NBA players are some of the most recognizable athletes in the world. The game allows for fans to sit right on top of the action and with no helmet or hats covering the players, even those fans watching on television are given a clear view of their favorite stars. Add in the fact that there are only 10 players on the court at a time and it is easy to see how players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and LeBron James can get recognized across the globe both on and off the court.
So this is why it can be so shocking when a picture surfaces showing a retired NBA star not looking like himself. To succeed in the NBA, these players had to maintain incredible physical fitness all while become household names or having their faces broadcast to millions of fans. Yes, it is true that nobody is immune to the effects of aging and yes, professional athletes can be excused for wanting to relax in retirement like anyone else, especially after relentlessly working to stay in NBA shape. But whether it is the effects of age, the wear and tear of being a professional athlete catching up to him, or the consequences of certain destructive lifestyle choices, there are various different factors that can make it nearly impossible to recognize a former basketball star. Here are 15 examples of former NBA stars that look unrecognizable compared to their playing days.
15. Patrick Ewing
At seven feet tall, Patrick Ewing was instantly recognizable starting with his days at Georgetown. After getting drafted first overall in the 1985 draft, the center became the face of the New York Knicks franchise for 15 seasons before brief stints in Seattle and Orlando rounded out his hall of fame career.
With the Knicks, Ewing was the model of consistency, routinely playing in almost every game and never averaging less than 20 points and eight rebounds per game. Just as consistent as his play was his look. Ewing may not of had the bulk of a Shaquille O’Neal to go with his size of the muscular build of a Karl Malone, but he was a strong low-post player with a legit NBA body.
Since leaving the NBA as a player, Ewing has worked as an assistant coach in spots including Washington, Orlando, and Charlotte before recently being named head coach at his alma mater, Georgetown. It is during this time as a coach that Ewing has transformed, gaining weight and losing hair and as a result, losing the intimidating presence he was for so long during the 90s.
14. Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace played in relative obscurity during his college career at Virginia Commonwealth University and then in the NBA for four seasons with Washington and Orlando. It was in 2000 when he got traded to the Detroit Pistons and started his run as a defensive force that resulted in four Defensive Player of the Year awards, four All-Star game appearances, and the 2004 NBA championship.
Wallace became just as well known for his afro and headband look as he did for his defensive prowess. This appeal helped Wallace land endorsements as well as the cover of the “ESPN NBA 2k5” video game. But the Ben Wallace of today looks very different with graying hair shaved close to his head, looking a bit older than his age of 42 would suggest.
13. Cuttino Mobley
Another player who looks well beyond his years thanks to gray hair is Cuttino Mobley. The now 41-year-old played 12 years in the NBA, enjoying much of his success with the Houston Rockets in the early 2000s. Mobley was forced to retire in 2008 due to his diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.
While Mobley may be well past his NBA days and looking like a grandfather, he had been putting on quite the performance playing in pro-am Drew League. Next up, Mobley is reported to be joining the Big 3, a 3-on-3 league formed by Ice Cube featuring a group of ex-NBA players. Hopefully Mobley will be recognized for his talent and not underestimated for looking old.
12. Yao Ming
It could be argued that Yao Ming is just as recognizable worldwide as any NBA legend including Michael Jordan. It seemed like he had the entire Asian continent supporting him during his NBA career as demonstrated by the millions and millions of All-Star votes that poured in annually for the 7’6” center.
Yao was listed around 310 pounds, but spread out along that frame his weight and strength was still a point of criticism entering the league. Some thought he didn’t have the body type necessary to succeed on the interior. The Houston Rocket went on to have a Hall of Fame caliber career that was ultimately cut short by injury. However, based on this picture it looks like Yao has gained some of that weight he apparently lacked in his playing days.
11. Adam Morrison
Adam Morrison had a very distinct look ever since he played himself into the national spotlight during the 2005-06 NCAA season while at Gonzaga. He had the long, messy hair paired with a mustache that never seemed to quite grow in all the way.
Morrison’s look may have helped him stand out, but his playing ability never quite took off once he reached the NBA despite being picked third overall by Charlotte in 2006. He played four NBA seasons and was part of two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers although he had limited playing time. After a brief stint overseas, Morrison spent some time on Gonzaga’s coaching staff.
He showed up at the 2017 NCAA Championship game in support of his Gonzaga Bulldogs looking nothing like he did during his college or pro days. Morrison never had a physically imposing build, but even in this red tank top his look is far from that of a professional athlete.
10. Antoine Walker
Antoine Walker would never exactly be described as “svelte” during his playing days. Regardless, the 6’9″, 270-something pound power forward played 13 seasons in the NBA after being taken sixth overall in 1996 by the Boston Celtics, made three All-Star teams, and won a championship in 2006 with the Miami Heat.
Walker became just as well known for his off the court financial trouble as he was for his play and famous “Antoine Shimmy.” Walker allegedly lost $110 million, which seems absurd, but at least on the bright side he has used his experience to mentor young NBA players on fiscal responsibility. If this picture is any indication, Walker seems to be enjoying himself these days and taking advantage of a less restrictive NBA diet.
9. Rik Smits
Rik Smits had a solid NBA career, the entirety of which was spent with the Indiana Pacers where he was Reggie Miller’s sidekick. Known as the “Dunking Dutchman,” the 7’4″ Smits averaged 15 points and 6 rebounds per game over his 12 seasons.
Fans perhaps most remember the mullet when thinking about Smits’ look on the court. It was a fitting symbol for the center’s hard-nosed, tough style of play that was all about business up front. Smits was never dominant nor flashy, but he understood what he was as a player and his role for the Paces. This picture shows that the 50-year-old Smits has since ditched the mullet, making it a little harder for him to stand out like he did in the 90s.
8. Greg Ostertag
Greg Ostertag was another seven-footer whose NBA career was defined by a hardworking attitude and getting the most out of his skill set. While he was part of the Utah Jazz teams of the late 90s that made the NBA Finals, Ostertag never became quite the interior presence to compete with the likes of Shaq and Tim Duncan. Instead, he became a solid rebounder and shot blocker which allowed him to stay in the league for 10+ seasons.
This picture shows what can become of an NBA player who struggles with physical fitness and conditioning in the first place. Ostertag attempted a comeback in 2011, signing with the Texas Legends of the NBA Developmental League. After only a handful of games, Ostertag called it quits. Safe to say the extra weight from his NBA days added some strain to his knees.
7. Keith Van Horn
Keith Van Horn had a productive nine year NBA career with most of his success coming as a shooter for the New Jersey Nets during the early 2000s. Following his stint with the Nets, Van Horn spent time with the 76ers, Knicks, Bucks, and Mavericks before retiring in 2008.
Van Horn was known for wearing his knee high socks and his profile was raised thanks to appearances on the cover of SLAM Magazine as well as NBA Jam 99 video games. But the look he is sporting in this picture seems far from that of an NBA sharpshooter who helped the Nets to the 2002 Finals. It would be hard to describe a more generic, bland appearance than the one Van Horn has going on today.
6. Bryant Reeves
With the fifth overall pick in the 1995, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves arrived in Vancouver where he would spend his entire six year NBA career as a member of the Grizzlies. He had an impressive career at Oklahoma State University and gained attention as the hefty, seven foot leader that eventually led him to becoming the first selection in the history of the Grizzlies franchise.
For someone whose playing career was cut short due to weight-related injuries, it’s not that surprising to see Big Country looking even bigger these days. But it’s still hard to see an NBA player in that picture. Professional wrestler? Maybe. Professional bass fisherman? Even more of a possibility? But an NBA veteran who averaged 12 and 7? Now that seems like a stretch.
5. Delonte West
Delonte West is a player who found himself as topic of discussion more for his off the court issues than anything he did on the floor. He had a terrific college career at St. Joe’s and showed some promise on a young, rebuilding Boston Celtics team once he entered the NBA.
But controversy followed West as he moved on to teams like the Cavaliers and the Mavericks. The were the rumors about a relationship with LeBron James’ mother that probably brought West the most attention. However, it became known that West had much deeper issues including struggles with bipolar disorder. In 2009 he was arrested carrying several firearms and as part of his sentencing was subject to a psychological evaluation.
West’s struggles seemed to come to head when this photograph surfaced, allegedly of a homeless West wandering around shoeless and wearing a hospital robe. It is a hard image to take in and hopefully West has someone in his life who can help him get his life back on track.
4. Mookie Blaylock
In addition to his unique name, Mookie Blaylock was well known for his defensive prowess during his 13 year NBA career. After being selected 12th in the 1989 draft, Blaylock played for the Nets, Hawks, and Warriors and was annually among the league leaders in steals and three-point shooting categories.
Unfortunately, part of Blaylock’s NBA success was overshadowed by a tragic car accident in 2013. The accident resulted in the death of a passenger riding in another car that crashed when Blaylock drifted out of his lane. Blaylock was charged with vehicular manslaughter, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. This picture serves as a reminder of how quickly life can change no matter who you are or how widely you’re known for your accomplishments.
3. Elgin Baylor
Yes, Elgin Baylor is old; 82 years old to be exact. He was drafted first overall in 1958. He had an incredibly successful career, winning Rookie of the Year, making 11 All-Star games, being named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team, and having his number retired as one of the greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all time. Baylor even had a productive run as an executive with the Los Angeles Clippers, acting as general manager for over 20 years.
Even despite his age, it is amazing to look back at Baylor during his playing days and how he appears today. His 13 year career as a player definitely took a toll on Baylor’s body but perhaps what stand out the most is the hairpiece he appears to sport. It’s hard to blame Baylor for wanting to hang on to some sign of youth.
2. Donyell Marshall
Donyell Marshall had a long NBA career, playing for eight different teams over 18 seasons. You don’t play in the league for that long without having talent and while Marshall was never a superstar, he was a solid bench player and decent shooter. Later in his career he was a valuable veteran presence for teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers with a young LeBron James and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2009.
Marshall’s post-NBA career included some broadcasting work before we went into coaching as an assistant for NCAA teams as well as an NBA D-League team. In 2016 he took over as head coach at Central Connecticut.
During his retirement, Marshall’s appearance seems to have changed drastically. Not only is there clear weight gain and hair loss that would be expected to come with age, but Donyell’s entire face appears nearly unrecognizable from when he was on the court.
1. Latrell Sprewell
Latrell Sprewell had an interesting 13 year NBA career, to say the least. At his best, he was an impressive all-around player with All-Start caliber scoring abilities. At his worst, he was choking his coach and turning down a $21 million contract extension on the basis that it couldn’t feed his family.
Beyond his playing, Spree had a recognizable look with his hairstyles. He rocked corn rows and dreadlocks. But those didn’t quite reach the level of the dyed locks he was showing off in this 2017 picture. Along with the neck tattoo, it seems like Sprewell has changed his look quite a bit since walking away from the NBA. Perhaps with his reputation, it was best not to be immediately recognized.
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