NBA / Jul 30, 2010 / 11:00 am

Sports Tragedies That Had The Biggest Impact on My Life

Rodney Rogers

Most of the time, my life revolves around sports: I write for Dime, I scour the rumor mills, and I’m constantly playing basketball or some other sport in my off hours. Like most fans, I take the games seriously. But even though it’s hard to get over a 12-win season by my New Jersey Nets or another late-season collapse by my New York Mets, eventually over time I’ll get over things like that. Sometimes, however, there are true tragedies in sports — such as the Lorenzen Wright story — that are not as easy to get over, and stick with me to this day.

Wright’s suspected murder, a crime which left six children fatherless and took away one of the NBA’s well-known nice guys, drudged up memories of some other sports tragedies that have impacted me personally.

(NOTE: I’m only 19 years old, so I don’t remember or wasn’t alive during events like Reggie Lewis‘ passing, Drazen Petrovic‘s car accident, or Len Bias‘ cocaine overdose. This is a purely personal piece about moments that have stuck with me over time, and events that I don’t include doesn’t mean they aren’t significant, it just means their impact wasn’t as lasting on me personally. I encourage you all to share your stories or memories in the comments section.)

Corey Koskie’s baseball career ends
Tragedy is a bit strong to describe this first item, but it certainly fits as something that has had a great deal of impact on my life. In 2008, I suffered a nasty concussion playing pickup basketball, and had a really rough time with headaches, lack of focus, and mood swings. During that time I would always look for pro athletes who had dealt with or were dealing with concussions, and I came across Corey Koskie. Koskie was the starting third basemen for the Minnesota Twins in the early 2000’s and was known for his defense. He later played for the Blue Jays and Brewers.

While with the Brewers in 2006 he suffered a concussion chasing a foul ball and was never the same. He wasn’t himself the rest of the 2006 season, and had to sit out the entire 2007 campaign. He has tried on a couple of occasions to return to baseball, but the symptoms of light sensitivity, headaches and fatigue have not yet gone away four-plus years since the accident. He has officially retired from baseball, and to me the fact that he was forced to retire validated my post-concussive experiences. I had so much trouble doing everything I was used to, and most people I knew — friends, family, teachers — never understood or appreciated what I was going through. To be able to look up and see a prominent person like Corey talk about the symptoms and pain he experienced, it made me feel like I wasn’t the only one going through a bad concussion anymore.

I have since recovered thankfully and now play basketball three or four times a week, but the fact that Corey could not continue his MLB career because of his concussion, is something that really affects me because of my prior experiences.

Eddy Curry’s life
Eddy Curry hasn’t died or become paralyzed, but there is no current NBA player that I feel worse for than Curry. His whole life seems to be falling apart more by the year, and with his injury issues he seems destined to be out of the League after his current contract expires. To me, it seems like Curry never wanted to be in the NBA in the first place. He seems disinterested, lazy and just otherwise sad about the toll his life has taken on him.

Curry wanted to be a gymnast growing up — he was actually an all-state gymnast in high school — but was essentially forced into basketball because of his size. Eddy was drafted by his hometown Chicago Bulls right out of high school, so in addition to making the tough adjustment being in the NBA that young, he also had the weight of post-Jordan expectations on his shoulders that he could never live up to. He had a heart ailment in 2005 and was traded to the Knicks, where he was given a monster contract and has failed to meet the demands of New York.

His off-the-court problems are even worse, as his ex-girlfriend and baby daughter were murdered, he had a sexual harassment case brought against him, and is reportedly practically bankrupt — and even right now has a warrant out for his arrest stemming from a civil case. It’s all just so upsetting to me because Curry’s life symbolizes how hard it can be for some kids to adjust to the lavish pro lifestyle at such a young age. Unfortunately, Curry will be remembered after his career most likely for his sad life than his on-court ability. It’s a real shame.

Rodney Rogers becomes a paraplegic
I always thought Rogers was a bit overrated as a player. He was always a little overweight and didn’t use his size enough, content to just stand behind the three-point arc and launch away. However, he was still an NBA player, a guy who grinded for 16 years in the League, and that takes a lot to be able to say that.

So when I heard that Rogers had been paralyzed from his shoulders down in an ATV accident, I was shocked. It just didn’t seem true; here was a guy who played at the highest level of basketball for 16 seasons, and now he couldn’t move anything besides his head. It was eye-opening to think that a pro athlete still so young could seem so helpless. I saw a picture of him recently in the customized chair he lives in, and read how he can’t feed himself, and it is just heartbreaking.

It made me realize that nobody is invincible, not even the strongest, most athletic men in the world, from becoming physically incapable of doing anything other than breathing essentially.

September 11th
This wasn’t a sports-specific tragedy but a worldwide tragedy that affected every facet of American life, including sports. Major League Baseball cancelled games for a few days, and the NFL cancelled a weekend’s worth of games. When baseball resumed, it didn’t seem like it would matter, but to myself and so many others it indicated a return to normalcy. As a Mets fan I remember watching their first game after 9/11 against the Braves. It is to date the most memorable game in any sport I’ve ever watched. I remember before the game seeing the American flags waving, the salutes, the incredible joy that people had in being an American, it was inspiring.

Once the game started the electricity flowing through my body was unimaginable. The Mets were pretty much out of the playoff race at that point, but I felt they just had to win. They had to. In the eighth inning, Steve Karsay was on the mound for Atlanta and the Mets were down by one run. Mike Piazza was due up soon, and I was telling myself if they just get a runner on, Mike will hit a home run. He just will. When a runner got on and Piazza strolled to the plate, he smashed a homer. It was surreal, something that couldn’t be scripted: one of New York’s most adored athletes hitting a home run that brought a city back to life. I went crazy, and so did Shea Stadium. That moment made me realize just how important sports are to help people escape the sometimes horrifying realities of life.

Rajaan Bennett’s murder
I had just gotten out of a history class at Vanderbilt University at about noon when I went back to my dorm and checked my Facebook like I almost always do. Most of the stuff in my news feed was unimportant, but a friend of mine on the Vanderbilt football team had a status update that said “RIP Rajaan Bennett.” I knew that Bennett was the prized recruit of our incoming freshman football class, and the best recruit we’d ever landed in our history. He was a 4-star running back from Georgia who had just signed his letter of intent a little over two weeks before. I immediately began thinking “What the hell?” Then I learned that the night before, he had been murdered by his mother’s ex-boyfriend. I was dumbfounded, and emotionally jarred.

Here was a kid whose father died when he was in sixth grade, after which he became the man of the house, helping look after his three younger siblings. He became a star running back and student, and was headed to Vanderbilt. This kid exemplified everything you would want someone to be. He was a good kid who had a chance to really change his life at Vanderbilt, and he was so close … so close to getting there. Then it was all taken away. The police say Bennett sacrificed himself for the sake of his family and ultimately he was shot.

I didn’t know how to take this all in, but I zoned out in my next class just trying to comprehend what had happened. I never met the kid and maybe never would have, but just seeing someone who was going to be at my school, representing my university proudly every Saturday on the football field and the rest of the time in the classroom was devastating. Vandy is a great community, and we had lost a member before he even had a chance to become a part of our school. That just hit me where it hurts the most: my heart.

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  • Pareja

    Dražen Petrović’s death was incredibly heartbreaking in my country, EVERYBODY cried. RIP Dražen.

    Rodney Rogers story really makes you think. be strong Rodney.

  • KnicksFan84

    Man I’m just speechless, but great article, I feel ya on it.

  • Love2Film

    Daniel Marks, nice write up. I’m a filmaker and was thinking maybe we can put a documentary together on this topic.

  • Chilirey

    Len Bias did not die in vain….he show me that if a drug like cocaine can kill a great baller like him, just imagine what it could do to an everyday joe like me…push away from the table and just say “nope to dope!”
    I pass along that his story to any youngster who might be at an impressionable age before the decision is placed in their hands…I suggest you do the same.
    L.B. – R.I.P.

  • http://twitter.com/max_in_missouri Max in Missouri

    What about Kobe Bryant raping a girl and getting away with it? That’s one of the biggest tragedies in all of sports (fitting with your timeline). How that dirtbag managed to get away with it in every aspect (wife didn’t care, bought off the victim, used PR company to repair his image, intimidated NBA people to not talk about “the incident”) is absolutely enraging. And now, after all the bad things he’s done, he is once again the most popular player in the NBA. I realize his fanbase in LA has no morals, but it goes beyond that….. its sad that just because someone can bounce a ball (and isn’t white), that they can be summarily forgiven for all their ills and people are so understanding. It’s just complete BS and a liberal trend in this country that is destroying our society…we don’t hold anyone, particularly superstar athletes, accountable for their actions.

  • http://twitter.com/max_in_missouri Max in Missouri

    Apparently comments have to be moderated here…..and since I spoke of “the incident” in Eagle, CO in July 2003, I guess my comment will never see the light of day, huh?

  • A-Slam

    eddie griffin? wayman tisdale?

  • SWAT

    wow damn good article young’un.
    i remember reading about eddie griffin-since he played for my rockets-i was a fan. he never quite lived up to his hype but his death was crazy to read about. My girl at the time was like “Damn i remember going to games with you and watchin him play…wow” wow…yea tht about sums it up.
    malik sealy was another death that shocked me. Since I was, and still am, a hugh KG fan i became a fan of malik’s. He was in tht movie “Eddie” with whoppie and he didnt win any ocsars but it was an ok movie. i remember KG writing stuff on his shoes, i think it was like FORMALIK or 2MALIK-something like that. and he was killed by a drunk driver which hits very close to home for me. a very tragic death.
    It’s a sad story and just goes to show you-nothing is promised.

  • gunner4life

    denver bronco fan here….biggest for me was darrent williams murder a few years back in the offseason. Young rising corner back who was gunned down after brandon marshall acted a fool in a nightclub, spraying champagne all over some denver gangbangers

  • Chaos

    @Max in Missouri

    you went way fuckinf off topic dude, the article wasnt talking about that kinda shit and you way off base, where someone can get off a rape charge that he alledgedly committed. come on dude let that shit go. i dont like kobe either but damn man u went way off left base. dude was trying to make a point and u just being an asshole. grow up dude….

    wayman tisdale, petrovic, eddie griffin, reggie lewis and dont forget hank gathers. those guys def could have been on this list.

  • kg fan

    Very good article.
    I agree with SWAT. being a fan of the twolves in the KG days, I remember sealy and rooting for griffin to get back on track. RIP

  • Robmo35

    The fond nostalgia of a 19 year old? Jesus Christ slowest fucking day in the NBA

  • Daniel Marks

    Eddie Griffin is definately another one that had an impact, especially since he was so unrecognizable to police they had to use dental records to identify him. Sad stuff

  • tedros

    19? Daymn.

  • H-man

    Excellent piece. I remember the Piazza home-run like it was yesterday. Unbelievable. Same with Petrovic dying. @11, I don’t think it’s about nostalgia for its own sake but about those events in sports (or, with 9/11, in life) that make you stop in your tracks and say, “Holy $%$#, can this be real? Did that really happen?” And D Marks invites you share your own thoughts, whether you are 19 years old, 49 years old or 79 years old…..

  • Big T

    Good article.

    @Max the Nerdling – How exactly is an alleged rape a “tragedy”? That dumb hoe had multiple cum stains on her panties, but she only brought a case against Kobe because he has cheddar.

    Just shut up and refrain from posting again… you made yourself look like a complete fucktard.

  • jonny taise

    Bobby Phills RIP.

  • A-Slam

    totally forgot about bobby phills, dumb ass david wesley

  • A-Slam

    jason collier too

  • BiG_RoB_n_Cali

    For me it was the day Magic Johnson annouce he had HIV man that hit me hard. But its amazing to see how healthy dude been looking over the years since then.

  • MrAlmostCluth

    @ Mad Max

    “I realize his fanbase in LA has no morals…”
    “…its sad that just because someone can bounce a ball (and isn’t white), that they can be summarily forgiven…”

    What’s really a tragedy is that people with your mentality really exist. There is so much I would love to educate you on regarding so many things, but I am sure that you would be too stubborn to listen to me, especially since I “have no morals.”

    Anyways, Daniel Marks, I’m 20 so I feel you on so many things on this list. Rodney Rogers especially. Personally, I think about Jay Williams. Not really a tragedy but an example of how one thing can derail your future so easily. Anyways, good read man.

  • sh!tfaced

    LOL. Rape a “tragedy”? Then, shit, Mike Tyson’s conviction had an impact on us too…

  • Marcus

    Damn, I love Eddy Curry. Dude had and still has so much potential. I truly believe he is turning his life around and can still be a starter in the NBA. If Darko is still playin, Curry should definately still be on the hardwood.

    Best of luck Eddy Curry!

  • KWAME

    great article…

    as far as that one idiot who posted on Kobe…it’s funny how people claim to be like pro-American…and then they completely go against America aka “Innocent until proven guilty”…no one on this blog was there with Kobe in Colorado…nobody was on the investigative team…but someone hides a screen and makes accusations that he knows nothing about…it sours the whole article

    on another note i look forward to more articles from daniel marks

  • Desrat

    The whole Dave Bliss and Butler thing. I do not think that I have ever been as disappointed with a grown man interacting with kids. Let a kid get killed, then tried to cover up the murder and smear a dead persons name.

    We all feel like we have a connection with a star that comes into our living rooms via the tele, and their sadness is something we can empathize with. Two weeks ago I came up on the scene of a motorcycle wreck that left two people dead. Tried to take the pulse of the first victim and my fingers went right through her neck. Her husband was FUCT up, and I watched his head start swelling as he lost consciousness. He was trying to stand up, trying to move closer to his dead wife. I went home, washed myself in bleach to get the blood off, and hugged my kids and my wife and just wanted to cry. Life is short–precious, amazing and wonderful–but short. We all get reminded of that, and when we are we all wonder how the hell we could have forgotten it. One of the most heartbreaking things about that wreck was watching the poor kid that turned his truck just a fraction of second earlier and ended up killing two people. Without an injury he was falling to pieces on the side of the road.

    I can still smell the wreck every now and then. I drive by the spot every morning, and I have not been able to help but stop and look at the spot that these two people stopped existing. It has made me a bit more aware of the people around me; made me want to connect a bit with them, let them know that we are all in this together. I wonder how long until I forget that?

  • hippie james

    Losing Reggie Lewis really tore me up.

  • Ben

    Nick Adenharts death was particularly impactful for me. He was a well respected and loved guy in the clubhouse and had a bright future ahead of him. Seeing the way the team rallied together and became closer through the tragedy was amazing. Though some thought it was bad taste for the players to celebrate their division championship by dousing adenharts jersey in champagne (due to him being killed by a drunk driver) I thought it was one of the most memorable moments in recent sports history. I have a sister who was involved in a serious accident with a drunk driver which made it even more real to me. 

  • Big Island

    Max, I live in LA and to a certain extent you are right about some of the LA fans, but every franchise that wins has fans like that. But like Chaos said, you are way off base with what you said.

    Great article Daniel. The fact that a 19 year old has some perspective is a refreshing change. I was an idiot when I was 19,

  • derik

    Malik Sealy…

  • Daniel Marks

    Thanks for sharing your stories guys, it is great to hear from all of you. Another one that hasn’t been mentioned was the boating accident a year or 2 ago that killed those 2 NFL players (Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith), 2 guys that were incredibly strong but ended up drowning. Another realization that everyone is human and no one is invincible

  • AirKaris

    The first death of any person that really hit me was when I was 12, a player by the same of Scott Fenton played for the Perth Wildcats in the NBL in Australia. He and his girlfriend Tina Christie who played in for the Perth WNBL team were killed when a car that was street racing another slammed into their car when they went through an intersection. I had only just got his autograph 3 days earlier – and now he was dead. I remember then looking at that autograph and trying to make any sense of these 2 senseless deaths.

  • 100k

    Rodney Rogers story is a tear jerker…i saw a special they did on him and it was mad heartbreaking…God bless him and his family

  • James B

    good article man!!

  • cru_thik305

    thanks for the good article, everyone needs to remember stuff like this to remind us of how blessed we are

  • Nyeme

    What about the death of Bobby Phils? That was tragic because his teammates were involved. Everyday, they have to live with that, knowing their actions directly played a part in the loss of a friend.

  • Matt

    Props to you Daniel for an intriguing read. Type of writing I get a kick out of here in the UK as a journo. You’ve probably read a ton of Gary Smith stuff from Sports Illustrated, but if you haven’t check out his books.

  • JamesinVA

    STEVE MCNAIR SEAN TAYLOR MANUTE BOL GAINES ADAMS

  • ReddiRed

    i’d have to say Manute Bol. He basically dedicated his post bball life to his home and righting the wrongs of the established government at that time. He gave his money and his physical to his country.
    He literally gave until it killed him.