Becoming a professional athlete is one of the most difficult things any person could ever do. Just making it to a professional sports league takes years and years of practice and an incredible amount of skill. Of course, it’s a feat dictated by not just talent but contacts and a certain degree of sheer dumb luck.
The dizzying heights of pro sports will only ever be reached by a tiny percentage of athletes. And even when athletes get there, they don’t necessarily have full control over their career. There are some situations where a star athlete is sold by the team to which he’s loyal, and in some such cases the athlete in question might not even end up playing for the team he was drafted by or was traded to.
Sometimes the refusal is down to selfish reasons like ego or greed, but there have been some inarguably valid reasons for an athlete’s refusal such as discrimination or questionable ethics on the part of team owners of management. This sort of controversy has marked various high-stakes sports from baseball to football to hockey.
These are the ten most famous examples of athletes who simply refused to play for the teams they were traded to or drafted by.
Do you agree with the decisions of these talented athletes and superstars? Have your say in the comments.
10. Steve Francis
Steve Francis wanted nothing to do with Canada, so the fact that he was drafted second by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1999 NBA draft made things very difficult for him. He told the press that he would refuse to play for the Grizzlies, and he claimed numerous reasons for choosing to do so from taxes and endorsements to the distance from his home in Maryland. Still, Vancouver GM Stu Jackson was determined to pick Francis.
Francis was less than pleased about being drafted by Vancouver, but after the draft it seemed like he was about to have a change of heart. It turned out that he hadn’t, and eventually Francis was traded to the Houston Rockets.
9. Stephon Marbury
There have been a few occasions when former NBA point guard Stephon Marbury didn’t want to be on the court. After few seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves Marbury didn’t want to play there anymore and demanded a trade. Some media outlets suggested it was because he disliked playing there, while others said it was because he was jealous of teammate Kevin Garnett’s contract. Years later, things were even worse when Marbury was playing for the New York Knicks.
He didn’t get along with a number of Knicks’ coaches, and this led to some very angry fans and multiple coaches being fired. When Isiah Thomas was the coach Marbury refused to play for one game after he was removed from the starting lineup, and when Mike D’Antoni was coach Marbury was placed on the inactive list. Marbury was obviously not pleased with being put on the inactive list. When coach D’Antoni offered him 35 minutes of playtime per game Marbury refused, and his time with the Knicks came to an end.
8. Dominique Wilkins
Wilkins was one of the best dunkers in NBA history, and he was an NBA All-Star an astonishing nine times. His epic playing career spanned nearly two decades and he played for five different NBA teams including, most notably, the Atlanta Hawks. However, one team he did not play for was the Utah Jazz even though the Jazz selected Wilkins third overall in the 1982 NBA draft. Mere months after being drafted by the Jazz, Wilkins was traded to the Hawks dues to the fact he didn’t want to play for the team and the Utah Jazz’s cash flow problems.
7. Fran Vazquez
Orlando Magic fans and sports reporters in the Florida city aren’t too fond of Fran Vasquez, and for good reason. The Spanish basketball player was drafted 11th overall in the 2005 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic, but Vasquez has never played a single game in the NBA. Each year he plays in Europe it becomes more and more likely that he will never play in the world’s premiere basketball league.
Vasquez originally seemed keen to play for the Magic when he was drafted, but he soon decided that he would remain in the Spanish ACB League. Because he has only ever played in European leagues, the Magic still retain his NBA rights.
6. Eric Lindros
Many expected Eric Lindros to be one of the greatest NHL players of all time, but a series of concussions prevented that from ever happening. He was once dubbed the Next One, and some thought he would reach pinnacles set forth by the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe. It didn’t help matters at all that Lindros had a bit of an attitude problem. In 1991 the Quebec Nordiques drafted him, but he refused to play for the team. He felt he would not be as famous playing for the Canadian team, and he didn’t want to speak French.
Eventually, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, and that’s where he spent most of his career. It may have been the best thing for the Nordiques because the trade netted the organization franchise players that would later help the team win two Stanley Cups after being relocated to Colorado and renamed the Avalanche.
5. Eli Manning
Eli Manning is synonymous with the New York Giants, but that’s not where his NFL career almost began. Eli Manning was by far the most coveted player in the 2004 NFL draft, and with the San Diego Chargers holding the number one pick it seemed like a certainty that’s who he would be drafted by. However, Manning made it clear before the draft that if the Chargers selected him there is no way he would play for them.
That didn’t stop the Chargers from picking Manning first overall, but luckily they had a back up plan in place which would see Manning traded to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and a couple of additional draft picks.
4. John Elway
John Elway is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL, and his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is proof of that. However, his career got off to a very rocky start. In 1983 he was drafted number one overall by the Baltimore Colts. At the time the Colts were one of the worst teams in the league, and he really didn’t have much desire to play for them. After civil attempts at a trade backfired, Elway threatened to quit football and instead play baseball for the New York Yankees, as he had been drafted in the second round of the MLB draft by the Yankees in 1981 and spent a short time playing with a Yankees minor league affiliate in 1982.
Eventually, a compromise was agreed upon which saw Elway traded to the Denver Broncos where he spent the entirety of his NFL career as a player.
3. Ilya Kovalchuk
New Jersey Devils fans has such high hopes for Ilya Kovalchuk, but greed lead him to leave the NHL in favor of playing hockey in the KHL. After signing a lengthy and very expensive ($100 million USD to be exact) 15 year contract with the Devils, Kovalchuk ended up playing just three full seasons, and one half season because of the NHL lockout, with the team. Instead he decided he didn’t want to play for the Devils, or any other team in the NHL for that matter. He signed a deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, which was the same team he played for when he was still signed with the Devils during the 2012-13 NHL lockout.
The higher gross salary he would receive playing in the KHL tempted him. The taxes were far less in his homeland of Russia, and he had the added bonus of being close to his family. Unfortunately, Russia’s recent currency collapse means he would be making much more now if he were still in the NHL.
2. Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson was named the greatest athlete of all time by ESPN, and it’s a title he is certainly worthy of simply for that fact he was both an incredibly talented baseball and football player. However, his skill in both sports caused some controversy. It seemed that Jackson would make football his first choice as a pro sports career, but the shoddy treatment by Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s owner Hugh Culverhouse made Jackson choose baseball instead.
While in college, Jackson was taken on a trip by the Buccaneers to visit the team because he believed that doing so was allowed by NCAA rules since that’s what he was told by Buccaneers management. After the trip, it was revealed that he was lied to by the Buccaneers, and this meant he was ineligible to play the rest of the college baseball season. After the debacle, Jackson threatened to not play for the Buccaneers if he was chosen by the team in the 1986 NFL draft. The Buccaneers still ended up picking Jackson and he held true to his word. He instead went to play professional baseball for the Kansas City Royals; the team had originally drafted him in the second round on the 1982 MLB draft. Jackson would later go on to play four partial NFL seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders while he was also playing in the MLB.
1. Ernie Davis
The story of Ernie Davis is one of the most inspiring and tragic in all of sports, and his reason for refusing to play for the team that drafted him is probably the best reason one could ever have. Ernie Davis was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, and his stupendous college stats and performance lead many to believe he would be one of the greatest NFL stars of all time. In 1962 he was drafted first overall by the Washington Redskins, but he refused to play for the team. Redskins owner and founder George Preston Marshall was said to be extremely racist, and for many years he refused to have any black players on his roster. For this reason Davis obviously did not want to play for Marshall’s team and demanded a trade. Davis was traded to the Cleveland Browns, but he didn’t play for the Browns either because he was diagnosed with leukemia and eventually succumbed to the disease and died in 1963.