NBA / Aug 27, 2010 / 4:06 pm

The Stephen Strasburg of the NBA

The Stephen Strasburg of the NBA

In the history of professional sports, few athletes have had the kind of up-and-down season that Washington Nationals pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg is having right now.

When Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in the ’09 MLB Draft, made his big-league debut in June, he exceeded the hype surrounding his arrival by striking out 14 batters in seven innings while picking up a win. Strasburg was the talk of baseball throughout summer, but earlier today, the Nationals announced he needs Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and will likely miss the next year.

Injuries are the cruelest — and yet most common — way in which rising superstar athletes suddenly fall off the map. From baseball (Kerry Wood) to football (Charles Rogers) everything else, the seemingly simple task of staying healthy is a hurdle too large for some fantastically talented athletes to overcome. Granted, Strasburg is by no means “done” and shouldn’t be written off, but obviously having a major surgery on such a major joint so early in one’s career isn’t a good sign.

The NBA is no different. Over the years we’ve seen more than a few future All-Stars and potential superstars derailed by injuries. Some have recovered to salvage decent careers, but some have never fully recovered. Here are the five most memorable examples:

Jay Williams — Before he got a chance to be the first legit post-Jordan face of the Chicago Bulls, Williams had his NBA career ended in a motorcycle accident following his rookie year. The All-American point guard at Duke was taken No. 2 overall in the ’02 Draft, and put up 9.5 points and 4.7 assists in his first and only pro season.

Grant Hill — On the court, he was something between the next Pippen and the next Jordan. Hill’s first six years in the NBA were fantastic: he put up LeBron-like numbers, including 25.8 points, 6.6 boards and 5.2 assists in the ’99-00 campaign. But beginning in the ’00 playoffs, a series of ankle and foot injuries cost Hill the better part of three to five years of his prime. He’s made a comeback and is still a solid starter in the League at 37 years old, but he was once on-track for a first-ballot Hall of Fame career.

Penny Hardaway — The first three years of Penny’ career had people comparing him to Magic Johnson. The 6-7 point guard was good for about 20 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game. Then in his fourth season, Hardaway missed 23 games due to injuries, and the next year missed 63 games. Even with his problematic knees, Penny played 14 years in the NBA, but he never could recapture his early form, and by the end of his run he was a little-used role player on middling teams.

Bill Walton — Coming off one of the most accomplished NCAA careers in history, Walton was naturally the No. 1 pick in the ’74 Draft and expected to be an all-time great. And while he does have a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame, his NBA career is still seen as something of a letdown. Walton could never stay healthy, having problems with his knees, feet and ankles; in his 10-year career, he played an average of just 46 games per season. He was very, very good, but could have been even better.

Danny Manning — You know the Clippers had to make an appearance (two if you count Walton’s time with the franchise). Manning was the NCAA Player of the Year and won a national title at Kansas in ’88, and the Clips made him the No. 1 pick in that year’s Draft. But he tore his ACL during his rookie year, and although he recovered to make two All-Star appearances in ’93 and ’94, the knee problems persisted and Manning wound up his career much like Penny; a decent role player occupying the body of a shoulda-been superstar.

Honorable mentionGreg Oden, Shaun Livingston, Larry Johnson, Ronnie Fields, Yao Ming, Randy Livingston

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  • TD

    Greg Oden anybody???

  • Big e

    I really miss Penny’s prime…amazing player.

  • Orange

    i remember being excited to see what Jay williams would be able to do. i didn’t think the injury was that bad to begin with. i just remember thinking he’ll be back and then i forgot all about him until about 2 in a half years later.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mr.brogden BERN BROGDEN

    Allan Houston, kinda sorta.

    lol off topic but on topic kinda sorta

    the phila version

    Westbrook’s knees and Shawn Andrew’s back

    Raul Ibanez – ol’ head so he kinda doesn’t count.
    But his injuries seem to really crush him.

    Jason Smith…right?

    Lindros – weak psyche, injured body, swollen brain..


  • Young Gunner

    Comparing Penny and Strasburg, I think, is a reach…………Halo

  • Poolpal44

    You could add Bird to the list….He had an amazing career, but his back really held him back the last few years

  • Poolpal44

    You could add Bird to the list….He had an amazing career, but his back really held him back the last few years

  • oh brother

    wouldnt add bird to the list. this list is for guys that didnt have the star power or shine the way we thought they would due to injuries.

  • bobby stew

    Bobby Hurley

  • WinDelRoj

    Penny was sick. Really a freak when you think about it. Damn shame

  • Promoman

    Larry Bird also has a heart condition which played more of a role than his back in his retirement.

    Danny Manning is even more of a case since he was the first NBAer to have reconstructive surgery on both knees, had 3 ACL injuries and he still won a 6th Man award.

    We can’t forget about Bobby Hurley (lack of playing time and the car wreck), Greg Lloyd, and of course, Pervis Ellison.

  • LakeShow84

    Hopefully Blake Griffin dont end up on this list..

  • Mavs All The Way

    Penny is the man.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    Just to show Dimefam that I pay attention to their articles – DaJuan Wagner.

  • Yooo

    Dajuan Wagner definitely

  • http://www.more-sports.net andrew macaluso

    Kenyon Martin has to be included in the topic.


    Naismith College Player of the Year
    John Wooden Award
    Oscar Robinson Trophy
    2004 NBA All-Star .. and that’s when the numerous knee surgeries happened.

  • Joe’s Momma

    That is a shame, this kid was throwing some gas and having quality starts.
    But this was what people expected, coming out the said he was an injury risk because of the way he throws.

    But all the top 5 had legit starts to their careers, so it can’t really be the same situation.

    Greg Oden is the closest IMO. Got hurt his rookie year.

    Blake Griffin is second closest, lets hope he can get his bball career on track in his “rookie” year.

  • Heckler

    the greatest pure all-around ATHLETE I’ve ever seen play (in person too) was derailed by injury.

    I feel cheated.
    we should all feel cheated.


  • Heckler

    sad to have seen (or not seen) Ken Griffey Jr during some of the prime years of his baseball career.

    damn injuries and freak bodily accidents. sucks. just sucks.

  • Ether Riel

    I don’t really understand what this is about but that is some sexy journalism

  • Will

    Yo Penny,
    I’m grateful for the 3 to 4 years I got to watch you before your career was derailed with injuries. I know you went through some hard times even before you got in the L, with getting shot and all, don’t know many people who could go through that and still come out an all star at the highest level of competition. You’re the the reason I fell in love with basketball and to this day you’re still my all time favorite player. Ball Steady

  • Peter

    Totally agree with Yooo/15 re: Dajuan Wagner. Bobby stew / 9 is drinking too much Dukie koolaid: Hurley was a very average NBA player before the car accident.

    Surprised that Dime + readers have not mentioned Brad Daugherty. He was absolutely on track for 1st-ballot HOF pre-injury. 8 seasons, 2 ruined by injury, 19/9.5 career average and >10K career points, done forever at age 28.

  • Halley

    Hank Gathers.

    It was so tragic. His phenomenal basketball potential is trivial compared with the fact that he died and the circumstances of his death. If you know anyone who has an irregular heartbeat please urge them, plead with them, to get the right medical attention and to follow their doctor’s recommendations.

  • yoda

    i can’t believe you didn’t at least mentioned ralph sampson.

  • Will

    Leonard Kevin “Len” Bias

  • kowtz

    Lenny Cook…

    Can’t Believe Sam Bowie ain’t there…

    Larry Johnson is there?

  • karizmatic

    T Mac? At least as an honorable mention?

  • BeEqual

    Penny hands down. Even as an opposing player he was always a treat to watch and what a career he could have had were it not for those injuries.

  • david c harper

    penny hardaway and larry johnson,to me,are the ones i feel were victims of injuries that totally robbed them of reaching their potential. they had the abilities to redefine their respective positions and were ahead of their times