Gone Too Soon: 15 Basketball Players Who Died During Their Career

It’s always sad to hear that a former NBA player has passed away, as there was always at least one person that really looked up to them. Thankfully, many of them live long enough to the point where they pass away from natural causes and were able to reflect at the impact they made with their careers. Just this year, we have lost NBA legends like Nate Thurmond, Bobby Wanzer and Kenny Sailors, all at ages of over 70.

When we hear that a basketball player has died young, it turns into a tragedy, even moreso when they were still in the middle of their careers. This includes college players that had a big national impact and possible NBA careers in their future. Some of the players that have passed away during their basketball careers include Terry Furlow, Nick Vanos, Ricky Berry and Conrad McRae.

Now, we remember some of the others that have lost their lives before they were able to finish their careers in the NCAA, NBA and even former American greats that lost their lives while playing overseas. Here are 15 basketball players that were gone too soon and what happened to cause their tragic and early losses.

15 Bryce Dejean-Jones

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After attending three colleges (with his last stop being Iowa State), Bryce Dejean-Jones went undrafted in 2015. However, he was picked up to play in the D-League for Idaho, and made his NBA debut with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2016, playing in 14 games and averaging 5.6 points per game in that time.

14 Robert Traylor


A former standout at the University of Michigan, Robert “Tractor” Traylor was the sixth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. Traylor played for the Bucks, Cavaliers and Hornets in his NBA career, averaging a total of 4.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in seven total seasons.

13 Tyrek Coger


North Carolina native Tyrek Coger was hopeful that he would make a big mark in Division I basketball. Coger had transferred from Cape Fear Community College to Oklahoma State after once committing to Ole Miss. Coger had not played a game for Cape Fear before tragedy struck.

12 Reggie Lewis


Graduating from Northeastern, Reggie Lewis was the 22nd overall pick by the Boston Celtics in 1987’s Draft. Lewis ended up being a pleasant surprise for Boston as his productivity increased dramatically and quickly. At the height of his career, Lewis was an All Star that was averaging 19.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while missing just nine games in his final five seasons.

11 Demontez Stitt


Even though he was not heavily recruited, North Carolina native Demontez Stitt was able to secure a basketball scholarship with the Clemson Tigers in 2007. It was there that Stitt was the best player on the team, scoring 14.5 points and hauling in 4.3 rebounds per game in his senior season. Stitt led the Tigers to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and had been playing internationally after his college career ended.

10 Eddie Griffin


Coming out of Seton Hall, Eddie Griffin had a lot of potential and he was taken seventh overall by the Nets (who traded him to Houston) in 2001. Griffin played his first two seasons with the Rockets and he would play his final three with the Timberwolves. For his career, Griffin averaged 7.2 points per game with 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.

9 Lorenzen Wright


Born and raised (and playing college) in Memphis, Lorenzen Wright was just like Eddie Griffin in the fact that he was once a seventh overall pick, with Wright being drafted in 1996 by the Clippers. Wright played for the Hawks, Grizzlies, Kings and Cavaliers in addition to the Clippers, finishing his career with 8.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game.

8 Drazen Petrovic


Nobody was quite sure what to make out of Croatian basketball star Drazen Petrovic before he made it to the NBA, but Portland took a flyer on him in 1986, drafting him in the third round. Three years later, Petrovic would join the Portland squad and play two seasons before heading to the Nets for two more seasons, where he became a star, averaging 19.5 points and 2.9 assists per game in New Jersey.

7 Wendell Ladner


Praised as one of the funniest men in basketball at the time, Wendell Ladner was a journeyman in the ABA, playing for five different teams over the course of just five seasons. Ladner was a two-time All Star that averaged 11.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per gamethroughout his career, which ended with the New York Nets.

6 Steve McElvene

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this year, the Dayton Flyers received terrible news when they found out that Steve McElvene had passed away. McElvene came to Dayton and made an immediate impact thanks to his defensive prowess. The shot blocker recorded 55 blocks in the 2015-16 season (most in school history) while also adding 6.1 points per game.

5 Len Bias


At the University of Maryland, NBA scouts were drooling over the potential to draft Len Bias. Bias was being compared to Michael Jordan already and the defending champion Boston Celtics drafted him in 1986 with the second overall pick. It appeared the Celtics had another franchise cornerstone, but that all changed shortly after the draft’s conclusion.

4 Jason Collier


Seven footer Jason Collier was the best high school basketball player in Ohio in 1996 and then attended college at both Indiana and Georgia Tech. Collier would go on to be drafted 15th overall in 2000 and debuted with Houston. Though he had a stint in the D-League in the 2003-04 season, Collier would spend his final NBA season in 2004-05 with the Atlanta Hawks.

3 Malik Sealy


A New York kid through and through, Malik Sealy decided to stay in the area for college and attend St. John’s. The Pacers made him the 14th overall pick in 1992 and he would also end up playing for the Clippers, Pistons and Timberwolves in his seven NBA seasons. In his career, Sealy would score 10.1 points per game, adding 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game on average.

2 Bobby Phills


Shooting guard Bobby Phills from Southern University was a second round pick in 1991 and started his career in the CBA. After making a brief appearance with the Cavaliers, Phills headed to Spain before returning and playing several seasons with both the Cavaliers and Hornets. Phills averaged 11.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, and was named to the 1996 NBA All-Defensive Second Team.

1 Hank Gathers


In the 1990 NBA Draft, there was talk that the first overall selection might end up being Hank Gathers. Gathers, after all, would lead the country in scoring and rebounding while playing at Loyola Marymount University after transferring from USC. Gathers was an All-American that averaged 28 points and 29 rebounds per game at Loyola Marymount, but his name was never called in the draft.

Gathers had a health scare in December 1989 after collapsing on the court during a game and he was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat. After being given medication to help with the problem, Gathers stopped taking it after saying it was making him play worse. The decision possibly cost him his life, as Gathers collapsed once again on March 4th, 1990 in the West Coast Conference Tournament. The 23 year old stopped breathing and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

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Gone Too Soon: 15 Basketball Players Who Died During Their Career