There can be plenty of hype surrounding NBA players when they enter the league, and especially when they perform at a high level once they’ve made their NBA breakthrough. However, there’s always the virtual inevitability of injury for all players in the league, and unfortunately, some players have been affected by it quite a lot harder than others. In many cases, it could mean either the dip in quality of their performances following a serious injury that they can never truly bounce back from, or having to call time on their career entirely because of their injury. Whatever the case, it’s incredibly sad whenever it happens, and we’ve compiled a list of the 10 biggest careers in the NBA since the ‘90s that were plagued with injuries.
Although several of these players are still active in the NBA, recurring injury problems have caused their playing abilities to be seriously hindered over the years. One of the more modern examples of this is Derrick Rose, who is still arguably the best player the Chicago Bulls have, but whose extended absences from the game thanks to several serious knee injuries have caused him to only reach a fraction of the heights he otherwise could have for his career at large. Of course, there are other players on this list who had hype surrounding them upon being drafted – we’re looking at you, Greg Oden and Adam Morrison – but were never able to live up to it, in large part because of their injuries. Whether or not they would have if those problems never happened to begin with is a question we’ll never know the answer to.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 NBA careers since the ‘90s that were tainted by serious injuries, ranked in alphabetical order based on last name.
10 Penny Hardaway
When Penny Hardaway was at his peak with the Orlando Magic, he and Shaquille O’Neal went together like bread and butter, with the very tall point guard putting up an average of more than 20 points a game for three straight seasons. But when Shaq went to the Lakers – a move that obviously paid off in spades for him – Hardaway suffered a knee injury in 1998 that caused him to never be able to regain the form he once had. He had one fairly good 60-game season in Phoenix, but his career numbers after that were largely disappointing. Hardaway retired in 2008.
9 Larry Johnson
In the prime of his career, Larry “Grandmama” Johnson was one of the best power forwards in the league, consistently putting up big points and rebounds for the Charlotte Hornets during the early to mid-‘90s. However, Johnson suffered several back injuries and therefore was never able to recapture his old form when he was traded to the New York Knicks in 1996 following an inability to get along with Hornets teammate Alonzo Mourning. His numbers in the Big Apple never reached the heights that they did in Charlotte, and Johnson retired from basketball in 2001 due to his nagging back injuries.
8 Antonio McDyess
During the late ‘90s to early 2000s, Antonio McDyess was a very solid power forward for the Denver Nuggets, posting 21.2 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game in the 1998-99 season. However, the later part of his career would be overshadowed by problems with a serious knee injury suffered while still with the Nuggets, forcing him to end his 2001-02 season with the team after 10 games, and sitting out the entirety of 2002-03 after being traded to the New York Knicks. Upon his eventual return, McDyess’ quality of play would never be the same, and he retired in 2011.
7 Tracy McGrady
It might be hard to remember, but there was indeed a time when Tracy McGrady was in the conversation of who the best players in the NBA were. This was especially during his time with the Orlando Magic, where he once scored over 32 points on average per game. However, an accumulation of back spasms and shoulder and knee injuries in subsequent seasons following his trade to the Houston Rockets would prove to be a factor in McGrady’s declining quality of play. After that, T-Mac had short-lived stints with the Knicks, Pistons, Hawks and the Spurs before retiring from the NBA.
6 Adam Morrison
Retired at only 30 years of age, it’s far from unfair to say that Adam Morrison was a pretty major NBA draft bust when he was taken third overall by Charlotte in 2006. That said, it’s not necessarily his fault: after a fairly respectable rookie season in 2006-07, Morrison suffered a torn ACL, causing him to miss the entire 2007-08 season. His play would take a pretty massive hit as a result, playing only 44 more games with the Bobcats before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he only played eight games. Following stints in Europe and a failed attempt at a comeback in 2012 with the Portland Trail Blazers, Morrison retired.
5 Greg Oden
He’s not technically retired yet, but Greg Oden remains a free agent at age 27 following a career that has been associated far more with serious injuries than with being able to live up to the billing of a first overall draft pick. His career was off to a horrible start when he missed the entire 2007-08 season after knee surgery, and the following season, left his first ever NBA game after the first 13 minutes with a foot injury. Just when things looked promising upon his return, he ended up having several other knee injuries that would eventually cause the Blazers to waive him. After an unsuccessful stint with the Miami Heat in 2013-14, Oden was released.
4 Derrick Rose
The youngest player to win the NBA’s MVP award in 2011 is also arguably the best player in the league to consistently be out injured. There’s no questioning Derrick Rose’s talent or importance to the Chicago Bulls, but the fact that he hasn’t played a full season since his MVP year – especially when you consider the fact that he was out for all of 2012-13 and only played 10 games the following year thanks to a torn ACL and then a torn meniscus – is startling. He’s played only 46 games so far this season thanks to tearing his right meniscus again, but he’s only out until mid-April maximum. Whether he can regain his old form again most certainly remains to be seen.
3 Brandon Roy
Despite still being old enough to play in the NBA, former Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Brandon Roy is retired from the game thanks largely to a degenerative condition in his knees – he no longer had any cartilage left in either of them – that caused him to call it quits early. Although he was starting to become one of the best players in the league in his position, surgery on both knees couldn’t resuscitate his career or allow him to realize his potential. Despite a comeback in the 2012-13 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team waived him and Roy officially retired from basketball.
2 Jay Williams
Few players on this list emphasize the “what could have been” factor more than Jay Williams. After a storied career in college with Duke that won him the Naismith award in 2002, Williams was drafted second overall by the Chicago Bulls in that year’s draft, and was expected to be their eventual starting point guard, despite not having the most impressive rookie season for the Bulls. However, he suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident which included three dislocated knee ligaments and a fractured pelvis, causing the Bulls to waive him and for his career to effectively be over. Despite attempting a comeback with the Austin Toros of the D-League in 2006 as well as an unsuccessful tryout in 2010 with the Miami Heat, Williams is retired from the game.
1 Yao Ming
So much was expected from Yao Ming from the beginning of his NBA career, and in many ways, he delivered: not only did he have an almost immediate impact on the court with the Houston Rockets, but he helped grow the league internationally as an ambassador of sorts for his home country of China. Unfortunately, not everything worked out for him health-wise, as he suffered osteomyelitis and a broken bone in his foot – and a couple other major injuries – just as he was truly establishing himself as a force in the league. After an accumulation of injuries, Yao retired from basketball in 2011.