From Superstar to no Star: Athlete Careers That Were cut Short
“He’s going to be the next…..”
“We have a future (fill in the blank) on our hands”
“Wait until he hits his prime”
“He’s a future Hall of Famer”
These were many of the cliches’ that described athletes over the course of time. There have been many a high school/college phenoms that have come out and fizzled under the burden of injuries, miscalculated career-shortening moves, and the grueling perseverance it takes to succeed as an athlete. These athletes are ones that have that “what could have been, should have been” stigma. I didn’t include athletes that have passed away because we all know you can’t necessarily help that.
However, the athletes that made this list either succumbed to injuries, drug use, or have had bad attitudes that shortened their careers.
I’m picking him because he has the massive “what-if” factor. What if he had better personnel handling his finances? What if long time friend/guardian and trainer Cus D’ Amato didn’t pass so early in Tyson’s life? What if he didn’t waste almost 4 years of his boxing career in jail because of a (some would say frivolous and bogus) rape charge? What if his personal life wasn’t in shambles? If there was a Mt. Rushmore of Athletes during the 1980’s early 90’s he would have been on it. He was the youngest World Heavyweight Boxing Champion by the age of 20. By his 23rd birthday he was 37-0 with virtually all of his opponents being knocked out in the first round. Seriously, if you blinked the match was done. Ask Michael Spinks.
Known for his sculpted compact physique, intimidating stare and punching power, he was a force to be reckoned with. Tyson was one of the first, if not thee first to have his own video game ‘Mike Tyson’s Punchout’ which was for Nintendo. Although he lost to James ‘Buster’ Douglas in 1990, he was still a feared fighter. Soon thereafter, he was accused and later convicted of raping former Miss America Desiree Washington in 1991, and sentenced for it in 1992.
After being released in 1995 he tried to recapture that aura, but it wasn’t to be. Yes, he had a fabulous win-to-loss record but the mystique had waned. After Losses to Evander Holyfield (1996 and 1997) he couldn’t recover. And when he lost Lennox Lewis in 2002 (I personally rooted for Tyson here) he was all but done. He retired officially in 2005.
Vincent “Bo” Jackson:
Another athlete who would have been on the Mt. Rushmore of sports. He was the first pro athlete to play in two different sports (baseball and football). Blessed with brute strength and blazing speed he was fit for both. He has thrown out base runners from center field, or left defenders in his path racing for yards as a running back. Sometimes he dragged them with him when running for touchdowns. A standout college athlete, Jackson carried that into the pro sports realm. A devastating hip injury ended his football career at the age of 28 and three years later he retired from baseball. He was a pop culture icon and was known for his catchphrase “Bo Knows”.
Kerry Wood/Mark Prior:
Two flame throwers who pitched for the Chicago Cubs whose careers were cut short because of injury. Although Wood played until age 35, his peak years were done by his mid 20’s. Wood and Prior became a formidable one-two punch for the Chicago Cubs in the early 2000’s as they were six outs away from the World Series in 2003. That same year, Mark Prior went 18-6 and was 3rd in the N.L in ERA (2.43) and was 2nd in strikeouts (245) behind who? If you guessed Kerry Wood you’re right. Injuries derailed his career and he was out of the league by the age of 26.
In 1998, Kerry won the N.L. Rookie of the year and tied Roger Clemens record by striking out 20 batters in a game. He had 200+ strikeouts in four of his first five seasons and led the league with 266 in 2003. Like teammate Mark Prior, an assortment of injuries kept him from having what was pegged to be a very promising career.
The man affectionately known as “grandmamma” took the league by storm after coming out of U.N.L.V. in 1991. In College, with teammates Stacey Augmon and Anderson Hunt, they led the Running Rebels to an undefeated season and two runs at the NCAA title.
Johnson and Alonzo Mourning took the Charlotte Hornets from a joke to a dangerous team. His chiseled physique, power, mid range game, and leaping ability made him a force on the court. In his first five years Johnson was named Rookie of The Year, named to All-NBA 2nd team, and was an all-star twice. He averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds with Charlotte, but a back injury relegated him to a role player (albeit a good one) after being traded to the Knicks in 1996. It finally took its toll on him as he retired at the age of 32.
Drafted in 1989 by the Seattle Supersonics, Kemp blossomed into a great player. He was a six-time all-star, and named to three ALL NBA 2nd teams. His leaping ability, quickness, and basketball IQ made him great on defense. A soft jump shot, and high-flying rim rattling dunks made him a dynamo on offense. He and Gary Payton were a strong tandem, and their fast break ‘alley-oop’ dunks were a thing of beauty.
Although Shawn’s career didn’t end that early, he was all but done by the age of 30. Dramatic weight gain and inept play punched his ticket out of the NBA. Just a small sample of the player we knew as Shawn Kemp:
This is a sad case because from 1995-’98 he was one of the premier players in the NBA. During this period he was a 4-time all-star, named to two all-NBA teams, and played on the 2000 Olympic basketball team. After the lockout shortened season (1998-99), Vin was given a huge contract by the Super Sonics which soon became synonymous with his weight. His performance declined dramatically and it was soon discovered he was also having battles with alcoholism, to where he even drank mouthwash to get a buzz. He bounced around with three other teams and was gone from the NBA soon thereafter.
Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden:
Another very sad case of a career gone awry. Unfortunately Gooden’s career was during a time where crack/cocaine were rampant in sports. He was a true phenom in every sense of the word.
In 1984, at the tender age of 19 he had a year for the ages. Doc went 17-9, posted a 2.60 ERA, and led the league with 276 strikeouts. His second year he did better: 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games, 8 shutouts, and 268 strikeouts. He won a Cy young award in 1985, a title with the Mets in 1986, and had 120 wins by the age of 27. Although he had moderate success for the rest of his career, drugs, alcohol, and run-ins with police derailed any chance of him being a Hall of Fame player.
Coincidentally a teammate of Dwight Gooden and he was another player who was Hall of Fame bound. Strawberry had one of the sweetest swings I’ve ever seen. He was Rookie Of The Year in 1983 and was named to the MLB All star team the next eight years. He, like Gooden had battles with drugs, alcohol, and police and his career sputtered as a result. Unlike Gooden he also battled cancer.
Early in his career he was one of the favorites to make a run at Hank Aaron’s home run record, but finished with only 335 by the time he retired at age 37.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway:
Fame, fortune, his own sneakers, sneaker commercial what more could you ask for? How about playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal, and leading the Orlando Magic to the NBA finals in just your second year in the league? Hardaway had quite the resume his first 5 years in the NBA. Don’t believe me?
* Top 10 in MVP voting (1995, 1996)
* 4 time NBA All Star (1995-1998),
* Among the league leaders in assists and steals
* All-NBA 1st team (1994-96) All-NBA 3rd team (1997)
* Played on the 1996 Gold Medal winning USA basketball team.
At 6’7″ and 215 lbs he was a match up nightmare for opposing players and coaches. He had the height and size to overpower smaller point guards, the quickness to match up with 2- guards, and could hold his own against any small forward. However, all this came to an end as a plethora of knee injuries including two microfracture surgeries destroyed his quickness and athleticism. And although he showed flashes of his old self later in his career, he was done and soon retired by the age of 36.
There you have it folks, the superstar to no stars list. What do you think? If you feel there any athletes that deserve to be on this list that I may have omitted, let me know down below. Curious to know who you come up with.