Sports can never be the same when some of the most dominant athletes have to retire. That goes to show that athletes are human and when they succumb to injuries, it tells the tale that none of us are invincible. After a while, physical play takes a heavy toll on athletes. However, there are some athletes that retire way too soon. It seemed as if they all had a promising future in sports and just when fans are ready to wholeheartedly believe this, there comes the retirement announcement, shocking everyone because they never saw it coming. Leaving a game that you love so much is never easy for anyone. Before making their decision, athletes will consult with family members, other players, coaches and their managers. Some will leave the game saddened by their decision. Others will feel relief for not being under so much pressure anymore. Whatever, the feelings, it is still not easy to make the final decision to walk away. In some cases, we will never know the real reason for such a tough call, but for some, we know it is due to injuries or other personal choices. When an athlete leaves the game prematurely, though, it puts things into perspective and as a fan; you will also feel saddened to see them go.
For some of these athletes, retiring while at the top of their game was certainly difficult. Bobby Orr, Troy Aikman and Yao Ming are three mentions that fall in the injury category. Although not mentioned here, legendary Quarterback, Joe Theismann suffered injury while playing in a nationally publicized football game and had to subsequently go into retirement. Today, many still remember the horrendous injury that cost this player his future tenure in the game of football. Some of those mentioned on this list have gone on to be successful in other areas of life. Let’s take a look at them.
15. Ralph Kiner
In 1946, Ralph Kiner explored a career in the MLB with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played as a left fielder. At that time, he was known as a rookie phenom, hitting 23 home runs in his first year. The following year, he was able to lead the major league with 51 home runs. His spent a short time with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs. In 1955, after spending one season at Cleveland, he decided to go into retirement. He was only 32 years old at the time.
According to Kiner, his back injuries were too severe to continue with his career. During his time in the MLB, he hit more than 300 home runs and appeared in six consecutive All-Start games. In 1961, he began his broadcasting career with the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. In 1975, he proudly received induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
14. Yao Ming
Yao Ming made a decision to go into retirement. During his short tenure in the NBA, he played for the Houston Rockets. Yao will be remembered for his towering 7 foot-plus height. He was the tallest player in the NBA. As a teenager, Yao began playing basketball for the Shanghai Sharks. Many believe that Yao was unable to adjust to the American culture. However, he was also plagued with injuries to his slender frame. He barely spoke any English and the communication with other teammates was almost null and void. He probably thought it was time to go back to China, which he eventually did.
13. Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders enjoyed an amazing career while he was at Oklahoma State University, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1988. As the third NFL pick during the draft, the Detroit Lions was his first stop. He didn’t miss a beat. He brought the same college game to professional sports. He earned the spot, “Rookie of the Year” in 1989, leading the Detroit Lions to five appearances in the NFL playoffs. He gained more recognition for being the third player in the NFL to make a rush of more than 2,000 years within one season. In that same year, 1997, he was able to share the honor of Most Valuable NFL Player with Brett Favre. It was after he played in the 1998 season that he abruptly went into retirement, even while he was in his 10th season and still healthy and within reach of shattering the rushing record in the NFL. With a slew of horrible Lions Quarterbacks, he got out of the game without a ring.
12. Elena Dementieva
Elena Dementieva won 16 singles tennis championships in the WTA. She appeared twice in a Grand Slam. In 2000, she became a standout player in the tennis arena for her unique ability and skill for hitting the ball. In 2008, she won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympic Games. After entering the WTA tour championships in 2010, she lost to Francesca Schiavone, 6-4, 6-2. After the match ended and before she exited the tennis court, she abruptly made the announcement that she was going to retire, ranking number 9 in the world during her short career. She was only 29 years old.
11. Ken Dryden
Ken Dryden only spent seven-plus seasons in the National Hockey League. Yet, he made his mark while he was there, constantly hailed as one of the greatest goalies in NHL history and arguably the best in Habs history. In the 1970s, he was instrumental in helping the Montreal Canadiens win six Stanley Cups. He had a remarkable record during his short career, with a 2.24 GAA, winning 258 games and recording 46 shutouts in only 397 games. Dryden retired in 1979 following his sixth championship and fourth in as many years. He received an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Later on after his retirement, he chose politics, serving as a Canadian Member of Parliament from 2004-2011..
10. Tony Boselli
Initially, Tony Boselli played for the USC Trojans. He made the All-American first team on three occasions – 1992, 1993 and 1994. He went on to become one of the most remarkable offensive tackles in the history of the Trojans. As a draft pick, he left and went to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995. His career with the Jaguars was successful, being named to five consecutive Pro Bowls between 1996 and 2000. He was the first expansion draft pick for the Houston Texans in 2002, but due to ongoing injuries, he never played for them. In 2006, he was the first player to receive induction in the Jaguar team’s Hall of Fame. After retirement, he started a foundation to provide athletic and academic support to Jacksonville children.
9. Jim Brown
Jim Brown, to this day, even more than 40 years after he retired still remains one of the most remarkable NFL players in the history of the game. Brown had a successful career in college while attending Syracuse University. He was a first round pick of the NFL draft and went to the Cleveland Browns. He was a three-time MVP. He was also the NFL rushing leader for eight seasons. After playing nine seasons in the NFL, Jim Brown decided to retire in 1965. He was still productive in his final season, rushing for over 1,500 yards and tying a career-high 17 touchdowns.
In 1971, he was recognized for his outstanding plays and received induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He retired with an amazing record of 106 touchdowns and more than 12,000 rushing yards. He is still eighth in rushing yards in NFL history. Within Cleveland Brown’s franchise history, he still holds the position as leader in rushing yards.
8. Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam played on the LPGA tour. She had 72 victories during her tenure, 10 of which were major victories. She also got a top spot on the career earnings list of the LPGA. She is unquestionably a great female golf player. In addition, Sorenstam enjoyed eight awards for LPGA Player of the year. She also received six trophies from Vare, which is a trophy given to players scoring the lowest average in a season. In 2003, she played in the PGA Bank of America Colonial Tournament. She was the first female golf player since 1945 to participate in the men’s PGA Tour event.
With all of her achievements, everyone was surprised when she announced that she was going to retire in May 2008 at only 38 years old. In December 2008, she played her last tournament at the Dubai Ladies Masters and finished in seventh place.
7. Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson is one of those versatile athletes with the ability to compete in multiple sports. He was both a baseball and football competitor. In 1985, he won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn. He also stood out with the Tigers on the baseball field. In his sports career, he was the first athlete to have the honor of playing the MLB All-Star game in 1989 and the NFL Pro Bowl game in 1990.
From 1986 to 1990, he played professionally with the Kansas City Royals. He also played for the Los Angeles Raiders team for four seasons. He accrued 16 touchdowns, 40 receptions and 2,782 rushing yards. In 1990, during an NFL playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Bo suffered a hip injury, after which his football career came to an end. In 1991 and 1993, he continued to play for the Chicago White Sox. In 1994, he played for the California Angels, finishing his career with 415 RBIs and 141 home runs.
6. Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr was not only the greatest defenceman of all time, but possibly the greatest hockey player of all time. He put up untouchable numbers for a defenceman, totalling 915 points in 657 career games, including several 100-point seasons. He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman eight straight years, essentially every year he stayed relatively healthy, but he also won the Art Ross as the league’s leading scorer on eight occasions and the Hart Trophy, the league’s MVP, three times. No defenceman will ever be able to match that pace.
He suffered multiple injuries to his left knee, which considerably hampered his game, subsequently forcing him to retire at the age of 30.
5. Tiki Barber
Tiki Barber was known for his excellent football play while he was at the University of Virginia. He was then picked in the second round of the NFL Draft in 1997 by the New York Giants. Riddled with injuries during his first few seasons, his record proved to be disappointing. However, he later redeemed himself as a viable player with the Giants. In fact, he became the ‘go to’ guy on the field. He was instrumental in leading the Giants to their Super Bowl XXXV appearance against the Baltimore Ravens.
He abruptly announced his retirement when the 2006 season with the intention of going into broadcasting instead. The Giants would win the Super Bowl the following year. He decided to come out of retirement in 2011, but has yet been able to get an NFL team to sign him.
4. Sandy Koufax
When you’re thinking pitcher, think Sandy Koufax. He made MLB history for his unforgettable pitching abilities. He also has more achievements. For example, when he played with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers in 12 seasons, he was able to pitch four no-hitters. In 1965, he played a perfect game. He won the Cy Young and Triple Crown awards on three occasions. He participated in the MLB All-Star Game on seven occasions. He was leader in getting the Dodgers to play in four World Series. Unfortunately, he developed an arthritic condition in his left elbow, which forced him to retire from the game of baseball. He was only 30 years old.
3. Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg had a short career in tennis. Yet, he was regarded as one of the best players in the game. He played between 1974 and 1981. Borg went to Grand Slam finals on 16 occasions. He won 11 of those finals. Six of them were French Open Championships and five were Wimbledon titles. On five consecutive occasions (1976-1980), he received the titled honor of ATP Player of the Year. He won 101 singles championships in his career. It was in 1983 that he announced that he was going to retire after playing the Monte Carlo Masters in 1982. He was only 26 years old.
2. Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman retired abruptly in April 2001 due to ongoing back injuries during his final season. However, he was known as one-third of the three-headed monster of the Cowboys dynasty of the 90s, alongside Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. He played for the Cowboys for 12 years, leading the team to three Super Bowls. He was a Pro Bowl selection on six occasions and MVP in the Super Bowl XXVII. In 2006, he was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was the Dallas Cowboys’ all-time passer with more than 32,000 yards, before Tony Romo surpassed him last season. Before retirement, he did have back surgery done, but had to continue a host of treatments due to consistent back pain.
1. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan retired from the game of basketball on more than one occasion, but the first retirement in 1993 was one of the most shocking in sports history. Many felt that it was too soon. Everyone knows Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players in the game of basketball. He won the NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls six times. He received the honor of Most Valuable Player on five occasions. Prior to his final retirement in 2003, he played in the NBA All-Star game on 14 occasions and he received the title for best NBA scorer on 10 occasions. In 1993, he decided to go play minor league baseball with the Chicago White Sox. So he left the NBA to pursue his dream. Fortunately for his fans, he did return to the NBA in 1995 and led the Bulls to three more championships. Just imagine what could’ve been possible had he never taken that break.
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