Yao Ming and 20 Athletes We Wish Had Healthier Careers

Dan TylickiAnalyst IDecember 16, 2010

Yao Ming and 20 Athletes We Wish Had Healthier Careers

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    There many been many players throughout sports who we would consider among the greatest players to play their respective sports. These, of course, are household names,even to people that may not be fans of the sport.

    There is another group of athletes, however, that could have belonged somewhere near that group had things worked out better for them. These are players who either had solid careers that could have been amazing, or careers that never really took off to begin with. A couple of them will still end up in the Hall of Fame, which only makes us wonder if they could have ended up as the face of sports.

Yao Ming

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    We have seen how good the first overall pick of the 2002 NBA Draft can be. In the 2005-06 NBA season, after three solid seasons to start off, he was turning into a franchise player, averaging 22.3 points and ten boards. However, the following two seasons he only played about 50 games each. He continued to put up great numbers, but wasn't on the court as much.

    He later missed the entire 09-10 season, and he ended up playing in only five games this season. Now, he's likely going to be out for the 10-11 season due to a stress fracture, and he could very well be done in the NBA. He could have been a perennial all-star and in the Hall of Fame had be stayed healthy.

Gale Sayers

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    Gale Sayers is a Hall of Famer and one of the Chicago Bears' many elite running backs. So, how many full seasons (10+ games) did he play? Four.

    He put up great numbers the first three and a half seasons before tearing ligaments in his knee and being out for the season. He made a strong return in 1969 and passed the 1,000 yeard rushing mark, then after playing four games over two seasons, he retired.

    When he was on the field, he was great, but he wasn't on the field all that long. Imagine if he was.

Grant Hill

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    When you think of good basketball players that could have been great, Grant Hill is one of the first to come to mind. A star out of Duke, Hill was great for his first five seasons, wrapping up with 25.8 PPG for Detroit in the 1999-00 season. Once he was traded to Orlando, everything went downhill.

    Due to a myriad of injuries, he did not play 60 games again until 04-05 and 82 until 08-09. He had a great career when he was young and old. If he wasn't completely out of commission during his prime, he would have been an all-time great.

Mark Prior

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    Cubs fans seem to get the worst luck when it comes to health. Prior was one of several Cubs that had promising beginnings, going 18-6 in 2002. After that, however, he had multiple injuries, and missed some playing time each season after that.

    After struggled in the 2006 season, he needed multiple shoulder surgeries, and despite a series of comeback attempts, hasn't been able to replicate his early success.

Kerry Wood

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    Cut from the same thread as Prior is Kerry Wood, who won Rookie of the Year in 1998 and had a few soid seasons to start off his career. Like Prior though, he had a string of injuries that caused him to pitcher fewer and fewer innings until he was converted into a closer in 2008.

    While he's handled relief duty well so far, he could have been one of the top aces had he stayed healthy.

Sterling Sharpe

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    The older brother of Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe may have been the better football player. In seven full seasons, he caught 595 passes for over 8,000 yards, and became the first player to catch 100 passes in two straight seasons.

    However, in 1994, he suffered a neck injury in his prime, and his career ended abruptly. Just as the Packers' dynasty in the 90s was getting going, it was without Sharpe. Imagine how many Super Bowls they could have won or how many yards Sharpe could have put up.

Bill Walton

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    Despite his injuries, Walton was one of the premier centers to play the game, and as a result became a Hall of Famer. He only passed the 60 game mark three times in his career. given how dominant he was in the playing time he did have, he could have been one of the top few centers to play the game even if he just had 8-10 full seasons. 

Dizzy Dean

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    When a guy gets 150 wins and makes the Hall of Fame, he must have been dominant. In 1934, he went 30-7 with a 2.66 ERA, and even after a broken toe in 1937, he was still able to be dominant. However, he had to change his mechanics and retired early, ending his short but great career with a 150-83 record.

Daunte Culpepper

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    For a short time, Culpepper was great. He started as the Vikings quarterback for five seasons and turned Randy Moss into a household name. In 2004, he threw for 4717 yards and 39 touchdowns.

    When he suffereed injuried to his MCL, PCL, and ACL a season later, he was never the same, and his comeback attempts seemed hard to watch, since we knew how great he had been before.

Mickey Mantle

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    Mickey Mantle's many injuries are just part of his great Yankee legacy. Anyone who manages three MVP awards while having chronic knee problems, possibly a torn ACL, back before those were identified, and started his career off with osteomyelitis clearly could have had "all-time greatest" numbers in a healthier body.

Eric Lindros

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    I may not be a hockey follower, but Eric Lindros still came to my mind instantly for this slide. Lindros was a great hockey player and a former first overall draft pick who suffered through many injuries, including concussions and a collapsed lung. He only passed the 70 game mark a handful of times, and did not become the great he could have been.

Bo Jackson

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    Bo Jackson is known for three things: being one of the great two-sport stars to play the games, being the go-to guy in Tecmo Super Bowl, and a guy who suffered a serious hip injury, yet tried to mount a baseball comeback and did so. He probably still could have played, but chose not to instead of playing at 50% capacity.

    Could he have been good enough to land in two halls of fame?

Ralph Sampson

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    Sampson was a former number one draft pick (seeing a pattern here?) who started off great for the Houston Rockets. He played three full seasons and averaged 20 points a game before injuries began to take their toll. After the 85-86 season, he only payed in 60 games once and never got back to his early glory.

    For those feeling bad for Houston with their center luck, in between the two they had Hakeem Olajuwon, so they managed.

Terrell Davis

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     In his first four seasons, Davis was an elite running back. In 1998, he ran for 2,008 yards to top three Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl win. Later on, he tore his ACL and MCL, and after surgeries on his knees he played infrequently for four seasons before retiring.

    Even if you just double his career to eight years, he could have had 13,000-14,000 yards and been considered an all-time great running back.

Lou Gehrig

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    How was Lou Gehrig not healthy? He played over 2,000 straight games, 2,130 to be exact.

    The reason it ended, though, was due to his retirement, the result of what now has his namesake, Lou Gehrig's disease. He's already considered one of the best Yankees to pay the game, but had he not been stricken, he likely could have played another 5-6 seasons.

Tony Conigliaro

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     Conigliaro was a Red Sox icon. He had played four great seasons until he was hit in the eye with a pitch in 1967. He returned to the diamond in 1969 and won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. He hit 30+ HR in two straight seaons, but shortly after retired due to his eyesight remaining an issue.

    The Tony Conigliaro Award is named in his honor for those who could overcome adversity, so despite never having the stats he could have, there is something in his honor.

Joe Namath

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    Best remembered for Super Bowl III, Joe Namath did not have the career his legacy may make it seem. After five solid seasons as quarterback, injuries caused him to miss most of the next two seasons, as well as most of 1973. This combined with a lack of mobility made it impressive that he was able to be as good a quarterback as he was.

Reggie Lewis

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    Originally after Larry Bird retired, the Celtics didn't worry too much, as they had their next leader in Reggie Lewis. In 1991-92 and 92-93, he made an All-Star team and averaged 20 points a game. Tragically though , he had some heart troubles, and died suddenly in July 1993 while practicing for the upcoming season. His legacy, as a result, was left unfinished.

Ernie Davis

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    Ernie Davis, Syracuse running back, was an all-time great college back who won the Heisman in 1961, and was the number one draft pick in 1962. Tragically, he never played a game in the NFL after being diagnosed with leukemia, dying in 1963. He had all the talent of Syracuse and Browns legend Jim Brown, and could have been the next big thing.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

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    2781 hits, 630 HR, an MVP, and 1836 RBI. Imagine how good those stats would be if he didn't miss sizable chunks of six seasons due to multiple injuries. He'd be the face of the 1990s, which he was to an extent.