If you’ve ever dreamt of being an NBA or WNBA player, your parent(s) has probably told you to get a degree while you’re playing D1 Ball, because the slightest injury could ruin a potential career. If, by some miracle, you are an NBA player reading this blog, you’ve probably heard the word “injury” at least 10 dozen times. And if you’re a basketball blogger, sportswriter, TV analyst, or NBA Reporter, you’ve probably reported on injuries.
Injuries are a terrible thing. They end careers, or end young players’ rise to glory. Yeah, I’m talking to every Portland Trail Blazers fan right now. Greg Oden, the #1 pick in 2007, had back injuries and micro-fractures that ended his career; Brandon Roy was an All-Star before he got injured; Sam Bowie (who was picked before Michael Jordan) had multiple injury issues, and Jusuf Nurkic is out for the 2019-2020 season due to injuries.
But aside from Portland, a thought struck me one day. How many of the NBA’s best players today and all-time greats suffered from injuries? When you look further, a lot of NBA legends had some sort of injury, and so have a lot of rising young stars. Therefore, I put together these lists of all-time greats that suffered from injury, young players with potential who suffered injury, and current players who have suffered horrible injuries.
Greatest NBA Players Who Suffered Career Ending (Potentially) Injuries:
Michael Jordan: He missed all of his second season with a broken foot. That’s a serious injury, and there was a slight chance that if he didn’t stay on a minutes restriction, he would never play again. Of course, everything turned out fine for him, and fun fact, even though he only played a couple of games before being out for the season, he still made the All-Star Team.
Kobe Bryant: April 12th, 2013. This was the day Kobe tore his achilles (AKA the worst basketball injury ever) and was out for a while. It also ultimately led to his retirement. He also had some sprained ankles at the beginning of his career.
Larry Bird: His career was cut short due to multiple back injuries.
Magic Johnson (kinda): Well, he retired from the NBA due to the HIV virus, which technically isn’t an injury. So he doesn’t OFFICIALLY count, but I’m including him anyway.
Tracy McGrady: Tracy McGrady had it all before he started having back injuries and spasms. He was considered a top five SG in his prime, and according to Kobe Bryant, “had no weaknesses in his game.” But after Tracy played for the Raptors and Magic, he went to the Rockets, where injuries started picking up, and he didn’t play much in the final years of his contract. He then bounced around to the Knicks, Pistons, and Hawks, before briefly playing overseas and finishing his NBA career as a San Antonio Spur in 2013.
Bill Walton: In college, he led UCLA to two 30-0 records, and was the #1 pick in the 1974 NBA draft. But he only played more than 67 games in an NBA season once, despite racking up many accolades. But he then injured his foot, and only played 14 games in a season. He kept getting injuries, and eventually retired due to them. He still had a successful NBA career, but no telling what would have happened if the injuries hadn’t kept coming.
Yao Ming: The #1 pick in 2002, Yao Ming was a 7’7″ center, and an All-Star his rookie season. He was destined to be a top five center of all time, but he had multiple foot issues, and that caused the BFG to retire early, in 2011, after only playing nine seasons. He was, however, inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Penny Hardaway: When Penny was drafted, he made an immediate impact on the Orlando Magic, starring alongside Shaquille O’ Neal. In his rookie season, he averaged 16, 6, and 5, while finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. He also played in all 82 games. The next year, he was an All-Star and helped lead the Magic to an NBA Finals appearance. In 1997, he injured his left knee and only played in 19 games. He was then traded to the Phoenix Suns and had to have two surgeries. After that, he was never the same player, and ended up retiring early because of it.
Grant Hill: He teamed up with Tracy McGrady (and almost Tim Duncan) on the Orlando Magic in 2000 (https://nbainfo.data.blog/2020/07/03/the-single-craziest-almost-signed-free-agency-story-in-the-nba/), but only played in four games that season due to an ankle injury. He only played 47 games in Orlando in four years, and the ankle injuries eventually took over. He still played 19 seasons in the NBA though, and four at Duke.
“Pistol” Pete Maravich: Pete Maravich isn’t talked about so much anymore, since he played in the 70s when there was no three-point line. But what most people don’t know is that if there was a three- point line when he played, then the shots Pete took and made averaged him making roughly 10+ threes a game! He missed 30+ games in two seasons due to knee injuries, and he only played 43 games in his final season. After 11 seasons, he retired due to his knees at 33 years of age.
Young Players with a Lot of Promise Whose Potential Was Destroyed by Injury:
Derrick Rose (Cover Picture, Torn ACL, Youngest Player to win MVP)
Greg Oden (#1 Pick in 2007, back injuries that caused him to only play 105 games in the NBA)
Brandon Roy (a top SG in the league, lots of potential, but knees were bothering him and he had a piece of cartilage removed, then a torn meniscus. He had more knee injuries, and then was forced to retire in 2011.
Andrew Bogut (#1 pick in 2005, showed a lot of potential, but was very injury prone; had a horrible elbow and shoulder injury; now just a role player)
Kwame Brown (#1 pick in 2001, Michael Jordan ruined his confidence, also very injury prone)
Players in the NBA Today Who Have Suffered From Horrible Injuries:
Paul George: During a USA men’s basketball showcase in 2012, Paul George horribly injures his foot and it turns the wrong way. I’m not showing pictures or giving links for a reason.
Kawhi Leonard: In the 2017 playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors were facing off, and the Spurs were hot. But then, when Kawhi Leonard took a jump shot, he landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot, hurt his ankle, and was out for the next season; partially the injury, partially he decided not to play. But either way, the injury that Zaza Pachulia may have caused was dirty and dangerous (and no doubt really hurt).
Steph Curry: He missed half of the 2019-2020 season with a broken hand. Before that, he had a very scary fall against the Rockets and suffered from a head contusion and elbow injury. He has also had some ankle problems that keep him from dunking unless completely unguarded.
Russell Westbrook: You never hear much about Russell Westbrook’s injuries, but that’s because he’s just such a WARRIOR that nothing can stop him. He once got a dented skull, and was completely fine for the next game. And no, that’s not a typo.
Gordon Hayward: Broke his leg during opening night of the 2017-2018 season, and was out for the year.
Klay Thompson: Tore his Achilles in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA finals, which is a reason why the Toronto Raptors won the championship.
Kevin Durant: He tore his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA finals, which is a huge reason why the Warriors didn’t three-peat. Yes, the Warriors were cursed in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Demarcus Cousins: Tore his Achilles while he was on the Pelicans. Then when he was on the Lakers, he got injured during practice. He was also injured on the Warriors, so it’s safe to assume that he’s an injury prone player.
Rajon Rondo: Broke his wrist while trying to land after a fall while playing on the Boston Celtics.
Derrick Rose: I already mentioned him earlier, but he is still in the NBA and is slowly trying to make a comeback.
Jamal Crawford: Yes, he’s still in the NBA on the Suns. He had a horrible injury where he broke a fall with his neck.
Kyrie Irving: Kyrie Irving had a broken nose for a lot of the 2017-2018 season with the Celtics, and missed that year’s entire playoffs when the team went to the Eastern Conference Finals. During the 2019-2020 season, he has also missed considerable playing time due to a right shoulder impingement, and had to have surgery on it.
Dwayne Wade: The injuries started late in his career for Dwayne Wade, having soreness, knee issues, a strained left hamstring, and a right hip bruise. These injuries were a big part in causing him to retire when he did.
Victor Oladipo: Victor Oladipo actually just missed a majority of the 2019-2020 season (before the season was postponed), and some of last year due to a pretty serious ruptured quad tendon. He’s not quite the same player yet, but there’s no doubt he’ll be an all-star again relatively soon.
Blake Griffin: If you watch Blake Griffin highlights, you can see a big difference between 2017-2018 Blake Griffin until now versus Black Griffin before 2017. That’s because he had surgery on his left knee, and that caused him to lose a lot of explosiveness. He’s out for the rest of the season when he returns, and also missed his whole first year in the league due to injury, debuting in 2010.
Joel Embiid: Joel Embiid was drafted in 2014, but didn’t debut in the NBA until 2016. He broke a bone in his left foot, and then re-broke the same bone the following year. He is injury prone, and has had serious injuries, but is a very good player nonetheless.
So if we look at the numbers, we have to ask: how common are injuries? Well, let’s take a look at the 2019 NBA All-Stars. I am choosing the 2019 All-Stars because it’s less likely for a younger player to get injured, and there were more first time all-stars in 2020 then most any other year.
In 2019, 6 out of 14 players on Team Lebron had suffered a very serious injury, and they are listed above. On Team Giannis, 7 out of 14 players have suffered injuries. It just goes to show how incredibly common serious injuries are, and how players must be careful with their routines, exercise, and playing time. And keep in mind, I’m just talking about all-stars. Role players and bench players can be injured just as easily.
So the next time your mom or dad tells you stretch, it’s best you do and don’t make a big fuss about it.
Let me know if I left out any players that had very serious injuries in the comments below, don’t forget to drop a like, and as always, have an awesome day!