NBA / Aug 7, 2013 / 1:45 pm

The 30 Best NBA Careers Ruined By Injury

Tracy McGrady

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.

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  • Rod Williams

    No Terrell Brandon?

  • Eric

    Really happy to see LaPhonso Ellis on here, I kind of think he should be higher than like Bobby Hurley or a couple of others that actually had pretty successful careers. If it wasn’t for all the knee injuries LaPhonso would have been one of the best forwards in the 90’s and the Nuggets would have continued their success instead of falling off

  • Ray Horcajo

    magic first


    I think the cousins- vince carter and tmac both could have become greatest franchise players if not for injuries. Too bad they didn’t win at their prime in Raptors

  • Xiao Dao

    Are you serious? J.O’neal ahead of Sabonis??? Sabonis should be in the top 3…

  • JackPackage

    For me, the top three will forever be: Penny, Grant Hill & T-Mac.

    All of them had the potential to be some of the best players at their respective positions. I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that Penny could have been a Top five of all time PG, Grant Hill could have been right behind Larry Bird (no homo) & T-Mac could have been one of the greatest wing scorers of all time.

    Jamal Mashburn is apparently caking it up nowadays with like 6000 restaurant franchises, so he’s not mad.

    Jay Williams was one of my favourite players, apparently he was going to be traded to Denver, shortly before his injury.

    Shaun Livingston’s injury is probably the worst I’ve ever seen, the fact that he can come back and be an effective backup PG in the L, is amazing to me. It was awful, it just looked like his leg self destructed. I actually wince when I watch it and I’m not squeamish at all. He would have been a good player, but looking at his physique for the type of game he plays, it was always going to be a risk, getting injured. He looks about 130 soaking wet, at 6’5. Crazy.

    Vince Carter could be on here, if you consider a heart that began to pump Kool Aid, to be a career-derailing injury.

  • JackPackage

    T-Mac was still a franchise player, no doubt about it.

    He was the man on those Orlando & Houston teams. He averaged 32 PPG on 45% FG one year in Orlando.

    In his prime he was one of the best five players in the L.

    Completely agree with you on VC, if he’d stayed in Toronto and not gotten afraid of contact, he’d have been a franchise player for more than a couple of years. I wouldn’t say injuries derailed him though, more so his diet, his lack of heart and his over-reliance on athleticism.

    I remember seeing a interview with Grant Hill, when Vince went to Phoenix and Hill said that he’d never seen a grown man take such terrible care of his body and eat so much candy as Vince did.

  • The_Councilman

    Antonio McDyess should be included on this list. Knee injuries took him out from reaching his highest potential. His game is a hybrid of LaPhonso Ellis, A’mare Stoudamire, and Blake Griffin.

  • Todd Milledge

    No Kevin Johnson?

  • UserName

    No Derrick Rose. After 2011, he was the MVP. But then he got injured, and started to come back. A little while later, he got injured, and he got worse, but got some of his explosiveness back. He keeps on getting injured until he lost alot of his explosiveness, and athleticism. He will come back again and again until he cant play anymore. He eventually will have a career ending injury. He would have been one of the very best players in NBA history. I would say the best point guard, and top 10 best player.

  • UserName

    It is sad to see all of the potential go down the drain. They need to focus on staying healthy now a days.