Athletes often loom larger-than-life thanks to the impressive feats of skill that we see them perform virtually every time that they step into the arena.
Every now and then, however, we receive a sobering reminder of how fleeting life actually is. And just as we cheered them while they were living, we should also make it a point to celebrate them in death as well, never forsaking the memories that they provided us which will last a lifetime.
In the wake of the tragic death of former NFL star Junior Seau, here are seven former NBA stars who we lost way too soon.
None of us ever got the chance to see how great 22-year-old University of Maryland star Len Bias could have been in the NBA. Two days after he was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1986, Bias died of a cocaine overdose.
The thought of Bias—one of the greatest players in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference—joining a team that included Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale likely sent shivers through the rest of the NBA. Unfortunately, that lineup would never take the court at the same time.
The death of Bias lead to both stricter anti-drug laws and NCAA regulations. In 2009, Bias' life and impact was chronicled in the ESPN documentary Without Bias.
Boston Celtics guard Reggie Lewis was in the midst of a stellar career before he collapsed and died in the summer of 1993. The 6'7", 195-pound Lewis had just finished a campaign in which he averaged 20.8 points per game. An All-Star in 1992, Lewis was set to be the Celtics' franchise player in the post-Larry Bird era.
The sudden death of Lewis was caused by a structural heart defect, and the 27-year-old had shown signs of heart problems months earlier when he collapsed during Boston's first-round playoff series against the Charlotte Hornets.
At a ceremony during the 1994-95 season, the Celtics retired Lewis' No. 35 jersey.
Standing 7'7" and reed-thin at 200 pounds, former center Manute Bol was one of the most unique talents in the history of the NBA.
Bol excelled at only one thing (shot-blocking) but he was a master of the art. His career average of 3.3 blocks per game ranks second all-time, and his mere presence in the lane forced opposing teams to adjust their offensive strategies. He finished his NBA career with 2,086 blocks and only 1,599 points.
Bol's impact was felt far beyond the basketball court, however: he used his money and celebrity to support his native country of Sudan. Bol, who died from kidney failure in 2010 at the age of 47, also ran a basketball school after his NBA career was over. One of the students in that school was current Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng.
While most remember Drazen Petrovic from his time with the New Jersey Nets, he was a star in both Spain and Yugoslavia long before he joined the NBA—and the Portland Trail Blazers—in 1989.
On some level, perhaps it's ironic that Petrovic got his start with the Trail Blazers. The 6'5" shooting guard was one of the first Europeans to make a successful transition into the NBA, and his play opened the doors for others such as Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.
Petrovic finished his NBA career with the third-best three-point percentage in league history (43.7 percent).
Petrovic was inducted the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007, 14 years after he passed away in a fatal car accident on the Autobahn at the age of 28. Anthony Morrow (currently of the New Jersey Nets) honored Petrovic by wearing his jersey during the Three-Point Shootout this year.
Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish get the lion's share of the credit, but the Boston Celtics likely wouldn't have won NBA titles in 1984 and 1986 if it weren't for Dennis Johnson.
The 6'4" point guard had already led the Seattle SuperSonics to a championship in 1979 before linking up with the Celtics in 1983.
Once in Boston, "DJ" assumed the role of a playmaker/defensive specialist. Including his time with Seattle and Phoenix, Johnson made the NBA's All-Defensive Team in nine consecutive seasons.
In 1991, legendary Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson wrote that the Celtics point guard was "the best backcourt defender of all time."
Johnson turned to scouting and coaching in his later years, and the 52-year-old suffered a fatal heart attack in 2007 while coaching the Austin Toros of the NBA D-League.
The play of Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio often evokes the name of "Pistol" Pete Maravich, but the comparison is unfair to both men.
Not only was Maravich a fantastic playmaker who dazzled crowds with his dribbling and passing ability, but he was also a transcendent talent who could score from anywhere on the floor.
The five-time NBA All-Star averaged 24.2 points per game during his career, despite the fact that the three-point line wasn't instituted until his final season. Maravich was named to the league's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team back in 1996, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.
The 40-year-old Maravich died after suffering a heart attack after a pickup game, and with his death, we lost the man whom the Hall of Fame refers to as "perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history."
Wilt Chamberlain's numbers are the stuff of video games. Most basketball fans know that he scored 100 points in a single game, but he also once had a single-season scoring average of 50.4 points per game (1961-62), and he had career averages of 30.1 PPG and 22.9 RPG.
"The Big Dipper" is one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA, and the pride of Overbrook High School in Philadelphia cast a shadow that was almost larger than the game itself.
The 7'1" Chamberlain is solely responsible for a number of rule changes, including the widening of the lane so that he would be unable to post up close to the basket.
Chamberlain died in 1999 due to congestive heart failure, but his records and legendary stature in the game of basketball will live on forever.