With the recent horrific injury to Paul George, the question for the NBA world is, will he come back the same player? We’ll also soon see 2.0 of the Derrick Rose return, and the same question looms.
Here is your all time NBA All-Injured team. We look at what could have been for all of these would-be superstars if injuries had not riddled their careers.
PG: Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway
Penny Hardaway came into the national spotlight after his high school career in Memphis. He averaged an amazing 36.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 6.2 asp, 3.9 spg and 2.8 bpg as a senior as was named Parade Magazine National High School Player of the Year. He was dubbed the next Magic Johnson. At 6’7 he could see everything on the floor, he had a great handle and the same flashy creativity, with the added elite athleticism.
The first injury concern was during his freshman season in college, Hardaway was robbed at gun point and shot in the foot. That was quickly brushed to the side with a very successful career at Memphis State University. So successful that his #25 jersey was retired.
During the 1997-98 season Hardaway suffered what would be a devastating knee injury. His ACL was the main concern. According to Dr. James Andrews, these injuries were almost un-diagnosable at the time due to technological limitations and medical imaging. Penny was selected to the All-Star team that year and decided to suit up. He was criticized in playing earlier than expected to play in the All-Star game. He has since had a further 4 surgeries on that same knee.
Hardaway went on to play unspectacular minutes with the Suns, Knicks and Heat, before retiring in 2007.
SG: Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady was drafted to the Toronto Raptors, and described his rookie season as ‘hell’. He never made it out the dog house with Coach Darrell Walker and only managed 13 mpg in his first year in the league. The next season the Raptors hired a new coach, and drafted T-Mac’s distant cousin, Vince Carter. All things started to look up and the NBA world was suddenly brightened. McGrady and Carter were inseparable, and it showed on the court. Before long, Tracy McGrady was one of the hottest names in basketball.
He went on to play for the Magic, establishing himself as a top talent in the league. Reports surfaced that there was friction between McGrady and General Manager John Weisbrod. He was eventually a part of a seven player trade in which he ended up in Houston, to partner up with 7’6 Yao Ming, forming one of the toughest duos in the NBA.
Early in the 2005-06 season McGrady missed 8 games because of back spasms. The spasms returned in January of 2006, and was taken to hospital at half time of a game against the Denver Nuggets. The rest is history. Back problems would eventually cripple what could have been one the all time great careers. McGrady’s athletic ability diminished and he never returned to his former All-Star performances.
T-Mac went on to play for the Knicks, Pistons, Hawks and Spurs, but was mostly a bench player. In 2013, McGrady retired from NBA basketball.
SF: Grant Hill
Grant Hill may be the greatest ‘what if’ of all time. Drafted #3 overall by the Pistons, he became the first Piston since Isiah Thomas to score 1,000 points in a rookie season. He also won Rookie of the Year along with Jason Kidd , and made history by being first rookie to lead all players in NBA All-Star fan based voting, narrowly beating out Shaquille O’Neal.
Hill was a regular attendee to All-Star games, and was being named to All-NBA First and Second teams. Hill was also was breaking and joining stat lines and records that included the likes of Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson. It seemed as though it was only a matter of time before the NBA was Grant Hill’s league.
April 15, 2000, was the day that an ankle injury would change the outcome of Grant Hill’s NBA legacy. The initial injury happened 7 days before the Playoffs, and Hill did what any other superstar and team leader would do, suit up and play through the pain. The ankle injury kept getting worse before he was forced to leave half way through Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs against the Miami Heat. He was also selected for the 2000 USA team, but could not play due to his ankle. An ankle that would many problems for years to come.
Hill was still a productive player for his long stints in Orlando and Phoenix, and even joined the Clippers for a season, but would never amount to what could have been. Hill retired in 2013 after 19 years in the NBA.
PF: Maurice Stokes
Maurice Stokes was drafted by the Rochester Royals (which in 1957 became the Cincinnati Royals), #2 overall in the 1955 NBA Draft. Stokes averaged 16.3 rpg in his rookie season and was name Rookie of the Year. The next season he set an NBA record for single season rebounds with 3,492, 17.4 rpg. In his 3 years in the NBA, he was the leading rebounder, and was second in the league for assists, the only man to beat him in that category was Boston Celtics point guard, Bob Cousy.
Stokes was selected to the All-Star game three times, and also to the All-NBA Second Team three times. Then his career was cut tragically short.
In the last game of the 1957-58 season, Stokes went hard to the basket, drew contact and hit the floor with his head. He laid there unconscious, revived by smelling salts and actually returned to the game. Three days later the Royals played the Detroit Pistons in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs. Stokes had 12 points and 15 rebounds. On the flight home, he became ill, and later would suffer a seizure that would end his basketball career.
The seizure left him permanently paralysed, and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy. Brain damage that would damage his motor control centre. For Stokes’ remaining years he was cared for by lifelong friend and former team-mate Jack Twyman. Stokes passed away in 1970 at the age of 36.
C: Yao Ming
Yao Ming was, and still is a national icon in China. Standing 7’6, Ming was the #1 overall pick of the 2002 NBA Draft, drafted by the Houston Rockets. Before the beginning of his rookie campaign, many commentators including Dick Vitale, Bill Simmons and Charles Barkley stated they thought Yao Ming would fail in the NBA.
Ming’s rookie season was largely a success, averaging 13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 1.8 bpg. He was runner up in Rookie of the Year voting.
The first injury question mark over Ming’s career came very early. While playing for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, he broke his foot twice. This did not affect the Rockets decision to draft him #1 overall. It seemed to pay off early in his career, Yao played 244 of his first possible 246 game in the first three season in the NBA.
Ming suffered the first of a long string of foot injuries in 2005, he spent quite a while on the inactive list after having surgery on his big toe. With only four games to go in the same season, Yao broke a bone in the same foot, leaving him on the sidelines another 6 months.
Early into his fifth season, Ming was injured again, this time it was his right knee. In his sixth season, there was a stress fracture in his left foot, and late in his seventh season doctors found a hairline fracture in his left foot again. Yao underwent a full surgery on his troublesome foot and missed the entire 2009-10 season.
On his return to the 2010-11 season, the Rockets had set strict guidelines to play Yao 24 minutes a night, and he would not play on back-to-backs. In December 2010 a hairline fracture was found in Ming’s left ankle, and he would miss the rest of the season.
Yao Ming’s contract expired at the end of the 2010-11 season, the Rockets chose not to pursue a new contract. He later announced his retirement in July of 2011.
In Yao’s five injury riddled seasons, he played a dismal 242 games out of a possible 410. During those years, when he was healthy he was putting up some giant numbers too. Averaging as many as 25.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 2.0 bpg. The Rockets rarely managed to put Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming on the floor at the same time. What could have been one of the most successful duos in the NBA, the Rockets only made it past the first round of the playoffs once.
6th Man: Larry Johnson
Coming out of UNLV, Larry Johnson was a man amongst boys. Standing 6’6 and 250 lbs, he was near impossible to stop. He had an impressive vertical leap, and was unstoppable on the low block. He was faster than other power forwards, he could out rebound any man, and could drain a triple. So it was an easy decision for the Charlotte Hornets to take Larry Johnson with the #1 pick in the 1991 NBA Draft.
All things went to plan in Johnson’s rookie season, averaging close to a double double with 19.2 ppg and 11.0 rpg, earning himself Rookie of the Year honours.
The season after, the Hornets selected Alonzo Mourning with the #2 overall pick, and many thought it was only a matter of time before the Hornets would win their first NBA title. LJ was voted to start in the 1993 All-Star game, becoming the first Hornet to do so.
At the end of the season, after averaging an impressive 22.1 ppg and 10.5 rpg, Johnson signed what was the most lucrative contract in the history of the NBA. The new contract with the Hornets was a 12 year deal, worth $84 million.
December of the 1993-94 season, LJ sprained his back in a game against the Detroit Pistons. He would miss 31 games that season but played for Team USA in the 1994 FIBA World Championships, winning gold.
Johnson had become a 20 and 10 a night guy, but with reoccurring back injuries, he had to become more of an all around player, he became one of the best outside shooting power forwards in the league. There were soon reports of friction between the teams two stars, Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The team felt changes needed to be made, Alonzo Mourning was shipped to Miami, and the following season ‘Grandmama’ was traded to the New York Knicks.
Johnson was never the same player in New York. He had averages of 19.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 4.1 apg in 5 years in Charlotte. After 5 years in New York he was only a shadow of the former superstar, averaging 12.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 2.2 rpg.
In October of 2001 Johnson announced his early retirement due to his chronic back injuries.
Bench: Brandon Roy
Brandon Roy was another young athlete that showed so much promise. The Portland Trailblazers took him at #6 overall in the 2006 NBA Draft after an impressive four year career with the Washington Huskies.
He instantly impressed in his first NBA game with a 20 point performance against his home town Seattle Supersonics. The night after, he had another 19 points. Injury problems started very early in Roy’s career, he missed 20 games early in his rookie season due to an impingement in his left heel. After only managing to play in 57 games in his rookie season, he took home Rookie of the Year honours.
Roy then went on to injure his right ankle, left knee, right hamstring and his right knee. His knees were the culprit for an early exit from the NBA. Just before the 2011 NBA season, Roy announced his retirement. He was lacking the cartilage between his knee bones.
In 2012 Roy announced he was attempting a comeback, and signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Roy only managed to play 5 games with the Wolves before needing season ending surgery on his right knee.
Bench: Chris Webber
Chris Webber was drafted #1 overall by the Orlando Magic. He was traded on draft night to the Golden State Warriors. After winning Rookie of the Year honours, a rift between Webber and Coach Don Nelson was enough to see Webber traded to his third NBA franchise.
Webber played for the Washington Bullets for 4 years, and led them to their first playoff appearance in 9 years. They were swept by a Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls. By this point in his career, Webber had established himself as one of the best power forwards in the league.
In 1998 Webber was traded to the Sacramento Kings. In his first season with the Kings, C-Webb put up a career high up 13.0 rpg, ending Dennis Rodman’s seven year run as the NBA’s leading rebounder. The 2000-01 season was the peak for Webber, averaging 27.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg and 4.2 apg.
In the 2003 Western Conference Semi Finals, Webber went down with a torn ACL, and he would never be the same. After the 2004-05 season, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Webber was still a productive player for the Sixers, but his explosiveness and agility were nowhere near the same. He played a season with the Detroit Pistons before making a very brief return to the Golden State Warriors. In March of 2008, Webber officially retired, and eventually had his #4 jersey retired by the Kings.
Bench: Bill Walton
Coming out of college, Bill Walton was drafted by the San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA, and was also taken #1 overall by the Portland Trailblazers in the 1974 NBA Draft. He chose to sign with the Blazers and was hailed as the saviour of the Portland franchise.
Walton’s first two seasons were tainted with injuries. During his first two years, he managed to break his foot, nose, wrist and leg, all at different times. With a big part of their rotation struggling to stay on the floor, the Blazers missed the playoffs both seasons. In the 1976-77 season Walton was healthy enough to play 65 games and led the league with 14.2 rpg and 3.2 bpg. He was selected to the All-Star game but could not play due to injuries.
The following year the Blazers had won 50 of their first 60 games, before Walton went down with a broken foot. This would only be the beginning of a long string of foot and ankle injuries that would in the end cut his career short. Walton was named MVP and attempted a comeback in the playoffs but only re-injured his foot. During the off season, Walton demanded a trade, citing unethical and incompetent treatment of his and other players injuries by the Blazers front office. He was not granted his trade request and sat out the 1978-79 season in protest.
He signed as a free agent with the San Diego Clippers but really struggled to get healthy, after undergoing several re-constructive surgeries on his foot. Of a possible 1066 games, Bill Walton only managed to take the court 468 times. Walton won titles with both the Blazers and Celtics.
Bench: ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich
Pistol Pete was drafted at #3 overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1970 NBA Draft. Maravich left LSU with some incredible numbers, over his four year career, he averaged 44.5 ppg and 5.2 asp. During his college career, there was no such thing as a three point line, so his stat line may have been a little more impressive with his long range touch.
Maravich was a magician with the ball, he could score at will, and his dazzling passing play was well before his time. In his third season Maravich made his first All-Star team, averaging 26.1 ppg, and what would be a career high 6.9 apg. In his fourth season, he was second in scoring in the entire league with 27.7 ppg, only beaten out by Bob McAdoo, earning his second All-Star appearance. Atlanta failed to make the playoffs and at the end of the season, Maravich was shipped to new expansion team, the New Orleans Jazz.
Expectedly, the Jazz were not the greatest team in the league their first year, posting the worst record in the league, the second Jazz season improved, but that’s when the injuries began. Maravich sat out 20 games that season but was still elected to the All-NBA First Team.
The 1976-77 season was his best yet, putting up a league high 31.1 ppg, and scoring 40 or more points in 14 games. Against the Knicks he put up a remarkable 68 points, only Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain had better scoring nights at that point in time.
Knee injuries took over his career from that point on. He ended a stellar, 10 year career with half a season in Boston, and had his #7 jersey retired by the Jazz and New Orleans.
Cameron Wilkosz – @cavaliercam13