30 Athletes Sidelined By Serious Injuries

Joe Burgett - July 10, 2019

30 Athletes Sidelined By Serious Injuries

Joe Burgett - July 10, 2019

It’s sad to see any athlete get injured, even when you’re actively cheering against their team. Sure, we can despise a team for a period of time due to our team affiliation. Yet we never want to see a great athlete lose out on a great career as a result of one. Athlete injuries can be devastating at the end of the day.

Several saw their careers completely ended from one or a few injuries while other careers were just completely hampered by them the entire time.

This article is about those who had promising careers destroyed by injuries. A number of these people kept or tried to keep playing. Some of them even had relatively okay careers after their major injury issues too. Meanwhile, the rest had to retire due to them.

This list will not cover those who had to leave their sport early due to sicknesses such as Lou Gehrig & Magic Johnson. With that said, here’s our list of big sports careers ruined by major injuries.

Yao Ming
[Image via The Player’s Tribune]

30. Yao Ming

Ming had a promising career going in the NBA after coming over from China. He was a stud there. Standing over 7-feet tall, he was nearly impossible to guard. Yet he could make life a living nightmare for other centers in the league, including the likes of Shaquille O’Neal. Ming played his entire career with the Houston Rockets and made the playoffs most of the time. He was even an eight-time NBA All-Star during a career where he averaged around 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Sadly, Ming is quite a large man and when he suffered his first injury in 2005, he went on to struggle. He’d come back only to get hurt again. This included back and ankle issues. Eventually, he decided enough is enough and retired from basketball in 2011. Ming remained in basketball upon retirement. Today he is the President of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos
[Image via YouTube]

29. Terrell Davis

Davis was a notable running back for the Denver Broncos during their big Super Bowl runs of the 1990s. Many credit him the most with the 2 Super Bowls Denver won. To be fair, Davis did have 157 yards & 3 TDs in Super Bowl XXXII and even had 102 yards in Super Bowl XXXIII. Davis rushed for over 1,000 yards for four straight seasons, even rushing for 2,008 yards & 21 TDs during the 1998-1999 season.

Yet his final 3 years were completely hampered with injuries. He tore his ACL, MCL, and had multiple surgeries on BOTH knees. He had to end up retiring in 2001 after only 7 seasons. Davis had one of the most notable athlete injuries of his time, but thankfully he could cap it off on top. His work was considered so great that he made the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Greg Oden
[Image via]

28. Greg Oden

Around 2005, the NBA and the Players Association decided that no player can come into the NBA until the age of 19 or older. This led to the now infamous “one and done” rule that resulted in high school players going to college for one year then declaring for the NBA draft the following year. The same year this rule came out, Greg Oden was going to be a senior in high school. A can’t-miss prospect who was known for his amazing defense, most thought he could be the next Bill Russell.

Oden blocked well, rebounded well, and could even score well on the inside. Yet despite going #1 in the 2007 NBA Draft, Oden barely played for the team that selected him, the Portland Trailblazers. He had numerous arm and leg injuries that killed a career filled with potential. It is tough to see major athlete injuries happen, especially to someone who had the potential Oden had.

Tony Conigliaro, Red Sox
[Image via The Hardball Times]

27. Tony Conigliaro

Tony Conigliaro was known as one of the best young prospects in baseball during the 1960s. In 1964, he was able to hit 24 home runs at just 19 years of age. He was also the youngest player to lead the American League in home runs with 32 at the age of 20. Sadly, his career was derailed when a wild pitch hit him right in the face.

This freak accident broke his cheek and even damaged his left eye. This resulted in Conigliaro missing the entire 1968 season, but he’d come back in 1969. He nearly got back to his old form but his eyesight in his eye continued to get worse, resulting in his early 1971 retirement. Athlete injuries like this are horrible to see but Conigliaro did manage to retire with 166 career home runs.

Maurice Stokes
[Image via Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame]

26. Maurice Stokes

Stokes’ name is still very well known in the sport of basketball. However, the story is more about what could have been for him. Stokes was a tremendous power forward who played for the Royals for three seasons. During the final game of the 1957-1958 season, Stokes fell attempting to get a rebound and hit his head hard on the court. This resulted in Stokes being later diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Encephalopathy.

The brain injury sadly caused seizures during a team flight, which ended up causing Stokes to become paralyzed. This would end his potentially amazing career. Jack Twyman assumed legal guardianship of his teammate and even helped organize a charity game between some of the NBA’s best to help pay for Stokes’ growing medical bills. Stokes sadly died due to the growing brain issues in 1970.

Ralph Sampson, Rockets
[Image via The Dream Shake]

25. Ralph Sampson

Sampson has one of the most brutal athlete injuries ever, resulting in a potentially amazing career coming to an end. Sampson was actually a three-time NCAA Player of the Year, resulting in him being picked #1 overall in the 1983 NBA draft. For years, he lived up to expectations. He averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds his first three years, then 15 points and 9 rebounds the following three years.

He’d become a 4-time NBA All-Star as a result. Sadly, he ended up having a knee injury during the 1987-1988 season and even multiple back issues. It caused him to be traded around the league and barely used. He never played a full season again. Funny enough, he was so dominating in both the NBA & college, he’d make the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 & the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

Monica Seles
[Image via US Open Tennis]

24. Monica Seles

Seles was one of the greatest tennis stars of her day. She was a two-time US Open Champion, three-time French Open Champion, and four-time Australian Open Champion. Seles even made the final round of the 1992 Wimbledon Tournament. Her several earlier victories even led to her becoming No.1. Seles would defeat Steffi Graff in 1993 for an Australian Open win. However, this resulted in a big problem.

On April 30th of the same year, Günter Parche, an obsessed Steffi Graff fan, ran from the crowd during a quarterfinal match Seles was winning in Hamburg. The fan stabbed Seles between her shoulder blades at a depth of 1.5 cm. She lived but did not play for 2 years. When Seles returned, she had some success but was never quite the same player she was after the stabbing took place. She did, however, win one Australian Open in 1996 and an Olympic Bronze Medal in 2000.

Vladimir Konstantinov, Red Wings
[Image via Al Bello-Allsport]

23. Vladimir Konstantinov

Konstantinov was one of the best and most feared defensemen in the NHL during his playing career. He even helped to kickstart the Detroit Red Wings dynasty. Sadly, he went through one of the most horrific athlete injuries we can think of. He is responsible for 174 total points during his time with the Red Wings. Doing all of this from defense is impressive for sure. He even helped lead the team to a Stanley Cup win in the 1996-1997 season.

Tragedy struck in 1997 for the defenseman, however. While celebrating in a limousine with a teammate, the limo ended up wrecking. This caused Konstantinov to be badly injured and resulted in him going into a coma for weeks. He later woke up to find that his speech and motor functions were permanently impaired, causing his immediate retirement.

Daunte Culpepper, Lions
[Image via CNBC]

22. Daunte Culpepper

At one point, Culpepper was one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League. He’s a 3-time Pro-Bowler with First Team All-Pro & Second Team All-Pro honors to his record. He also led the league in passing yards in 2004 on top of lead the league in passing touchdowns in 2000. Culpepper was also known to be a threat on the ground. In total, he is responsible for 183 TDs in his time. However, despite starting off his career quite well, he ended up falling out after an injury to his knee in 2005.

Culpepper had surgery on it but things continued to get worse. He was never the same player he once was. It continued to get worse and his age was catching up with him. Before too long, he had to retire.

Pete Reiser, Dodgers
[Image via]

21. Pete Reiser

Reiser is recognized by many as “the greatest athlete who never was.” The reason for this is due to his career starting off with Hall of Fame-like potential. At just 22 years old, he was batting at a .343 average and was beloved for putting everything on the line every single play. His style of play, despite being appreciated by fans, is ultimately what cost him his career.

Reiser dislocated his shoulder, broke his collarbone, broke both his ankles, and injured both his leg muscles and ligaments. He was even knocked out at least five times. If those insane amount of athlete injuries weren’t enough, Reiser also served in the U.S. Army during World War II, taking away three more years of his career. We’re shocked he even got in with that injured history.

Bill Walton, Clippers
[Image via Scott Cunningham/NBAE by way of Getty Images]

20. Bill Walton

Walton was known as one of the greatest college basketball players who ever lived. Due to playing for UCLA during the John Wooden years, Walton was impossible to stop. He is a 3-time National College Player of the Year & 2-time NCAA Champion. Walton became a 2-time NBA All-Star and even led the league in rebounds and blocks in 1977. Walton even went on to win the 1978 NBA MVP & the NBA championship in the same year.

However, injuries caught up to Walton for the remaining years of his career. What is often forgotten is that Walton had been suffering and fighting through injuries since he was a rookie. Despite his MVP status, the man never started a game during his best years. From back to leg injuries, Walton was able to accomplish a lot. Just imagine what he could have done if healthy his entire career!

Jamal Anderson, Falcons
[Image via Sporting News]

19. Jamal Anderson

Anderson played running back in the NFL for 8 years, playing the entire time for the Atlanta Falcons. He was one of the most beloved RBs of the 90s due to popularizing the infamous “Dirty Bird” dance. Anderson has four 1,000 yard seasons with three coming one after the other. He even led the league in rushing in 1998. Anderson even helped the Falcons get into Super Bowl XXXIII.

He initially suffered an injury in 1999 but managed to come back from it. Sadly, in 2001 he’d deal with one of the worst athlete injuries ever, a torn ACL. Due to being a running back and the surgical procedure on ACL tears not being nearly as advanced as they are today, this was a career-ender for Anderson.

Brandon Roy, Trailblazers
[Image via]

18. Brandon Roy

When Roy first came into the league in 2006, he was basically impossible to guard. He was fast and strong, big but not too big. Few defenders knew how to guard him. This led to him averaging around 20 points or more per game from 2007 to 2010. Each of those three seasons, he became an NBA All-Star. Then tragedy struck.  Both of his knees bothered him since college but by 2010, he was beginning to have issues.

Apparently, they lacked proper amounts of cartilage. This resulted in Roy going to have surgery on them both. He came back and initially looked okay. Sadly, he’d have to announce his retirement in 2011 due to both knees deteriorating. Roy did make a comeback in the 2012-2013 season but suffered a right knee injury that would require surgery. Roy officially retired again following this.

Marco van Basten, Milan
[Image via SempreMilan]

17. Marco van Basten

Van Basten was one of the greatest soccer players of his day. In fact, few people could touch him on the pitch. The man would score around 300 goals during his impressive professional soccer career. He was madly successful as a player during his career. Van Basten won the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in the 1986-1997 season. He was also helpful in helping Milan win 3 Serie A League Titles. Marco also helped them win 2 UEFA Champions League Titles.

He also played for the Netherlands internationally and managed to help them win the 1988 UEFA European Championship. Basten is a 2-time Serie A Golden Boot Award winner, 3-time UEFA Best Player of the Year, and the 1992 FIFA World Player of the Year. Sadly, he ended up getting hurt in the prime of his career. An ankle injury suffered in his late 20s resulted in him missing time over the span of 2 years. He tried coming back from it several times but never could, causing his early retirement.

Larry Johnson, Hornets
[Image via Sports Team History]

16. Larry Johnson

Grandmama himself, Larry Johnson, was one of the best players of the 90s. He was a huge asset to the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks also. While in Charlotte, he averaged over 20 points a game but by the time he arrived in New York, he became a second or third option so his numbers went down a bit. He was still productive, even helping the Knicks reach the NBA Finals once.

However, Johnson had severe back problems during the latter portion of his career. He missed some games because of it. While these chronic back issues did not truly need surgeries, they were mounting. This caused his production to decrease a bit in his last few years. Johnson played 10 seasons but could have gone on much longer had his back troubles never occurred.

Maureen Connolly
[Image via Pinterest]

15. Maureen Connolly

Connolly is known to be one of the greatest tennis stars ever for what she was able to accomplish in such a short period of time. She was truly only active during a 3-year stint from 1951 to 1954, but she was wildly successful. Connolly won all four major grand slams. This resulted in her being a 2-time French Open Champion, 3-time US Open Champion, 3-time Wimbledon Champion, and even an Australian Open Champion.

Oh, and did we mention she did all of this as a teenager? This stud was so impressive that people STILL call her one of the top 10 best women’s tennis athletes ever. Sadly, her career came to an abrupt end during a horseback riding accident where her leg was crushed. Her leg officially was broken but she also suffered severe muscle and tendon damage that she could never recover from. She had to retire from tennis at only 19 years old.

Pete Maravich
[Image via]

14. Pete Maravich

On the surface to most, ‘Pistol Pete’ Maravich had a long career. However, this is not as true as people like to think. It is true that he averaged 20 or more points from 1970 to 1979, but often overlooked is how much time he missed. In 1977, he was the NBA’s scoring champion yet ended up suffering a serious knee injury. Due to Maravich’s fame, it was one of the most notable athlete injuries of its time. Maravich played a few more years but never played a full season.

As we know, athlete injuries like knee problems are hard to come back from, especially in the 70s. He’d retire after a short stint with the Boston Celtics in the 1979-1980 season. Maravich was a 5-time All-Star who landed on the All-NBA Second Team twice & All-NBA First Team twice. Despite being one of the best scorers in NBA history, he retired before he could set records higher.

Gale Sayers, Bears
[Image via ESPN]

13. Gale Sayers

Known as the “Kansas Comet” during his playing career, Sayers is still known for being one of the best running backs and kick returners in NFL history. It is not hard to see why as he was a 4-time Pro-Bowler and 5-time First-Team All-Pro. He even led the league in rushing twice (1966 & 1969). Sayers suffered a serious knee injury to his right knee where he tore both his ACL & MCL. At the time, it was among the most notable athlete injuries ever.

However, he somehow made a huge comeback in 1969, one of the years he led the NFL in rushing. The NFL recognized him as their Comeback Player of the Year then. Then sadly, in a 1970 exhibition game, Sayers suffered a left knee injury that effectively ended his career. He could only play 2 games in 1970 and 1971 respectively. This resulted in his retirement at just 28 years old.

Tracy McGrady
[Image via Medium]

12. Tracy McGrady

McGrady had a great NBA career, but most feel it could have been far better had he remained healthy more of it. Although he played for a few other places, Orlando may have been his best scoring run as he led the NBA in scoring twice while playing with the Magic (2003 & 2004). However, he’d have impressive years in Toronto & Houston respectively. McGrady’s major injury history began in 2000 with an ankle injury. He then had back spasm problems from 2005 to 2007.

Then from 2007 to 2009, he had an ankle, knee, and elbow injuries causing him to miss games. From 2008 to 2010 alone, he played in only 65 games total. In fact, Tracy McGrady was injured so often that he never once played a full 82-game season in his entire NBA career. When he could play, McGrady was awesome and was an 8-time All-Star & 2-time All-NBA First Team selection as a result. However, his career was ravaged by injuries and it led to him missing well over 3 total seasons in time during his career.

Mark Prior, Cubs
[Image via Fansided]

11. Mark Prior

It is hard to look at Prior’s career and ask what could have been? Prior and pitcher Kerry Wood were huge assets for the Chicago Cubs and dubbed the “Chicago Heat” due to their impressive fastballs. Yet both were overused by then-Cubs Manager Dusty Baker in 2003 & 2004. Prior would average up to or over 120 pitches a game in those years. This caused his shoulder to have severe problems.

Both Wood & Prior were considered aces for the Cubs. Yet due to their overuse for those seasons, their arms were shot. Numerous shoulder injuries followed. Prior alone would be on and off the disabled list for the Cubs. This led to Prior technically only playing 5 seasons in Major League Baseball. In that time, he had 757 total strikeouts & 42 wins. Imagine if he could have remained healthy!

Tiger Woods
[Image via]

10. Tiger Woods

To start his career, Woods was on pace to shatter every golf record imaginable. He won The Open Championship 3 times,  the U.S. Open 3 times, the PGA Championship 4 times, and the Masters Tournament 4 times. Woods also broke the Guinness World Record for the most money annually for an athlete in history. However, after an infidelity issue in 2009, Woods fell mentally out of the game. He eventually suffered numerous back problems. He has also torn his ACL and had trouble with both Achilles Tendons. He never seemed to stop getting athlete injuries that completely hindered his career.

From 2008 to 2017, he has had 6 major operations to fix problems including ACL repair and numerous back surgeries. Woods has been playing golf throughout the injury issues. However, severe athlete injuries like this would cause most to retire in any other sport for sure. Woods made a great comeback in 2019 by winning his 5th Masters Tournament, his first major tournament win in a decade. He has clearly not been the same Tiger of old since his litany of injuries.

Earl Campbell, Oilers
[Image via Houston Chronicle]

9. Earl Campbell

Campbell had an amazing collegiate career at SMU before arriving in the NFL, where he completely dominated his first few seasons. He came to the league in the 1978 NFL Draft and led the league in rushing immediately. From his rookie year in the 1978-1979 season to the 1980-1981 season, he led the league in rushing for 3 straight years. This allowed Campbell to become a 3-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year and 3-time First-Team All-Pro selection.

His over 1,900 yards rushing allowed him to even become the 1979 NFL MVP too. However, he would get injured in 1982 and play only 9 games. Throughout his career, he had several knee and back injuries. Both of his knees have since been replaced and he has even had around 5 back surgeries. Overall, after his injury year in 1982, he was never quite the same. Campbell would retire due to the multiple injuries piling up, much earlier than he would have had he been healthy.

Bernard King
[Image via]

8. Bernard King

King was known to be, for his time, one of the best scorers to ever play the game. He was nearly impossible to stop. King averaged around 22 points per game for his entire career. Outside of his 2 missed seasons due to injury, he often put up even more than this. King even led the league in scoring in the 1984-1985 with 32.9 points per game. He’d have 4 All-Star appearances and land on the All-NBA First Team twice during his career.

However, he blew out his knee just one year after being the scoring leader. He missed the majority of the 1985-1986 season and did not even play a full season the following year. King struggled to get back to his old form until his last big scoring year in 1991 when he put up a little over 28 points per game. Sadly, injuries destroyed his career and cost him from being likely the greatest scorer of the 80s. He retired with over 19,000 points which put him on the Top 25 scorers list despite calling it a career early.

Jay Williams
[Image via Chicago Tribune]

7. Jay Williams

Williams was one of the best collegiate basketball players ever. As the point guard for the Duke Blue Devils, he led them to an NCAA Championship in 2001 and he even won the National Player of the Year Award in 2002. Both in 2001 & 2002, he was voted a Consensus First-Team All-American. This made him a natural choice to go #1 overall in the 2002 NBA Draft to the Chicago Bulls. He’d do so and had an okay rookie year. But in the following offseason, tragedy struck.

Williams was riding a motorcycle, against contractual rule by the way, when he crashed. The incident resulted in Williams suffering three dislocated ligaments in his left knee, including his ACL. He also sustained a fractured pelvis & severed a main nerve in his leg. The Bulls decided to release him when they took Kirk Hinrich in the 2003 NBA Draft and legally did not have to pay him anything upon his release due to violating his deal. However, they paid him $3 million upon his release to help with his recovery.

Ken Griffey, Jr.
[Image via Minor League Ball]

6. Ken Griffey Jr.

Griffey, Jr. was one of the most popular players of his time but dealt with injuries most of his career, especially the last decade. He had left knee and hamstring injuries, both of which required surgery, and also a broken wrist. The results of these injuries took down what he could contribute. In spite of this, he managed to accumulate 2,781 total hits, 630 career Home Runs, and 1,836 career RBIs.

He’s a 13-time All-Star, 10-time Golden Glove Award winner, and a 7-time Silver Slugger Award winner. Griffey also a 4-time AL Home Run Leader & led the AL in RBIs in 1997 and won the AL MVP in 1997. Just think, if Griffey Jr. never suffered from injuries during his 22-year career, he may have gone down as the greatest baseball player of all-time. This is likely why he was voted in on the first ballot into the 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame with 99.3% of the vote, among the highest in history.

Sterling Sharpe, Packers
[Image via]

5. Sterling Sharpe

Sharpe was, at one point, thought to be one of the best wideouts in the NFL. However, one of the most notable athlete injuries ever caught up with him. Sharpe came into the NFL highly touted and for good reason. For the first part of his career, he lived up to expectations with the Green Bay Packers.  Sadly, he only played from 1988 to 1994 due to a neck injury.

In his career, he had five seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards and nearly had a sixth (1991’s 961-yard year). Sharpe managed to lead the league in receiving touchdowns twice and led the league in receptions 3 times. He was even voted First-Team All-Pro 3 times and made 5 Pro Bowls. The aforementioned neck injury was very serious. His doctor told Sharpe that if he injured his neck once more, he’d risk being paralyzed. He then chose to retire and now operates as an analyst for the NFL Network.

Grant Hill, Pistons
[Image via]

4. Grant Hill

Hill was poised to become one of the greatest forwards the NBA had ever seen. After having a spectacular collegiate run at Duke where he won 2 NCAA Championships, he jumped to the NBA. Hill was picked 3rd overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1994 NBA Draft and took league by storm right away. From 1994 to 2000, he averaged around or over 20 points per game. This run led to 5 NBA All-Star appearances, an All-NBA First-Team honor and 4 All-NBA Second Team honors.

Hill injured his ankle late in his last year with the Pistons but it became a huge issue upon his trade to Orlando. This resulted in several surgeries to try and fix it. From 2000 to 2007, Hill was only able to play in a grand total of 200 games out of a possible 492, not including playoffs. He missed nearly 3 complete seasons as well. Hill remained in the NBA for years despite this and became a sort of valued veteran bench player. This is a far cry from what his potential career could have been, however.

Bobby Orr, Bruins
[Image via YouTube]

3. Bobby Orr

Talk about athlete injuries that killed a massive career. Orr was considered by many to be among the best to ever play the sport of hockey. Orr is known by most to be the greatest defensemen in the history of hockey. Not only could he defend but he could also score quite well. From 1969 to 1975, Orr managed to be responsible for over 100 points each of those seasons. In the 1970-1971 season alone, he had 102 assists & 37 goals scored. Both are still records for a defenseman in the NHL.

He is an 8-time NHL All-Star, 8-time James Norris Trophy Winner, 2-time Art Ross Trophy Winner, and 3-time Hart Memorial Trophy Winner. Orr even won 2 Stanley Cups. Sadly, he had severe knee injuries that resulted in 12 different knee surgeries. Orr played only 12 years as a result and had to retire by 30. The Hockey Hall of Fame waived their normal 3-year waiting period and put Orr into the 1979 class at just 31 years old, the youngest ever to be enshrined.

Penny Hardaway
[Image via Memphis Flyer]

2. Penny Hardaway

Hardaway had one of the brightest futures of any NBA player ever. Like Magic Johnson before him, was a tall point guard who could score and pass better than most. Penny started off his career quite well, and from 1993 to 1998 he was able to average 16 to 20 points per game. This included nearly 2 or 3 steals per game. He became a 4-time All-Star due to his incredible run and even became a 2-time All-NBA First Team selection.

Along with his then-Orlando Magic teammate, Hardaway was able to make it to the NBA Finals once too. Sadly, a knee injury derailed his career.  This resulted in 4 left knee surgeries with another microfracture knee surgery. He was never quite the same after the initial knee problem and the ones that followed only made things worse.

Bo Jackson
[Image via]

1. Bo Jackson

When you talk infamous athlete injuries, Jackson should be near the top of the list for you. He was a dual-sport athlete that could have been a huge star in just one if he chose. However, he put his body through a lot every year as he played in both the MLB & NFL at the same time. This resulted in his career in both being pretty short. Jackson is the only man in history to have been an All-Star in both the NFL & MLB.

His NFL career saw him reach 2,782 yards rushing and 16 TDs total in 4 seasons. Meanwhile, his MLB career saw him reach 141 home runs & 415 RBIs on a .250 batting average over 9 seasons (1 complete season missed). Jackson’s NFL career ended when his hip popped out of place on a huge hit in 1990, resulting in a hip replacement surgery. Jackson tried to return to the Majors but never could reach where he was before the surgery. He was retired from both by the end of 1994.