Draft day for professional sports is always filled with drama. Organizations have a whole team of scouts recruiting players as early as high school in hopes of discovering a transcendent talent. However, even if an organization loves a particular player‘s talents, the professional team’s positional needs are paramount, which is the driving force behind many draft-day trades. Another reason that some players never see action for the teams that draft them is a bit more straight forward; the player flat-out doesn’t want to play for that organization. This type of diva-esque quality is typically found in highly touted prospects, as a majority of professional hopefuls are just glad to be drafted in the first place.
Ideally on draft day, you’re acquiring a household name that will carry a franchise for the next decade. It’s the best time to do it as you can essentially build your franchise without giving anything up. However sometimes players’ dreams aren’t fulfilled by the team that drafts them, but rather a team that acquires them soon afterwards. John Elway, Eli Manning and Eric Lindros made it clear that they didn’t want to play for the teams that were lining up to draft them and quickly got shipped off to another team.
Here is a look at athletes from various sports who never played a professional game for the team that drafted them. Some of these will make you laugh, cringe, and seriously question the upper brass’ acumen of certain franchises.
20. Nene Hilario
In the 2002 NBA draft, the New York Knicks selected Nene, a product of Brazil, 7th overall. The Knicks immediately traded him to the Denver Nuggets for star forward Antonio McDyess. At the time, the trade was a blockbuster believed to be the move that would put the Knicks on track for a playoff berth the next season. Before the 2002-03 season began, McDyess injured his knee in an exhibition game and required surgery. While not a transcendent NBA player, Nene has had a fine career thus far, averaging approximately 12 points and 8 rebounds per game.
19. Steve Francis
Coming out of the University of Maryland, Steve Francis was a highly valued commodity, resulting in his second overall selection in the 1999 NBA draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies. Francis went on to publicly convey his desire to not play for the Grizzlies, which the Vancouver natives didn’t take too kindly. Francis stated reasons such as endorsements, taxes, distance from his home, and God’s will, for not wanting to play there. He was eventually traded to the Houston Rockets where he averaged 18 points per game, and was a 3-time All-Star.
18. Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez was a promising talent out of high school, and was expected to be a late first round selection in the 2000 MLB draft. His improved performance in his senior year of high school resulted in a #1 overall selection by the Florida Marlins. The Marlins, in a hunt for the playoffs, needed a closer and subsequently flipped Gonzo to the Texas Rangers for closer Ugueth Urbina. Adrian Gonzalez is now a 5-time All Star, and 4-time Gold Glove winner. It wasn’t a complete bust of a trade, and the Marlins went on to win the World Series in 2003 against the Yankees, with Urbina saving two games.
17. Rajon Rondo
After two years with the Kentucky Wildcats, Rondo opted to enter the 2006 NBA draft, and was taken 21st overall by the Phoenix Suns. The Suns already had a stacked roster at that time with Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and Steve Nash leading the point. Feeling that they didn’t need Rondo’s services that much, Phoenix traded him to the Celtics for their first round pick in 2007 (acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers), Brian Grant, and cash considerations. Looking back, it would have been interesting to see how Rondo would have ended up learning under a legend like Nash. Rondo has already had a decorated career as a 4-time All Star and a NBA Championship (2008) on his resume.
16. Bo Jackson
Bo is known as one of the few dual-sport professional athletes, playing in the MLB and NFL. He attended Auburn University, where he excelled at both baseball and football. In his senior year, Jackson accepted a private jet trip provided by Tampa Bay Buccaneers management to see the team, a trip he was told was sanctioned by the NCAA. Upon his return, he was informed that the trip violated NCAA rules, and he had to sit out for the remainder of his senior year baseball season. This didn’t sit well with Bo, who thought Tampa Bay intentionally did this so he would focus on football and sign with them.
Despite stating he wouldn’t play with them, the Bucs took him 1st overall in the 1986 draft. Bo indeed refused to sign with the team, who then forfeited his rights, and he wound up being selected to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders, whom he played four seasons with, amassing 18 touchdowns, over 3,000 all-purpose yards, and a 1990 Pro-Bowl appearance.
15. Vince Carter
In the 1998 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors held the 4th overall pick, and the Golden State Warriors had the 5th. Toronto, allegedly knowing that the Warriors wanted Antawn Jamison, decided to draft him with their pick, even though they had their sights set on Vince Carter in hopes to squeeze a bit of value in a trade. The Warriors picked Carter 5th overall, and promptly flipped him, along with some cash, to the Raptors for Antawn Jamison. These two players have always been compared to one another due to this trade, and while Jamison was a solid player, Carter was an 8-time All Star, won Rookie of the Year in 1999, and won the Dunk Contest in 2000.
14. Stephon Marbury
Marbury was a highly sought after player since high school. Being named a McDonalds All-American in 1995, an award also bestowed upon Kevin Garnett and Antawn Jamison that same year, he garnered a lot of interest from various colleges. After one year at Georgia Tech, Marbury declared for the NBA draft in 1996. Marbury was selected 4th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, and was traded several picks later to the Minnesota Timberwolves for 7th overall pick Ray Allen and a future first round selection. Marbury had a reasonably productive career, but off-court issues were a common theme wherever he went, and now he is playing basketball in China for the Bejing Ducks.
13. Ray Allen
Coming out of a three year stint at the University of Connecticut, Ray Allen was drafted 7th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was subsequently traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for Stephon Marbury, and years later every Timberwolves fan cringes. Allen had a tremendous career that includes two NBA Championships with the Boston Celtics, a Olympic Gold Medal for Men’s Basketball, 10-time All Star, and the NBA leader for most 3-pointers of all time.
12. John Smoltz
His name is synonymous with the Atlanta Braves, but John Smoltz was actually a product of the Detroit Tigers system for a brief stint after being selected in the 22nd round of the 1985 draft. The Tigers traded Smoltzy to the Atlanta Braves in 1987 before getting a shot in the big leagues, and the rest is history. Smoltz went on to become a first ballot Hall of Fame selection (quite a rare feat), amassing 8 All-Star appearances, a World Series Championship (1995), Strikeout Title (1996), and Cy Young winner (1996). It’s safe to say the Tigers wish they could take that one back.
11. Dominique Wilkins
Coming out of the University of Georgia, Wilkins was selected 3rd overall by the Utah Jazz. Wilkins did not want to play for the Jazz because, which he admitted to later, they wanted him to play power forward. Wilkins referred to playing power forward as “suicide” due to how deeply talented the power forward position was in the NBA those years. The Jazz, partially due to Wilkins’ reluctance to play for their franchise, and the fact they had cash flow issues, traded Wilkins to the Atlanta Hawks a few months later.
Wilkins went on to become a 9-time All Star, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He is also widely regarded as the best dunker of all time, thus earning him the nickname “The Human Highlight Film.”
10. Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Bagwell was selected in the 2nd round of the 1989 MLB draft by the Boston Red Sox. A year later, the Red Sox shipped him off to Houston for a relief pitcher they felt necessary to have if they were to make a run at the playoffs. The Red Sox did make the playoffs that year, but were defeated by the Oakland Athletics in the first round. Bagwell, however, went on to have a terrific career with the Astros as a 4-time All Star, Rookie of the Year (1991), National League MVP (1994), and is currently on the voting ballot for the Hall of Fame.
9. Eric Lindros
Entering the NHL Draft in 1991, Eric Lindros was seen as a once in a generation talent, being dubbed “The Next One.” The Quebec Nordiques held the first overall pick, but Lindros had no intention of playing for their franchise. Lindros publicly stated he would not play for the Nordiques because of their limited marketing exposure, and his inability to speak French. After holding out for the first year of his tenure with Quebec, they eventually traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers for a slew of players, two first round draft picks, and $15 million.
The Nordiques became immediate playoff contenders, and would go on to win a division title the next year. While Lindros is considered one of the game’s greats, he failed to claim a Stanley Cup for the Flyers.
8. LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge played two years of college basketball at the University of Texas, and officially declared for the NBA Draft in 2006, where he would be selected 2nd overall by the Chicago Bulls. Aldrige would then be traded several picks later to the Portland Trailblazers for their pick, Tyrus Thomas, and Viktor Khryapa. Khryapa played a total of 42 games with the Bulls, and Thomas is now in the NBA D-League, while Aldridge is a 4-time All Star and currently in the prime of his career averaging over 20 points per game.
T6. Philip Rivers and Eli Manning
The 2004 NFL Draft featured a trio of talented young quarterbacks, two of them being Philip Rivers and Eli Manning (Ben Roethlisberger being the third). Eli Manning was viewed as the best quarterback in the draft, and knowing this, the San Diego Chargers picked him first overall, which was interesting due to pre-draft comments from Eli stating he would not play for the Chargers if they selected him. There was never a definitive reason given out by Manning as to why he didn’t want to play for the Chargers, but some have speculated it was his father, Archie Manning, that didn’t want his son to play for a team notorious with a “losing” environment.
Philip Rivers was selected by the New York Giants with the 4th overall pick. A trade was then made between the two teams, sending Rivers and two picks to the Chargers, in exchange for Eli Manning. The two quarterbacks will forever be compared to each other, and while Rivers has the better passer rating (95.7 to Manning’s 82.4), Manning has led the Giants to two Super Bowl victories.
5. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki, a German native, garnered interest from NBA franchises when he played in the Nike “Hoop Heroes Tour,” where he scored 52 points against NBA great Scottie Pippen. After serving the required military time in Germany, Dirk was projected to be taken early in the 1st round. The Dallas Mavericks held the 6th pick in the draft, and knowing the only other interested team was the Celtics (who held the 10th pick), agreed to a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks who had the 9th pick in the draft.
The Bucks wanted Robert Traylor, but feared he would be taken before their turn in the draft, thus resulting in the teams agreeing to the rights to each other’s pick, in addition to the Bucks sending the Mavericks Pat Garrity. Traylor never amounted to much in his NBA career, while Nowitzki is considered to be in the top 30 NBA players of all time, is 7th on the all-time NBA scoring list, and is still an active player.
4. Scottie Pippen
In the 1987 NBA Draft, Scottie Pippen was taken by the Seattle Supersonics with the 5th overall selection. The Bulls then selected Olden Polynice with the 8th overall pick. Commissioner David Stern walked over to the podium to announce a trade the drastically changed the NBA landscape forever; the Supersonics traded the rights of their 5th pick (Pippen), to the Chicago Bulls for the rights to their 8th pick (Polynice), a 2nd round pick in 1988 or 1989, and the option to swap 1st round picks in 1988 or 1989 as long as the pick wasn’t in the top three selections.
Polynice played 12 seasons in the NBA without any impressive accolades, while Pippen went on to be a key piece in the greatest NBA team in history, the 72-win Bulls in 1996, won six NBA Finals, 7-time All Star, and Hall of Fame inductee.
3. John Elway
Coming out of Stanford University, Elway was seen as an elite talent that could make an immediate impact on an NFL roster. The (then) Baltimore Colts held the first overall pick in the draft, but Elway and his father did not want him playing for that franchise. Nonetheless, the Colts selected Elway first overall in the 1983 NFL draft. What was so unique about Elway’s situation was that he was also drafted by the New York Yankees in the MLB amateur draft, which gave him leverage against the Colts. He demanded to be traded, threatening to play for the Yankees full-time.
The Colts owner, Robert Irsay, begrudgingly traded Elway to the Denver Broncos for offensive lineman Chris Hinton, backup QB Mark Herrmann, and a first round pick in 1984. The trade is regarded as one of the most lopsided trades in sports history. Elway went on to win two Super Bowls, nine Pro-Bowl selections, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.
2. Bill Russell
Russell attended the University of San Francisco where he averaged 20.7 points, and 20.3 rebounds per game. He led USF to two NCAA Championships in 1955 and 1956. Another facet of his game, which no player was doing at the time, was blocking shots. Russell stated that coaches would tell him to stay flat-footed on defense, and corrected him when he jumped attempting to block the shot. His defensive prowess, which was considered a secondary skill for an NBA center, is what caught the attention of Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach.
Anticipating that Russell would go 2nd overall to the St. Louis Hawks, the Celtics saw an opportunity for a trade. Celtics star Ed Macauley, who had ties to St. Louis, was a perfect trade piece, and the deal was made, along with the Celtics adding Cliff Hagan to the trade. Russell went on to win an absurd 11 NBA Championships, five MVP awards, 11 All-Star selections, and an induction into the Hall of Fame in 2006. Russell is widely considered one the best NBA players of all time.
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe attended Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia from 1992-1996. He averaged over 30 points and 10 rebounds per game, leading his team to the State Championship in 1996. Kobe was made a McDonalds All American, and won the Naismith High School Player of the Year award. Seeing Kevin Garnett enter the NBA draft the prior year straight out of high school, Kobe declared for the 1996 draft despite receiving interest from colleges such as Duke, North Carolina, and Michigan. Prior to the draft, Kobe worked out for the Lakers, scrimmaging against former players Larry Drew and Michael Cooper. Lakers GM Jerry West was particularly impressed with his performance. The Lakers knew they had to trade up in the draft in order to get Kobe, as there were other teams interested.
It was later announced the Lakers agreed to trade star center Vlade Divac in exchange for Bryant’s draft rights. It’s hard to fault the Hornets, as Vlade was already a star player, and while Bryant was seen as a potential star, he was still an unknown commodity, in addition to being just 17 years old at the time. Kobe, who is still currently playing in the NBA, has won five NBA Championships, selected as an All Star 17 times, MVP in 2008, is the currently 3rd in the all-time points scored, and will easily be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
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