When you think of injuries in sports, you usually think of football first due to all of the clanging and banging that the players do on each snap. Though it doesn’t seem dangerous to play basketball since you are wearing a tanktop and shorts with no padding, there is a lot of risk to bodies that are continuously jumping up and down.
This is especially true for NBA players, since they are some of the largest athletes in the world. That kind of movement can take a toll on your back, knees, ankles and feet. A lot of players have been able to avoid these types of nagging injuries throughout their careers, but sometimes even the greats can’t avoid it.
Some players that are already in the Hall of Fame or have a good chance to be someday have had some of the prime years of their careers taken away from them due to nagging problems from their bodies. As a matter of fact, many were drafted at the top of their class as you will see on this list. Which players stand out the most when it comes to these types of injuries? Here are 15 NBA stars (both former and current) whose bodies betrayed them.
15 Grant Hill
With two elite athletic parents and a scholarship offer to Duke, the hype was through the roof for Grant Hill. In college, Hill certainly met the hype with a pair of national titles to go along with two All-American team selections and an ACC Player of the Year Award. In 1994, the Pistons selected Hill with the third overall pick while in total rebuild mode. In his first four seasons, Hill wasn’t missing much time and missed just five games in a three year span.
The 1998-99 season started the injury problems for Hill just as he was getting into his prime. Between that season and the 2004-05 season, Hill only played more than 50 games once, including just four games in his first season with Orlando. Hill would find his stride once again with Phoenix in the late 2000s, but by then it was already too late since his prime had been robbed. Hill finally retired after the 2012-13 season with a career mark of 16.7 points per game. Not bad, but it could have been a lot more if not for the nagging injuries throughout the middle of his prime.
14 Sam Bowie
These days, Sam Bowie is the answer to one of those famous trivia questions: “Who was drafted just before Michael Jordan?” Bowie was one of the many Kentucky products to make it into the NBA, being selected 2nd overall in 1984 by Portland. Portland had more of a dire need in the post than for a player like Jordan, so not many people questioned it at the time. Bowie had a solid rookie season, but his legs would continue to cause him problems. Bowie broke his leg in his second season, and then in his third year broke the other one. Between the 1985-86 season and the 1988-89 season, Bowie played in just 63 games and was already nearing 30 years old by the time he found a home in New Jersey.
Bowie appeared to be on the verge of a career revitalization as he wasn’t suffering from extensive injury problems. In the early 1990s, however, Bowie’s injuries started acting up once he was sent to play for the Lakers. Bowie retired in 1995 despite being asked to stick around, instead opting for harness racing and avoiding all of the nagging basketball injuries.
13 Danny Manning
Danny Manning will always be a Kansas legend for helping deliver the school’s first basketball title in 1988 in 36 years. Manning was the first overall pick in 1988 by the Clippers who thought they finally found the player that would turn their luck around. The Clippers luck would rear its ugly head in Manning’s first season as he tore his ACL, but he rebounded quite nicely. Manning would be the Clippers’ best player until he was traded to the Hawks in 1994.
By 1996, Manning had to have two additional surgeries that would slow him down, having reconstructive operations on both of his knees. While he was still able to play, his knees caught up to him fast and he was never the same player that he was toward the end of his Clippers tenure. Manning would play for Atlanta, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Utah, Dallas and Detroit to end his career, finally retiring after the 2002-03 season to become an assistant coach at his alma mater.
12 Pete Maravich
Nobody scored more points in an NCAA career than Pete Maravich, who dominated at LSU. Maravich was drafted third overall in 1970 by the Atlanta Hawks and, at times, he definitely played like the star he was in college. Maravich played 81 games in his rookie year with 23.2 points per game, though his second year wasn’t as solid. In 1974, the New Orleans Jazz traded for Maravich to become the masterpiece of their expansion, but his second season is when the injuries started.
Two seasons later, Maravich was struggling with injuries in both of his knees that cost him a lot of the agility that made him such a good scorer. In the 1979-80 season, it was clear that Maravich wasn’t the same performer and was placed on waivers with the Celtics picking him up. After the season was over, Maravich essentially went into hiding, retiring from basketball because of his injuries. Maravich tragically passed away in 1988 at just 40 years old from heart failure.
11 Ralph Sampson
Ralph Sampson was named the National Player of the Year, ACC Player of the Year, All-ACC and All-American three times while he was with Virginia. In 1983, he was the clear cut number one choice in the NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets. Sampson was a star in his first three seasons, averaging at least 18.9 points per game and 10.4 rebounds in each of those seasons. During the 1986-87 season, things started to take a sour turn as injuries started to creep in and Sampson was traded to Golden State the next season.
Sampson tried to return to quickly from his injuries, especially the ones to his knees. Sampson was also dealing with back issues, but it was the three knee surgeries that ultimately claimed the prime of his career. Sampson played just 61 games in his final three seasons with Sacramento and Washington and was barely contributing at that point. By the age of 32, Sampson was retired.
10 Gilbert Arenas
All of the players on our list so far have been very high draft picks, but now we focus on Arizona product Gilbert Arenas, who wasn’t drafted until 30th overall by the Warriors. Arenas had a surprising rookie season and followed it up with a great sophomore campaign where he scored 18.3 points per game. In 2003, the Wizards signed Arenas to a six year deal, and for the first few years he was one of the best players in the NBA. After the 2006-07 season, things would change dramatically.
In April 2007, Arenas suffered the first of his many injuries that would take their toll on his career, and he played in just 68 total games in his final four seasons with the Wizards due to the repeated injuries. Arenas may have been an all-time great if not for his prime years being injury plagued, and he tried to revive his career with Orlando and Memphis in 2010-2011 and 2011-12, but he only started two games.
9 Larry Johnson
If you were raised in that Space Jam generation, then you definitely remember Larry Johnson. If you’re younger than that, though, you probably don’t remember who Grandmama was. Johnson was a UNLV alum that was selected with the first pick in 1991 by the Charlotte Hornets after winning the NCAA title. Johnson didn’t miss a single game in his first two seasons, winning the 1992 Rookie of the Year award and scoring 22.1 points and pulling in 10.5 rebounds per game in his second year.
Johnson’s back would start acting up in his third season and it would plague him for the rest of his career. Although he would miss just two games over the next two seasons, Johnson wasn’t quite the same. In 1996, Johnson became a member of the Knicks, who might have underestimated his back problems. His production would get worse as his back did the same, and Johnson was out of the league after just 10 seasons, putting up a measly 9.9 points per game in his final season.
8 Brandon Roy
Not many people pay attention to Washington basketball, but Brandon Roy was a local legend from Seattle that became a Husky. In 2006, The Timberwolves made Roy the sixth overall pick and then shipped him immediately to Portland. Roy’s injury problems started early, as he played in just 57 games during his rookie season, but still managed to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Roy then injured his ankle the next year and missed a bit of time.
Before his third year, Roy underwent knee surgery that cost him weeks of play and signed a max contract in 2009 before getting injured yet again, this time with a hamstring. Another issue with his right knee nearly cost him the rest of the 2010 season, but the cartilage was know completely gone from his knees. Roy wouldn’t be the same, and he attempted a comeback in 2012-13, but played just five games. Roy retired after just six seasons, but still managed an impressive 18.8 points per game.
7 Brad Daugherty
Before LeBron James came around and shattered all of the Cavaliers franchise records, Brad Daugherty was actually considered the best player in franchise history. Daugherty started his dominance in college with North Carolina, and was the top pick by Cleveland in the 1986 NBA Draft. Daugherty rarely missed any time during his first three seasons and his scoring got up to 18.9 points per game with 9.2 rebounds.
Back troubles would start picking up for Daugherty, who played in 41 games in the 1989-90 season. Daugherty started to miss games more frequently over the last few seasons of his career until the 1993-94 season when he played in 50 games. He decided to hang it up because of his ailing back (despite some decent numbers) and focus on stock car racing. Now, Daugherty is part owner of A.J. Allmendinger’s NASCAR Sprint Cup car and the seven footer also has his number retired by the Cavs.
6 Bill Walton
Bill Walton is considered to be perhaps the greatest collegiate basketball player ever and the UCLA product was an obvious choice for Portland with the first overall pick in 1974. Walton, who was a three time NCAA Player of the Year, was getting banged up frequently in his first couple of seasons. Walton broke several bones, including his foot, leg and even his nose. Walton would then lead the team to the NBA title in 1977 after his return.
That would be his only healthy year, however, as Walton’s feet and ankles would hamper him throughout the rest of his career, but he still played through it. In 1979, Walton became a member of the Clippers, but played in three seasons over five years (missed two due to injuries) and appeared in only 102 games in that five year span when the Clippers were in San Diego. Walton finished his career with Boston, but by then, his career was all but over.
5 Amar’e Stoudemire
Coming straight out of Cypress Creek High School in 2002, the Phoenix Suns used the ninth overall pick to select Amar’e Stoudemire. Stoudemire played in every game during his rookie season, but missed significant time in year two. Stoudemire appeared to be back in year three, missing just two games and scoring 26 points per game while also adding 8.9 rebounds. Stoudemire was a star at this point, but it was discovered that he had cartilage damage in his knee and only played three games in 2005/06.
Stoudemire’s knee problems would come back more frequently than he would have hoped, and it caused him to miss significant time throughout his career with the Suns and Knicks. Over the past two seasons, Stoudemire was playing a part-time role with the Mavericks and Heat before deciding to leave the NBA after the 2016 season. Just recently, he announced that he would be playing in Israel at 33 years old.
4 Yao Ming
There was never more hype for an foreign born player to come to the NBA than Yao Ming from China. Ming, a 7’6” behemoth, had played with the Shanghai Sharks from 1997-2002. The Rockets won the Ming lottery with the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft and he was a big factor with the team right away. In his first three seasons, Ming missed just two games and was scoring 16.4 points and pulling in 8.5 rebounds per game (with 1.9 blocks).
The 2005-06 season started to mark the beginning of problems for Ming as he needed toe surgery. Ming would then add a broken foot to his list of problems the next year and the following season was met with a broken knee. The next season produced a stress fracture in his foot, and by 2011 Yao decided that he was done, announcing his retirement and becoming a Hall of Famer in 2016.
3 Andrew Bynum
To this day, you could probably still find someone that thinks that Andrew Bynum has a lot of potential. Back in 2005, the Lakers selected Bynum 10th overall out of St. Joseph High School in New Jersey, though the seven footer didn’t start a game in his rookie season. Bynum’s sophomore campaign didn’t produce big numbers, but he at least did not miss any time. That would be the last time that you could say that, however.
Bynum required kneecap surgery in his third season, then tore his MCL the next season that required a knee brace for the playoffs. Bynum would injure his knee again in the 2010 playoffs, opting not to get surgery right away. The recovery time was long,= and he would miss significant time yet again in 2010-11. The knee problems continued to recur, and Bynum played just 26 games in his final season (2013-14). At the age of 28, Bynum is still a free agent, but the goods have been long damaged.
2 Greg Oden
Yet another big man on the list (7’0”) that was drafted first overall, Greg Oden was the top pick in 2007 by the Portland Trail Blazers. Oden didn’t play at all in his first season due to a microfracture in his right knee. People were highly anticipating Oden’s first game back in 2008-09, but it ended with no points and another injury, this time to his foot. Oden would return that year, but eventually got knocked out again with a fractured knee cap.
2009 brought a left knee injury (fractured patella) while the early part of the 2010 season was another microfracture that ended his season. The surgeries left some permanent damage and Oden would never get settled in. Despite a career that spanned seven season, Oden played in just 105 games, averaging 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Sadly, we’ll never know what Oden’s full potential would have been.
1 Derrick Rose
With all of the first overall picks on our list, it wouldn’t seem right to not end on another one, this time the 2008 top pick Derrick Rose. Rose’s career was hyped up as he was returning to his home city of Chicago to play with the Bulls and his first three seasons were fantastic. Rose missed just five games in that span, and he won the 2010-11 Most Valuable Player award thanks to 25.0 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Rose would miss about half of the 2011-12 season due to nagging injuries and the big blow came during the playoffs when he tore his ACL. The injury caused Rose to miss the entire 2012-13 season and the next year his return was plastered all over the media. It would only end in disappointment as injuries claimed another season in which he played just 10 games. Rose has missed 47 possible games in the two seasons since then, and hasn’t looked like the same player when he does play. Now, Rose will look to revive his career with the Knicks.