Can a cheap imitation come first? J-Will feels like one, but a cheap imitation of Derrick Rose is still all-star nice. Just another reminder to never ride motorcycles.

Antonio McDyess
The MVP of NBA Live 97. Seriously. The funny part about it all was that McDyess always gets overlooked in these conversations for a number of reasons. One, he played on bad teams for the majority of his youth, and two, he’s found a way to maintain his playing career for so long that we all forgot what he once was. Now when you think of McDyess, you think of the dude who played jump-shooting, role-playing defense on both Detroit and San Antonio, the really-nice-guy-who’s-too-humble-to-have-ever-been-anything-other-than-a-35-year-old. Right?

But he used to be Amar’e before Amar’e was changing high schools every 14 school days. In his last healthy year (2001), he was an All-Star averaging 20.8 points and 12.1 rebounds. Then he hurt his knee and started his transformation.

Greg Oden
It’s still early. But you can’t deny his expectations were dimmed by more time spent in street clothes than in uniform.

Brandon Roy
We’re due for a shooting duel between Portland and Roy. Break out John Marston. Roy wants and believes he’s the same guy; the Blazers obviously don’t, even going so far as to mention the R-word.

For now, he’s on the list. When he was healthy, there was hardly a player I enjoyed more. He could drive and he could pull-up, could score from all over, and did it with this calm about him that drove me crazy. He wasn’t athletic, but played like it. He wasn’t a bad guy (far from it), but played like it on the court, ruthless in the fourth and one of the few wing players in the game who could roll with anyone, anytime, anywhere.

It’ll be more than remarkable if he ever makes it back to that level.

Did I miss any? Who had the most potential taken by injuries?

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