While watching professional sports, we’ve all seen our fair share of players that were absolute busts, especially in the NBA. It can be disheartening to see a player just flat out fall on his face once entering the league, but others simply showed flashes of potential, but didn’t quite live up to the hype that surrounded them. These are the types of players that you can’t really call busts, but you can still be a bit disappointed.
Today, we look back at some of those players that looked like they were well on their way to being considered among the all-time greats, only to come up short. Whether it was because of injuries, a change of scenery that didn’t work out or simply getting lazy after a big payday, these are the players that peaked early and then came crashing down to Earth.
Your memories of some of these players might be very fond, especially if you grew up watching the NBA in the 1990s. Just know that nostalgia might have made you remember these players being better than they actually were. With that said, here’s a trip down memory lane where we catch up with 15 would-be NBA superstars, and seeing what they’re up to today.
15 Arvydas Sabonis
A Lithuanian legend, Arvydas Sabonis was a 7’3” center that dominated Europe, and was eventually the 24th overall selection by Portland back in 1986. It would be nearly a decade later when we finally saw him in the NBA, however, as he had injuries and was blocked from the NBA. Sabonis debuted in the 1995-96 season, averaging 14.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. His best season came two years later when he averaged a double-double per game at 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Sabonis would see his numbers drop as he got into his mid 30’s, playing just four more seasons with Portland. Sabonis wrapped up his NBA time after the 2002-03 season and headed back to Europe to play one more year. Sabonis would become the president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation in October 2011, and has remained with the position outside of an eight day resignation in 2013.
14 Danny Manning
After helping Kansas win the NCAA title in 1988, the Los Angeles Clippers made Jayhawks star Danny Manning the top overall pick that summer. Manning had a strong rookie campaign, but wouldn’t see big improvements for the next few years. Then in the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons, Manning looked like he was going to be dominant with more than 20 points and six rebounds per game.
The success was short lived, as his numbers took a sharp decline and he was below double-digits in scoring by the late 1990s. Manning played with seven different teams in his career, calling it quits after the 2002-03 season. Manning turned his attention to coaching, heading back to his alma mater from 2003 to 2012, then becoming the head coach of Tulsa for two seasons before landing the Wake Forest head coaching job where he is today.
13 Darko Milicic
The front of the 2003 NBA Draft was absolutely loaded, and the top five consisted of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The only one that isn’t headed to the Hall of Fame is Darko Milicic, the second overall pick by Detroit. Despite a slow start, Milicic showed some improvement, but never lived up to the potential of the 2003 NBA Draft class.
Overall, Milicic played for six teams during his NBA career, making his final appearance in the 2012-13 season with one game as a Boston Celtic. Milicic decided to turn his attention to kickboxing, and then flirted with the idea of heading back to European basketball before retiring for good. These days, he’s back in Serbia and working as a farmer after making more than $52 million in the NBA.
12 Eddy Curry
One of the players that came straight from high school to the NBA, Eddy Curry was the fourth overall pick in 2001 by the Chicago Bulls after dominating prep schools in Illinois. Curry struggled as a teenager, but eventually looked like he was on his way to superstardom once he hit his prime. In 2006-07 with the Knicks, Curry was averaging 19.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, which were well above his career averages.
It turned out that the season would be his only big one, as he regressed by getting complacent and then injured multiple times. Curry would end up in China in 2010, and then came back for two lackluster seasons before retiring after the 2012-13 season. After making $70 million in the NBA, Curry now goes around to inner-city schools to share his story, and talks about avoiding troubles that can come with instant fame and dream chasing.
11 Christian Laettner
Perhaps the most hated college basketball player of all-time, Christian Laettner really rubbed people the wrong way while he was at Duke. Laettner would become the third overall pick in 1992 by the Timberwolves after winning two NCAA titles, and he had a fantastic rookie season with 18.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. It looked like (unfortunately for most) that Laettner was well on his way to being a star.
Much to the delight of haters, Laettner’s rookie campaign would be the best of his career, statistically. Laettner played for six teams, and finished with an average of 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He retired after the 2004-05 season, and made a brief comeback in semi-pro ball in 2011, and became an assistant coach in the D-League in 2012. Now, Laettner is working in business with several investments and is also spending his time as a fisherman.
10 Greg Oden
Greg Oden was one of those can’t miss prospects out of Ohio State, and Portland recognized that by making him the first overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft. Despite limited playing time, Oden had a strong rookie season (after missing his first year with Portland) with 8.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Oden started strong in the 2009-10 season with 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, but then suffered another microfracture injury.
Oden missed the next three seasons, and then attempted a comeback in 2013-14 with the Heat, playing in 23 games and putting up just 2.9 points per game. Oden then went to China in 2015, but has said that he doesn’t plan on playing again. Instead, he went back to Ohio State last year to get his degree and worked with the men’s basketball team.
9 Joe Smith
Another top overall pick, Joe Smith was the man that was called first in 1995 by Golden State after being named the AP Player of the Year at Maryland. After his first two seasons, Smith looked like he was going to live up to his hype, as he put up 18.7 points and 8.5 rebounds in his second season. His numbers would start to drop immediately, though, and he became just another face in the crowd during the 2000s.
Smith played for 12 different teams in the NBA, finishing with 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in his career, last playing in 2010-11. Smith tried to get into the Suns front office, but didn’t land the job. After taking a couple of years off, Smith is now turning his attention to the BIG3 league, which is the 3-on-3 basketball league that was started by none other than rapper Ice Cube.
8 Anfernee Hardaway
He was incredibly charismatic, talented and marketable, but at this point remains a piece of nostalgia from the 1990s compared to other players from his era. Anfernee (better known as Penny) Hardaway was the third overall pick in 1993 out of Memphis State, and he would be a two-time All-NBA player when paired up with Shaquille O’Neal. With commercials abound and more than 20 points per game, Hardaway looked set to be a star on his own without Shaq.
It wasn’t to be, however, as his scoring dropped pretty heavily without O’Neal around, and injuries started to pop up, as well. Hardaway would spend time with four different teams, putting his last double-digit scoring season in 2002-03, though he played four more seasons. Hardaway is now back in his native Memphis, running a sports facility in the suburb of Cordova and is one of the minority owners of the Memphis Grizzlies.
7 Darius Miles
There was a lot of hype surrounding Darius Miles as he came out of East St. Louis High School back in 2000. The Clippers landed Miles with the third overall pick that year, People figured it would take Miles some time to develop, but his first four seasons didn’t show much improvement. In 2004-05 and 2005-06, though, Miles saw an uptick in his numbers as he averaged 14.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and one block per game.
Miles would sadly miss the next two years, though, as he suffered from a microfracture in his knee. Miles attempted a comeback in 2008-09 with Memphis, but played in just 34 games where he averaged 3.5 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. The 35-year old made more than $60 million in his NBA career, but apparently blew through all of it. In June 2017, Miles had to sell most of his valuables as part of a bankruptcy where he had more than $1.5 million in debt and less than half a million in assets.
6 Shawn Bradley
The 7’6” Shawn Bradley was a sight to behold. After moving from Germany to Utah, Bradley settled in at BYU before heading to the NBA in 1993, becoming the second selection by the Philadelphia 76ers. Bradley was a block machine, and it looked like he had potential to be an all-time great center. Bradley was even featured in the memorable 1990s film “Space Jam”, and had his best season the year it came out with 13.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.
Bradley would stick around for several more years, but wasn’t able to keep up with his massive size. Bradley retired after the 2004-05 season, finishing with 8.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Now back in Utah, Bradley is an administrator in education, working at a private school in a few different roles. He’s also very active in charities, living in the quiet St. George, Utah.
5 Larry Johnson
Speaking of guys like Bradley that were in “Space Jam” and guys that were marketable in the 1990s like Penny Hardaway, we present Larry Johnson. The former UNLV superstar was the top pick in 1991 by the Charlotte Hornets, quickly becoming recognizable in the NBA with a strong start and Converse shoe campaign that included his Grandmama character.
Johnson’s best season in the league was his second, though, with 22.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Johnson couldn’t match his numbers as they started to dip, and it was clear that there was no place for Johnson in the 2000s as he dropped below double-digits in scoring and saw his rebounds get slashed by half. Johnson retired in 2001, and eventually went back to Vegas to get his bachelor’s degree. Now, he works with the New York Knicks (one of his former teams) where he’s a member of the basketball and business operations team.
4 Sebastian Telfair
Even though he slipped down draft boards a little bit, there were a lot of analysts that said Sebastian Telfair was the next great high school-to-NBA player out there. A year after LeBron James was drafted, Telfair became the 13th overall pick in 2004 by Portland. Many believed that by the late 2000s, Telfair would develop into a star. Instead, he topped out at 9.8 points and 4.6 assists per game, never reaching the 10 points per game mark in his career.
Telfair was relegated to a bench player for the rest of his career, making his last appearance in the 2014-15 season with Oklahoma City. He would then head to China to play, and is currently under contract with the Fujian Sturgeons. Problems would arise in June 2017, however, as he was arrested for having multiple firearms and drugs, which is the second such incident in his pro career.
3 Shawn Kemp
While the state of Indiana is known for basketball, the northern border of the state hasn’t produced much big-time talent. That changed in the late 1980s with Shawn Kemp out of Elkhart, a blue chipper that committed to Kentucky, but never played there. After going to junior college, Kemp was the 17th overall pick in 1989 by Seattle as he still had all of the physical skills.
Kemp would be a six-time All-Star from 1992-93 to 1997-98, as he was consistently averaging a double-double. However, he wasn’t really considered a “superstar” because of the other players in his era such as Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal. Kemp last played in 2002-03 as his skills took a sharp decline. He would play in Italy briefly before coming back to America and opening up a sports bar that closed in 2015. After making $90 million in the NBA, Kemp is now more focused on his (at least) seven children.
2 Grant Hill
One of those Duke products that appeared to be a slam dunk superstar in the NBA, Grant Hill was the third overall pick in 1994 by the Detroit Pistons. Hill had a strong start to his career, and by the 1990-2000 season, he was averaging 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. Hill seemed bound to dominate the NBA for years to come, but injuries started to take their toll. His scoring dropped by more than 10 points per game, and he would even miss the entire 2003-04 season.
Hill was still able to put together a respectable career, as he played all the up to the 2012-13 season, ending his four-team career with 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Despite being one of those “what if” stories, Hill made a ton of money in the league and went into ownership as a part owner of the Atlanta Hawks. Hill is also a broadcaster, working with CBS on their NCAA Tournament coverage.
1 Steve Francis
After bouncing around junior college for a couple of years, Steve Francis landed at Maryland and eventually became the second overall pick in 1999, making his debut that year with the Houston Rockets. By his third season, Francis was averaging 21.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game, earning the nickname “The Franchise” as a three-time All-Star with the Rockets.
Francis was then traded to Orlando, where he saw his career take a downturn as he was quickly sent to New York. Francis’s playing time dwindled, and he came back to Houston for the 2007-08 season, which would be his last. Francis ended briefly played in China in 2010, but hardly saw the court. Now, he’s focused on several different business ventures that include boxing, clothing and even music recording.