The 15 Most Tragic NBA Draft Picks

The NBA draft is one of the most exciting times of the year for all basketball fans, who get to witness their favorite college and international players become the top prize for teams in the associati

The NBA draft is one of the most exciting times of the year for all basketball fans, who get to witness their favorite college and international players become the top prize for teams in the association. This event represents a new beginning for teams and players alike. Players seek to start their new careers with a bang, making the most out of the talents they've developed over the years. Teams look to find that one player who will take them over the top in the pursuit of an NBA championship.

Sometimes, players available in the draft have so much potential that they promise to become franchise players who change the course of history for a team, ushering in an era of winning ball. Picks like Duncan, Hakeem, Magic and Jordan defined teams for decades, becoming cornerstones of both the team and the community as a whole.

Of course, for every game-changing superstar, there are dozens of picks who never pan out, quickly falling out of the league after a couple of years in the association. However, there are those draft picks who never had a chance to fully blossom into all the can be due to injuries and even sudden death.

Sometimes, draft picks are made with the knowledge of a player's history of injury. General managers roll the dice on these picks, hoping that the incredible upside and potential of these players come to fruition despite the specter of chronic injury. Players like Greg Oden and Joel Embiid are examples of big men who were drafted for their big talents and their even-bigger frame.

However, other players enter the draft appearing to be completely healthy but quickly suffer a series of injuries that make it impossible to develop their skills as a regular NBA contributor. The most tragic NBA draft picks are the ones who passed away suddenly, leaving a huge hole in the hearts of their friends, family and teammates.

15 Greg Oden

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Coming out of the 2007 draft, Greg Oden drew raves about his potential role as a preeminent big man in the league, despite hints that injuries were a concern. Doubts about his frame were proven accurate when doctors detected microfractures on his knee shortly after he was picked first overall.

He spent his career trying to recover the promise he had once shown, but after continual injuries he ended up becoming a footnote as Kevin Durant, drafted second, blossomed into an MVP and one of the most fearsome scorers in the game.

14 Isaiah Austin

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After an excellent final NCAA tournament in which Austin and his Baylor Bears made it to the sweet sixteen before being deposed by the Wisconsin Badgers, Isaiah Austin was looking forward to being drafted as a late, seven-foot first round prospect.

Five days before the draft, when he visited his Aunt's house, he ended up finding his entire family along with his girlfriend, pastor and coaching staff. "The one face I noticed right when I walked through the door was my mom," Isaiah said. "Just pink and drenched with tears."

Austin had been diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, which carries the risk of having his heart ruptured if Isaiah exerted himself too much on the court. The NBA drafted him as an honorary first round pick, he was included as a free agent in NBA 2K15 and now runs the Isaiah Austin Foundation.

13 Adam Morrison

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Adam Morrison was an NCAA sharpshooter, enjoying a notable college career with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Afterwards, he was drafted third (!) overall in the 2006 draft by the Charlotte Bobcats. In his first campaign with the 'Cats, now rightfully called the Hornets, Morrison showed very little of the shooting prowess that landed him third in the draft and was a complete liability on defense.

The next year, he ended up suffering a major injury to his left knee, which required an entire season to heal. For all intents and purposes, this completely ended his career. Despite numerous lowlights, even number one overall Andrea Bargnani had a better career.

12 Jonathan Bender


Drafted fifth overall in the 1999 draft ahead of Manu Ginobli - who everyone passed over -and Shawn Marion, Jonathan Bender experienced a lot of difficulty when joining the Indiana Pacers during the first year. Bender's fitness, health and scoring issues were aggravated by the fact that the performances of Brad Miller and Jermaine O'Neal completely overshadowed him.

Injuries plagued him throughout his NBA career, which never really had a chance to take off. Despite working hard to get a chance to make it back into the NBA, his career ended with a minimum contract with the Knicks.

His basketball career wasn't a complete loss. Bender's experiences with knee problems lead him to develop a device to strengthen and heal knees, a product that he invested in and developed.

11 Robert Swift


As a star for a high school team in Bakersfield, Robert Swift was welcomed into the University of South California NCAA basketball program. Instead, he decided to declare for the NBA draft out of high school. He was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in the first round as the number twelve pick.

Unfortunately, he probably should've stayed in college for at least a few years, as he ended up having very little impact as a professional before he blew out his ACL in 2009. He attempted to return to Bakersfield to play for the Jam in the D-League, but left after a couple of games. He also attempted to play in Japan, signing up with the Tokyo Apache.

Sadly, the last heard from Swift was that he refused to leave his foreclosed house. When he finally did, it was littered with garbage, guns, ammo, animal feces and beer bottles.

10 Frédéric Weis


The modus operandi of the New York Knickerbockers during the past few decades seem to be bad draft picks and players flocking onto their roster. One of the worst picks ended up being Frédéric Weis, a tall French baller who appeared to have plenty of upside. New York drafted him 15th overall in 1999.

That upside appeared to be devoured by Vince Carter, who destroyed his career with "le dunk de la mort" - perhaps the greatest dunk in competitive basketball history. He was posterized so badly that he was for all intents and purposes dunked out of the NBA by Carter.

According to the brief documentary, "The Dunk of Death," Carter reports that his posterization of Weis was the key to the Knicks never allowing him to touch an NBA basketball on the hardwood.

9 Pervis Ellison


The long-suffering Sacramento Kings fans have dealt with organizational incompetency for decades, which appears to be still going strong considering the meddling that Vivek Ranadive has recently performed as a newer owner of the team.

In 1989, the Kings drafted Pervis Ellison as the first overall pick. Ellison ended up suffering an injury that held him out for more than half of his first season. He was traded to Washington shortly after but continued to get injured on a regular basis.

His nicknamed rather unfairly changed from "Never Nervous Pervis" to "Out-of-Service Pervis." His potential never materialized, as he ended up becoming yet another footnote associated with the ongoing futility of the Kings.

8 Luke Jackson


One would think that being drafted to the team that had just drafted LeBron James the previous year would be a blessing. Unfortunately, this ended up not being the case.

After becoming the tenth pick in the 2004 draft, Jackson ended up going through a litany of injuries that prevented him from playing more than 46 games during his first two years in the association.

He was traded to Boston before bouncing around on a variety of contracts, including moving to the D-league and international leagues.

7 Chris Washburn


Before running a train on the league during the 2014-2015 season, the Golden State Warriors were another team known for severe organizational incompetence. The drafting of Chris Washburn as the third pick in the 1986 draft is another example from that era. Perhaps his theft of a stereo during his time in college should have tipped them off, but it didn't.

His career was a complete washout, as injuries prevented him from taking the court at full power. He also fell into cocaine addiction, checking himself into rehab during his second year in the league.

6 Sam Bowie


Another Portland Trail Blazers draft special, Sam Bowie's career is defined not by who he was, but who he wasn't. Famously, Portland and Houston flipped a coin to see who would get to draft first. Houston won the toss, selecting Hakeem first overall. After the Blazers picked Bowie second, the Bulls chose Michael Jordan as the number three overall pick.

Bowie started off well, earning a spot on the all-rookie team, but injuries quickly decimated his physical abilities, delegating him to infamy in the history books. Incredibly, he broke his legs three years in a row, forcing Portland to trade him to the Nets, where he toiled in relative obscurity as Jordan and Hakeem became two of the best in the history of the game.

5 Jay Williams


Despite a superb college career with Duke, Jay Williams had an uphill climb from the beginning. He had to change his name from Jason Williams to Jay Williams in order to differentiate himself from Jason and Jayson Williams, both fixtures in the league when Jay was entering the NBA.

His talent was undeniable, as the Bulls drafted him second in the 2002 draft with an eye on returning to the glory days that ended when Jordan left the Bulls. After Jay's first season, he ended up being involved in a motorcycle accident that snapped bones in his leg while tearing three ligaments.

He needed surgery just to walk again and his attempt to return to the league in 2006 was short-lived.

4 Dajuan Wagner


Drafted by the Cavaliers as the number six pick in the 2002 draft, Dajuan Wagner was supposed to be paired with LeBron James to create a deadly one-two punch. Despite growing up as a legend in the high school game - including a 100-point game - DaJuan ended up dealing with a litany of injuries throughout his career, limiting him to 103 games.

While LeBron thrived, Dajuan ended up dealing with knee injuries, gastroenteritis, a torn labrum and an inflamed liver and pancreas. In 2014, Dajuan was in the middle of making a comeback into the sport, although he admitted that the NBA is an unlikely destination.

3 Joel Embiid

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Initially projected as a number one overall pick, Joel Embiid suffered a serious break in the navicular bone in his foot, causing him to slip to the number three pick, where Sam Hinkie and the process were happy to stash him as he spent a year healing. During this time there were numerous reports of rehab issues, included missing sessions, yelling matches with the staff and fines racked up for other detrimental behaviour.

Despite spending a year healing, he's shown the world remarkable athleticism, including between the leg dunks and a serviceable corner three. Unfortunately, despite being handled with kid gloves, it appears that Embiid has suffered a setback that could further delay his progress, making him one of the more recent tragic draft picks, though there is plenty of time for him to remove himself from this list.

2 Reggie Lewis


Reggie Lewis was one of the finest NBA success stories, drafted at the 22nd spot by the Celtics in 1987 before becoming an All-Star in 1992. He showed signs of heart issues months before he collapsed during the first game of a playoff matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.

The following summer he was working out at Brandeis University when he suddenly collapsed again. This time, a pair of police officers on campus were unable to revive Reggie, and he ended up passing away. After a baseless report that suggested he was on cocaine at the time, the true cause of his death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

1 Len Bias


Many believe that Len Bias was the final piece of the puzzle for the Celtics juggernaut as a player who showed enough upside to be compared to Michael Jordan. After completing a fantastic college career which included a pair of ACC player of the year nods, he appeared to be ready to break out in the association.

One day after being drafted as the second pick of the 1986 NBA draft, Len was hanging out with a friend when he decided to try a line of cocaine during the early morning. A few hours later, while chatting with a friend, he went into a seizure and collapsed. After numerous attempts to restart his heart and breathing, he passed away. He's widely considered the best player never to play in the NBA.

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The 15 Most Tragic NBA Draft Picks