In the world of sports, each event, league and game has its set of stars, legends and icons. Pick any sporting event and you can likely think of several athletes who have become associated with that sport over the past decades. Serena Williams, Sidney Crosby, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods and LeBron James – are all examples of great and iconic athletes in their respective sporting field. These athletes have become symbols of their sports because they are so good at what they do. Yes, they win a lot but they have also done it consistently over their careers, whether part of a team or individually. Importantly, such athletes are success stories because they lived up to the fan and media hype surrounding them.
For most professional athletes, it’s not their fault that their abilities and the expectations made of them are significantly hyped, both before their professional debut and during their subsequent career. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby. The North American media was so desperate for a new Wayne Gretzky that they were willing to slap the label of “the next Great One” on a teenager from Nova Scotia, Canada, who was still playing minor league hockey. When Crosby went professional, to say big things were expected from him would be a massive understatement. Fortunately, a Stanley Cup win, three national gold medals and numerous personal awards and records mean Sid-the-Kid has, so far, lived up to the hype. But, for every athlete who has lived up to the hype, there is an army of those who fell short.
This list looks at 20 professional athletes who never lived up to the hype concerning their abilities and expectations. This is not to say that all of the following athletes are flops or duds. No, there are several professional athletes here who had very good careers - it’s just that they never reached that next level which we all thought they would. The bar these athletes had to meet was often set by the media but could also be related to a massive transfer fee or promising early performances in college or at the professional level. As a result, failure to meet these high standards often means we tend to remember them as athletes who were over-hyped.
20 Kimbo Slice
Kevin Ferguson, aka Kimbo Slice, became an internet hit when videos of him street-fighting began appearing 2003. Naturally, interest peaked in the fighting world and he made his way into a mixed martial arts career. The “King of the Web Brawlers,” soon showed he was not as invincible as many thought. In the UFC, Slice was defeated soundly and when he did win it was only by a judging decision. At UFC 113 he was defeated by TKO thanks to Matt Mitrione. The loss sealed his UFC fate and he was relased by President Dana White the following day. Slice definitely couldn’t live up to the hype. Now a boxer, his 7-0 record suggests he has found a career that suits him.
19 Patrik Stefan
Czech-born center Patrik Stefan was instantly hyped because of his first overall selection by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999 NHL draft. Stefan had played in the Czech league and in the IHL with the Long Beach Ice Dogs. His stats were far from spectacular so it makes you wonder who was in charge at the Thrashers organization. Nonetheless, his selection and the hope he would boost the team up the ranks generated a lot of hype around Stefan. He never scored more than 14 goals and 40 points in an NHL season and, after a stint in Dallas, he ended up in Switzerland where he ended his professional career.
18 Tony Mandarich
When you’re drafted ahead of Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders, you just know there is going to be a lot of hype. Canadian-born offensive tackle Tony Mandarich was drafted second overall by the Green Bay packers in 1989. Three years later he was let go because of a poor attitude and generally poor on-field performances. He became addicted to illegal substances and alcohol but managed to return to the NFL in 1996 with the Indianapolis Colts. His three seasons with the Colts were better than the ones in Green Bay, yet he never lived up to the hype surrounding his second overall draft pick status.
17 17. Kevin Maas
Don Mattingly is a New York Yankees legend. He’s been an All-Star six times, won 9 Golden Gloves, an American League batting title and an American League MVP award. He has also been portrayed on The Simpsons. Kevin Maas, unfortunately, has had none of these things. That wouldn’t have been such a big deal if Maas hadn’t been dubbed the Yankees’ new Mattingly in 1990. After hitting 21 home runs in 79 games in his rookie season, it looked like the Yankees had their man. It was not to be. Maas’ game went downhill from there and he ended his MLB career in 1995 with the Minnesota Twins having a career batting average of .230 and 65 total home runs.
16 Rick DiPietro
If you’re going to sign an athlete to a 15 year contract just make sure they are someone like Michael Jordan or Cristiano Ronaldo. The New York Islanders made one of the strangest decisions in 2006 when they signed goaltender Rick DiPietro to a 15 year deal – of course they also let Roberto Luongo go in 2000 to make room for their new keeper. Naturally, such a contract creates a lot of hype. It also seems to have started a curse as DiPietro suffered a string of injuries which has seen him play in only 50 NHL games since the 2008-09 season.
If you’re a Manchester United fan, you associate this name with being a transfer flop. Naturally, when Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, their players were in high demand. Midfielder Kleberson attracted the attention of numerous clubs with United winning the race to sign him. Spending a lot of time injured, the midfielder only managed 20 appearances for the Red Devils and scored a meagre two times. In 2005, he was offloaded to Besiktas which began a decade of transfers and loans to various clubs. He currently plays for Indy Eleven of the North American Soccer League where the few fans he has left are desperately waiting for him to find a shred of the 2002 World Cup form.
14 Drew Henson
Remember Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? They enjoyed careers in both baseball and football and most people would agree they were good at both sports. Then there was Drew Henson. Henson started out making a name for himself at the University of Michigan where he did very well, especially after the departure of some guy named Tom Brady. Despite the football background at Michigan, Henson was drafted in 1998 by the New York Yankees. His brief MLB career saw him get a single hit and a .111 batting average in nine at bats. Retiring in 2004, he moved to the NFL where he spent most of the time on the bench with Dallas before ending his career with a couple bad showings for Detroit. Clearly this one did not come anywhere near the hype generated during the days at Michigan.
13 Michael Olowokandi
When you get picked ahead of the likes of Vince Carter, ‘Disco’ Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, you know the hype machine will be in full gear. Michael Olowokandi went first in the 1998 NBA draft, selected by the L.A. Clippers. Over his NBA career, Olowokandi was unspectacular to say the least. Injury and poor form plagued his career and it showed in his stats. In 500 career games, the Nigerian-born center averaged just 8.3 points per game. Sure, he had individual seasons where he averaged double that, but it still came nowhere near the production levels you’d expect from a top draft pick.
12 Daisuke Matsuzaka
MLB fans know what ‘the next big thing’ out of Japan can mean. In 2006, teams scrambled to win the bidding rights to pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K, as he was nicknamed, supposedly had a magical pitch, known as the gyroball, which would destroy MLB batters. The Boston Red Sox counted all their pennies and won the bid with $51 million. They then signed him for $52 million. Over the next few seasons they found out Dice-K was good, but not as good as everyone had been led to believe. The Red Sox’ new weapon put in a couple of decent seasons but after that it went downhill with long stretches on the disabled list. Unable to live up to the hype, the Red Sox let him go in 2012.
11 Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning – which one would you chose if you were looking for a franchise quarterback in 1998? Fortunately, the Indianapolis Colts selected Manning and looking back it was a very wise decision. At the time, however, the decision was not as clear cut. A Heisman Trophy finalist, PAC-10 Offensive Player of the Year and first team All-American, Ryan Leaf was an attractive prospect for any team looking for a quarterback. With Manning taken first by Indy, Leaf was snapped up by the San Diego Chargers. Leaf (and Chargers fans) endured three miserable seasons marred by poor behaviour and injuries. Leaf turned out to be a terrible choice and after three seasons with the Chargers and four games with the Dallas Cowboys it was all over. With a QB rating of 50.0, pass percentage of 48.4 and 36 interceptions, it was pretty obvious this athlete did not live up to the hype.
Many great footballers have come out of Brazil. From Pele to Neymar, Brazilian footballers are known for their skills, flair and ability to score goals, often in spectacular fashion. Adriano Leite Ribeiro, often just referred to as Adriano, was one such player who caught a lot of attention in the early 2000s. In 2001, Adriano was signed by Inter Milan and spent some time on loan with Fiorentina. A successful spell at Parma, during which he scored 23 league goals saw Inter come back in for the player. He rewarded Inter by scoring 28 total goals in the 2004-05 season. In return he was handed a new contract. After this, his performances went downhill and started a chain reaction of transfers to various clubs coinciding with weight gain. Other than the 2004-05 season, Adriano never really lit the footballing world on fire and never fully lived up to the hype created around him.
9 Michelle Wie
Big things were expected from Michelle Wie. Turning professional before her 16th birthday, Wie was the youngest person to qualify for an LPGA Tour event and even competed in PGA events. Naturally, the media picked up on her story and the hype machine ran full power. Despite this, Wie continually failed to qualify in the men’s competitions and suffered a long drought in the female tournaments. In nine years of professional play she has amassed just 4 wins. This is a far cry from the 93 professional wins of Annika Sorenstam and shows that if Michelle Wie is to live up to the hype, she has to start winning more games on the links.
8 Alexandre Daigle
Heading into the 1993 NHL draft, Alexandre Daigle was considered ‘the’ player to get. Many analysts and sports reporters had labelled Daigle as a future NHL superstar and it is safe to say he was hyped before he even hit the ice. The Ottawa Senators had the first pick and could have chosen from the likes of Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya or Saku Koivu. They opted to take Daigle and likely regret the move to this day. The Quebec-born winger tallied a career-high 51 points in his first season – something he accomplished two more times in his career. Daigle was not a terrible player but it is safe to say he never came anywhere near the superstar status that was advertised before his draft. He retired in 2010, after playing a few seasons in Switzerland.
7 Tim Tebow
Coming out of college and into the NFL in 2010, Tim Tebow appeared to be the real deal as far as quarterbacks were concerned. He had led the Florida Gators to consecutive 13-1 seasons and held a number of all-time records. In his second year with the Broncos, Tebow went 7-4, helping Denver into the Playoffs where they went 1-1. Despite this brief career high, Tebow was sent packing to New York where he threw only eight passes and started no games over the 2012 season. Currently a free agent, it is unlikely Tim Tebow will ever live up to hype surrounding him when he came out of college or that was generated during the 2011 season. Well, at least we won’t have to see his lame TD celebration anymore.
6 Greg Oden
Anyone watching the NCAA Tournament in 2007 definitely noticed Greg Oden during Ohio State’s charge to the final against the Florida Gators. The 7-foot tall center dominated on the court and made a number of big plays throughout the tournament. Unsurprisingly, the NBA came calling for Oden in the spring of 2007 with the Portland Trail Blazers drafting him first overall. Portland thought so highly of the Ohio State center that they passed on the chance to draft Kevin Durant, a move they no doubt regret to this day. Since then, Oden has only played in three injury plagued seasons and missed four more after having surgery on his knees. It is unlikely we’ll ever see Oden live up to the hype which surrounded him coming out of Ohio State.
5 Anna Kournikova
It seems like everything about this Russian beauty lived up to the hype, except her tennis game. Anna Kournikova was one of the most googled people on earth, had a long list of endorsement deals and appeared in numerous men’s magazines. On the tennis court, the same can’t be said about the now-retired 33 year old. When she broke onto the scene in the mid-1990s, Kournikova was just 14-15 years old and competing with the likes of Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis. While her professional career ended because of injuries when she was just 21, her highest ranking was just 8th place and she won no WTA titles.
4 Darko Milicic
In the 2003 NBA draft, if you were selected before the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, chances are you must have been good. For a certain LeBron James, that was true. However, what about the other player selected before this highly talented trio? The #2 pick saw Serbian Darko Milicic drafted by the Detroit Pistons. Milicic was just 18 and Pistons management stated he would be developed over time. That said, in three seasons with Detroit, the big Serbian only played in 96 games and averaged less than two points per game. Moves to several other teams over the following years saw him start far more games and his production did increase to a career high 8.8 PPG in 2010-11 with Minnesota. Considering his initial draft position and the players drafted around him, this is definitely one player who came nowhere near living up to the hype.
3 JaMarcus Russell
With a 21-4 record coming out of LSU and a 2007 Sugar Bowl MVP award, it’s obvious big things were expected of quarterback JaMarcus Russell. The Oakland Raiders came calling with a $60+ million contract and visions of a franchise quarterback. With a 52% pass completion, 18-23 touchdown/interception ratio and 25 lost fumbles, the Raiders discovered over three seasons that Russell was nowhere as good as the player who was hyped coming out of college. Released by the team, Russell tried to sign for a number of other teams unsuccessfully. The whole situation is made worse by the fact that the former Raider quarterback can’t seem to stay away from codeine cough syrup – even being arrested for possession in 2010.
2 Eric Lindros
You may be wondering how on earth Eric Lindros failed to live up to the hype. Surely this is a mistake, right? After all, Lindros was an All-Star seven times, won an Olympic gold medal and ushered in the era of the ‘big-men’ in the NHL. Well, say what you will about the big-88, but in the end, Lindros couldn’t live up to the hype and expectation surrounding him. Coming into the NHL in 1991, he was labelled “The Next One” and big things were expected. With the Philadelphia Flyers, Lindros was physically dominant and a great play-maker, but he always ended up falling short. He was criticized for being unable to lead a team and a string of injuries and concussions only made his task harder.
1 Freddy Adu
If hockey has Gretzky, then World football has Pele. Every potential great player is compared to the legendary Brazilian and American Freddy Adu was no exception. Even before Adu was a teenager, the media was reporting that the United States had ’the next Pele.’ Early on, the Ghanaian-born midfielder-forward appeared to be living up to the hype by signing a professional MLS contract in 2004 at the age of 14. Early success in the MLS translated into a much publicized transfer to Portuguese side Benfica in 2007. While he had some moments of promise, Adu’s career never took off after his move to Europe. Four loan moves, a return to the MLS and a couple of transfers later, the player once hyped to be the next Pele now finds himself playing for Serbian team Jagodina.