Some successful athletes are late to the game. It takes a lot of time and effort to be a successful professional athlete. Many try their best and still fail. It’s a fact that a lot of things have to go right to get to the very top of your sport and stay there. For some sports stars, it takes a little bit longer but they still get there in the end.
Today we’re going to look at 30 sports stars who were late bloomers. Some of these stars were active for many years before finally peaking and achieving success. Others didn’t start until much later than their competition. All of them prove that you should never give up. Enjoy the list below.
30. Antonio Gates
Antonio Gates was told that he had to choose between football and basketball if he wanted to achieve anything as a professional athlete. So he chose basketball and achieved some success as a power forward. However, the NBA scouts failed to show any interest in him, so he turned his attention back to football again.
This time, things turned out much better for him. Despite lacking any college football experience, the San Diego Chargers snapped him up as an unrestricted free agent. In short, he took to life in the NFL like a duck to water, regularly setting and breaking records at his position of tight end.
Usually, young athletes know from the start what they are good at. If you followed the career of the young Jimmy Graham, you’d have assumed that he was going to be a basketball player. He even earned a scholarship to Miami after getting All-State honors in high school and played on the hardwood for four years.
Finally, in his graduate year, Graham decided to try out for the football team. After finishing the season with 17 receptions, five touchdowns, and 213 yards, he attracted the attention of the NFL. As a result, he was signed by New Orleans in the 3rd round and set a number of records. He was traded to the Seahawks, now plays for Green Bay, and the rest is history.
Cuban MMA fighter Yoel Romero is quite simply a freak of nature. First of all, he looks like a superhero, as if somebody carved him out of marble. Secondly, he’s still competing at the highest level of the sport at the age of 42 while outclassing many younger athletes.
Currently ranked No. 3 in the UFC’s middleweight division, Romero came to the sport late after a career as a freestyle wrestler. Most notably, the former world champion was a silver medalist at the Olympics. In short, that’s why he didn’t start MMA until he was 36. The man is an absolute beast.
What a story it’s been for Teemu Pukki. The Finland striker was virtually an unknown up until last season when he blew the EFL Championship away with a series of incredible performances. His 29 league goals helped Norwich to win promotion. Before this, he had had an average career, including a bleak spell in Scotland.
Pukki is still firing on all cylinders. The Finn has been superb so far in the Premier League, scoring five goals in four games. As a result, he’s a mainstay in Fantasy Premier League teams across the world, and also has become a cult hero. In short, the 29-year-old is the definition of a late bloomer.
Michael Bisping was around the UFC for a long time before he finally got his title shot. The first British UFC champion was a gritty battler his entire career. But he usually fell short at the last hurdle, missing out on the chance to fight for the belt. Finally, the opportunity came, albeit on very short notice, and he seized it with open arms.
‘The Count’ was 37 when the call came to ask if he wanted to fight Luke Rockhold on two weeks’ notice at UFC 199 in June 2016. In brief, Bisping was delighted to get the chance to rematch a former foe. He knocked Rockhold out in the first round of their middleweight title fight and shocked the entire world.
Golf might seem like an old man’s game. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at the names at the top of the world rankings like Brooks Keipka, Justin Spieth and Rory McIlroy. In comparison to these golfers however, Dustin Johnson is definitely a late bloomer.
While the likes of McIlroy and Spieth were both considered prodigies from a young age, Johnson didn’t break out until he was 32, winning the 2016 US Open. Afterward, he would 64 weeks at the top of the world rankings, the fifth-longest run ever at number one.
Wright has had a whirlwind of a life. The Arsenal legend always dreamed of making it as a soccer player, but he faced some early setbacks. He had trials with Brighton and Southend United but got rejected. Soon he found himself in trouble with the law, spending a couple of weeks in jail. After getting out, he vowed to turn his life around.
Usually, young soccer players join an academy at a very young age, but not Wright. He was finally spotted by a Crystal Palace scout while playing Sunday League football. As a result, he finally got his chance in the big time and would go onto score 239 league goals in a sensational career as well as winning the Premier League title.
One of the greatest hockey goaltenders of all time, Durnan’s career was short but sweet. Despite only getting to the NHL when he was 27, he’s still a legendary figure in the game. The late-blooming goaltender’s Hall-of-Fame career kicked off when he joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1943.
Durnan only spent seven seasons in the NHL, but it was long enough. He won six Vezina Trophies as the league’s top goaltender as well as two Stanley Cups. Although his career was short, he is still regarded as one of the very best netminders ever.
You’d think that only the most committed boxer in the world would be capable of beating the great Muhammad Ali, but Ken Norton was actually meant to be a football player. He won a scholarship to Truman State but would leave after just two years due to repeated injuries. In 1963, he enlisted with the Marines, where he finally discovered boxing.
Norton turned pro and spent 14 years boxing professionally. His most noteworthy moment was when he broke Ali’s jaw in 1973, stunning the entire world. Furthermore, he compiled a 24-2 record and became the WBO heavyweight champion when he was over the age of 30.
Swiss star Stan Wawrinka was once described by “The Economist” as tennis’s great latecomer. When we think of tennis, the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer usually come to mind. But Wawrinka is a great player in his own right, and has really blossomed in the latter part of his career.
He became the oldest man to win the US Open in more than four decades, also he’s only the fifth man to win in the Open era after his thirtieth birthday. In short, the Swiss player is one of the best tennis players of the past two decades and definitely deserves a place on this list.
Soccer is not just a sport, it’s also an industry. There are thousands of scouts from football clubs all over the world, looking for the next bright young thing. Most young players will play in an academy at some point, but not Drogba. Naturally gifted, the big Ivorian only started playing soccer at the age of 15.
He’d make his way to Marseille, where he impressed. As a result, Drogba would get his big move to Chelsea at the age of 26. A relative late-bloomer, he’d blossom and become one of the greatest strikers in the history of the Premier League. Regularly scoring goals, his strength and power were his biggest assets.
Weeden has an extraordinary story. First of all, he’s one of just a very few athletes to play in both the NFL and the MLB, where he started his career. Baseball was his first love, but after a while, he became demoralized and gave up on the sport. So, he turned to football, and in 2012 he became the oldest player ever taken in the first draft at the age of 28.
The rest is history. Weeden flourished and became a starting quarterback for the Browns. After two seasons in Cleveland, his career became nomadic and he played for the likes of the Cowboys, the Texans, and the Titans. It just goes to show, you’re never too old to try something new.
Incredibly, Olajuwon never even picked up a basketball until he was 15 years old. As a boy in his native Nigeria, he played handball and football, so he did gain athletic skills. When he emigrated to the USA with his family, he soon turned his attention to basketball. It became obvious that he was naturally gifted.
After impressing at the University of Houston, ‘The Dream’ was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the first pick. Consequently, he’s regarded as one of the sport’s great centers, also leading the league in blocked shots for a long time. In particular, he has incredible footwork and superb timing.
Hopkins didn’t fight professionally until he was 23. If he hadn’t ended up in prison, he might never have changed his life around. Now regarded as one of the greatest middleweights of all time, his late entry to the game helped him become one of the very best. After serving time for various felonies, Hopkins turned to boxing to help change his life around.
‘The Executioner’ was known for his methodical and intelligent approach to the sport, as made an incredible 20 consecutive title defences without losing. A victory over Oscar De La Hoya in 2004 made him the undisputed champion. Also, he held the lineal light heavyweight title from 2011 to 2012.
Sometimes it isn’t a good idea to be conventional. To begin with, Dickey tried his best to be normal, but it clearly wasn’t working for him as his early career was distinctly mediocre. Consequently, he started to use his own technique, called ‘The Thing.’ It turns out that ‘The Thing’ was, in fact, a knuckleball.
In fact, Dickey’s knuckleball is one of the greatest to ever grace the game of baseball. After a few years in the MLB, he finally found his way to the New York Mets. Finally, at the age of 38, he would win the National League Cy Young Award awarded to the best pitcher.
You’ve got to love the NHL. Tim Thomas proved that age is just a number because it took 12 years for the Boston Bruins star to establish himself as a starter. Incidentally, he was 32 when he got his opportunity, and boy, did he make the most of it. Subsequently, he would go on to win the Venezia Trophy in 2009 and 2011.
Thomas also won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011. Consequently, he’d bring home the Conn Smyth Award for playoff MVP. While this shows just how good he was, above all, it made him the oldest player to win that award. Patience certainly paid off for Thomas.
It’s crazy to think about this, but Randy Couture didn’t even start MMA until he was 33. Although he would become a household name and one of the most iconic figures in the sport, he was very late to the game. After serving seven years in the US military as well as several years training in Olympic wrestling, Couture finally turned his attention to MMA while coaching at Oregon State University.
His career has become a thing of legend, as he became the UFC’s first-ever two-weight champion. Couture won both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles while competing in a record 15 title fights along the way. Oh, and by the way, he’s also the oldest UFC champion of all time at the age of 45.
It should come as no surprise that Casey Affleck wants to make a movie about Josh Hamilton because the dude’s life is insane. A first pick in the 1999 draft, it was four years later before Hamilton would actually make his debut for the Cubs after succumbing to drug addiction. As a result, he had to fight his way out of that downward spiral.
Hamilton was briefly clean in 2004 but quickly fell back into his old habits. In 2007 he finally began to show his potential and would next end up with the Rangers. Finally he’d found the place where he could settle and focus on baseball. Incredibly, he’d become a five-time All-Star.
Astonishingly, Swahn is only the second oldest athlete on this list. The Swedish marksman took part in the 1908 London Summer Games when he was 60. His skill with a rifle was as magnificent as his glorious flowing beard. Swahn showed that his eyes definitely weren’t deteriorating with age as he brought home two gold medals.
Swahn won the Running Deer and Single Shot events, while he’d also help bring home a team bronze in the Running Deer double-shot event. Nope, we don’t know what that means either. But in short, he’s the oldest Olympic gold medallist of all time.
These days Dikembe Mutombo is as well known for his humanitarian work as he is for his skills on the basketball court. The former Congolese player was attending Georgetown University with the hope of becoming a doctor when he was roped into playing basketball.
A natural athlete, he would quickly adapt to the sport and would use his giant stature to physically dominate opponents. Subsequently, he’d end up winning the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award four times, and would also become one of the most decorated defensive players of all-time.
China’s Li Na was always a decent player who would usually fall short at the final hurdle. It would take her twelve years to win her first Grand Slam singles event in the 2011 French Open. This opened the floodgates, and she’d go on to capture her second and final Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2013. She was 32 at the time.
Na is not just an excellent tennis player, but also a major inspiration for Asian athletes. She proved that they can be successful at the very highest level. The Chinese player would win a total of nine WTA titles throughout her career. In addition, she rose to second in the world rankings.
If you look up late bloomer in the dictionary, there will probably be a picture of Nash. After a very average career in his twenties, most people thought he’d just fizzle out and disappear. Well, the opposite happened. The NBA star’s best years came in his thirties.
He won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award two years running at ages 31 and 32. The Canadian was a runner-up the following year when he was 33. Nash continued playing until the age of 41 when persistent nerve injuries forced him to call it an illustrious 19-year career.
First of all, it’s insane that we are even talking about this man as an athlete. Fauja Singh is a British Sikh marathon runner who also happens to be 108 years young. Yes, you read that right. Above all, Singh is an inspiration, only entering the world of marathon racing when he was 89.
Ordinarily, most pensioners aren’t running around the place like Singh. This incredible man has set many world records. Singh was the first centenarian to complete a marathon after he set the record in 2013. While he no longer takes part in the long event, usually he will still run each day for his health.
The Lakers power forward Anthony Davis is a six-time NBA All-Star as well as an Olympic gold medalist with the US men’s national team. But things might have been very different if he hadn’t of had a ridiculous growth spurt in his high school sophomore year. First of all, he struggled to get any game time because of his height, but then everything changed.
Soon he grew to a massive 6′ 10″, with a wingspan of over seven feet. As a result, he became the target of many scouts and would afterward sign for the Pelicans. Since then his career has gone from strength-to-strength. Finally, Davis was the youngest ever player to score 59 points in an NBA game.
Marciano is a legendary figure in boxing, and that’s why it’s wild to remember that he didn’t even enter the sport until the age of 25. Subsequently, he’d go on to become the heavyweight champion of the world and the only heavyweight champ to retire unbeaten. His reign would continue until he was 32.
Marciano was known for his ferocious fighting style as well as his brutal knockout power. Compared to many of his contemporaries, he had a ridiculously durable chin and also a knockout rate of nearly 90%. Now regarded as one of the greatest of all-time, he was a force to be reckoned with.
Most athletes peak in their late twenties and early thirties, but now and again, somebody comes along who just totally bucks that trend. That’s where Johnson comes into the equation. Usually, a man of his size wouldn’t prosper as a baseball pitcher, but Johnson blossomed and competed in the MLB for 22 seasons.
First of all, Johnson didn’t make it to the Majors until the age of 25. That’s quite late but it actually helped him perfect his game. The former Mariners star had a pitching speed of 100 mph. Incidentally, this 6′ 10″ giant played until the age of 46 and is now a Hall of Famer.
2019 was definitely the year of Megan Rapinoe. Of course, it’s not totally true to say it that she’s a late bloomer in terms of talent, but you could definitely say so about her fame. The 34-year-old captained the USWNT to World Cup glory, and as a result, became an international sports icon.
Her bright purple hair and fearless attitude towards the political issues of the day, combined with her abilities on the pitch certainly made her stand out. It seems like Rapinoe’s fame is here to stay, even though it came in the twilight of her athletic career. The two-time World Cup winner also took home the Golden Ball award this year.
It’s crazy to think that Duncan always wanted to be an Olympic swimmer. Instead, he became an elite basketball player. Duncan hailed from Saint Croix in the Virgin Islands and spent his early years trying to become a top US competitor. But then Hurricane Hugo came along and destroyed his team’s pool.
Most people would probably give up then, but not Duncan. He turned to basketball in high school and would go on to grow nine inches. Next, he’d win Player of the Year during his senior year at Wake Forest. As a result, Duncan was signed by the San Antonio Spurs. He is regarded as arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history.
If you know anything about Kurt Warner, you won’t be surprised he’s considered the greatest undrafted NFL player of all-time. His late bloom is a classic story in football history. First of all, he was passed over in the draft in 1994. Later, he’d play in the Arena Football League. Finally, in 1998 he got his chance with the St. Louis Rams.
Warner was third string for a year, so he’d never have expected what happened next. When Rams starting quarterback Trent Green got injured in the preseason before the 1999 year, Warner was there to save the day. He would go on to throw 41 TDS and 4,353 yards while helping the Rams to win Super Bowl XXIV. As a result, he’d pick up both the league MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards at 28 years old.
The WBC heavyweight champion of the world only entered the sport of boxing because of his daughter. Wilder started boxing when he was 20 years old and would go on to become an Olympic bronze medalist. In 2015, the Alabama native became the first American heavyweight champion in nine years, so he’s definitely worthy of a place on this list.
“The Bronze Bomber” looks set to fight Tyson Fury in a rematch if he can get past the dangerous threat of Luis Ortiz first. With 40 knockout wins in 42 fights, he’s probably the most frightening power puncher on the planet today. Above all, Wilder’s career proves good things can come late.