For every uplifting moment in the history of basketball, there is also a dark and painful one marred by tragedy. In the world of sports, it is easy to look upon professional athletes as having a sort of superhuman quality that makes them seem invincible and impervious to harm, but that is simply not the case. Basketball has had many wonderful moments that serve to lift the spirit, but there are many other tragic moments that have caught the basketball world off guard and sent many into unexpected mourning.
Even though we routinely marvel at the athletic talents that enable an individual to seemingly soar gracefully through the air, or stare in amazement at the unbelievable accuracy of a sharp-shooter, these individuals remain all too human and are prone to the same failings that entrap people of every walk of life. Whether it is the result of a health condition or simple reckless behavior, there have been far too frequent tragic moments in basketball, some serving as cautionary tales, while others have become sources of inspiration and hope.
What follows are 15 of the most tragic moments in basketball, moments that forced players, executives and fans alike to consider what is truly important in life and to take stock of their own behavior in order to make positive changes. These tragic moments shocked the basketball world in a number of ways, and while some could have been avoided, many of these moments were unavoidable but shocking nonetheless.
15 15. Ricky Berry
14 14. Terry Furlow
13 13. Jason Collier
12 12. Eddie Griffin
Griffin was an immensely talented but troubled basketball player. After a standout prep career in which he earned McDonald’s All-American honors, Griffin spent a season at Seton Hall playing under then-coach Tommy Amaker. Following a somewhat contentious freshman year with Seton Hall, Griffin declared for the NBA Draft but slipped to the seventh overall pick due to concerns about his attitude.
11 11. Malik Sealy
10 10. Maurice Stokes
Stokes was one of the most talented young players in the NBA in the 1950s, as he was named to three consecutive All-Star teams and was an All-NBA selection in three consecutive seasons as well. During his brief career, Stokes averaged 16.4 points per game and 17.3 rebounds, leading the league in the former during his rookie season in 1955-56 with the Rochester Royals. Unfortunately for Stokes and the NBA, the brilliantly talented forward was knocked out during a game, suffering a head injury that later resulted in his having a seizure that left him paralyzed.
9 9. Bobby Phills
8 8. Jim Valvano
7 7. Pete Maravich
6 6. Benji Wilson
5 5. Hank Gathers
4 4. University of Evansville Basketball Team
3 3. Len Bias
2 2. Drazen Petrovic
1 1. Reggie Lewis
Before Lewis passed away in 1993, he seemed poised to make the Boston Celtics’ transition from the Bird-McHale-Parish era a successful one. The Celtics captain was coming off a season in which he averaged 20.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and he had recently earned his first All-Star appearance in 1992. Lewis, however, collapsed and died during a workout at Brandeis University on July 27th, 1993 due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an event that may have been foreshadowed when Lewis collapsed during a playoff game against the Charlotte Hornets three months before.
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