Reality can sometimes be as cold as a Jersey winter. The talent of these 11 players was uncompromising, however their play never quite paralleled their talent. The success that seemed so imminent early in their careers would eventually give way to the cold reality that it simply was not meant to be.
The NBA is littered with could-ofs, has-beens and never-was. Yet, it will always be the guys who managed to captivate us that are permanent fixtures in our NBA memory cards.
These players were stars that shined so bright you could not help but be in awe of them. However, they could never sustain that brightness and the very next night they were gone leaving us with nothing but bittersweet memories.
Three players on this list appear headed to this dreaded fraternity. Let us all hope they make a detour and capitalize on their breathtaking ability.
D.C. was the undisciplined version of Dirk Nowitzki and was a true offensive juggernaut. Unfortunately, his attitude was crabby like seafood and while his teammates loved him his coaches shall we say “tolerated” him.
His game was in a word special. The 6’10" power forward was the first pick in the 1990 NBA Draft ahead of future Hall of Famer Gary Payton. On the surface Coleman had a solid NBA career. He played 14 years, averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds and one block for good measure. Not bad at all, but one had to see D.C. to fully over-stand what he should have been.
Coleman could bring the ball up the floor and initiate the offense, post up his man, cross you up, bang over you or pull up for a three. Yes he was that nice. He was a left-handed nightmare for his opponents.
His game was bad, not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good. However, because of his attitude Coleman became the poster child for what was wrong with the NBA. In the 1994 FIBA World Championship, he, along with Shawn Kemp and Larry Johnson, dunked their way to a gold medal and in the process gained the disdain of many NBA fans.
Their brash play and overt aggressiveness turned off most viewers. While Kemp and LJ would distance themselves to some extent Coleman never could.
This perception and his habitual attendance on underachieving teams sums up D.C.’s career. For all of his talent, Coleman only played in 39 playoff games and made it to the second round of the playoffs once. Such a big-time talent should have found his way to bigger results.
No player in the NBA is as violent as Stoudemire on the offensive side of the floor. He is explosive, powerful and unmerciful driving to the basket. Stoudemire also has developed a consistent face-up jumper to go with his forays to the hoop. Few players in the NBA can run a pick and roll to the level of perfection like Amar‘e, but that’s where his games drops off drastically.
Stoudemire is a suspect rebounder and defender in accordance with his athletic ability. A player that smart and that athletically superior should be required to have more than a paltry nine boards a game. That is one of the correctable deficiencies in Stat’s game that he has yet to correct. His matador riverboat style defense is at times appalling and at other times laughable.
What makes this so disappointing in Stat's case is these are things that would elevate his game to a top five level, which is where his talent currently resides. The Knicks' bruiser manages to register a block a game, but they are more times than not coming from the weakside, which breaks down a defense. His strength and high basketball IQ enable him to be a much better defender, but his mindset is set to flashy and flamboyant.
This type of play has to frustrate coaches and fans alike of the high school phenom. When his game is on the forward he's a bona-fide star who could lead a team to 50-plus wins and perennial trips to at least the Conference Finals.
Yet he seems content on being a SportsCenter and YouTube baller who occasionally has substantial playoffs runs, which make him thus far in his career disappointing to say the least.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was a basketball marvel early in his career who later turned into a walking episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Hardaway could dominate the 1, 2 or 3 position on the floor and was a natural scorer. He could finish with either hand and had unbelievable body control.
He was long, or better yet wiry in stature, but deceptively strong. Penny could defend point guards with his cat like quickness, shooting guards with his explosive first step and small forwards with his strength. On offense he could not be stopped.
He was on full display from 1993-97. Penny in his first season led the Orlando Magic to their first ever playoff berth, which speaks volumes about him considering that was Shaq’s second season in the league. Offensively Penny had no holes in his game and few players handled Michael Jordan as effortlessly as he did. Penny was a nightmare for all teams, not just the Bulls.
In the 1997 NBA playoffs Penny, almost in a tantalizing tease, showed us all what he was capable of. The Magic were down 0-2 to the Miami Heat, who were ranked in the top three in every important defensive category that season, and looked to be heading towards a sweep. Hardaway would lead a furious comeback in that series by scoring back-to-back 40-point games, and he is still the only player to do that against a Pat Riley-coached team.
The Magic would lose Game Five and we would never see that Penny again. Injuries would begin to ravage his promising career.
In all Penny would only play an entire season three times in his injury-marred disappointing career, much to the chagrin of those who watched him play at Memphis and early in his career. Knee injuries robbed him of his explosiveness and he would never display the full arsenal of his offensive weaponry again. For four of his 14 seasons the guard was a sight to behold and something to be remembered.
Shawn Kemp was a gift from the basketball gods and if you were lucky enough to partake in his game pre-Tyrone Biggums, then you are still shaking your head in disbelief. The man could do everything you wanted your big man to do and more. He ran the floor so effortlessly, rebounded over the crowd as if they never left their feet and would dunk on his way down. He was pure and raw.
After leaving Kentucky, he enrolled at a community college in Texas and then entered the 1989 NBA draft. The 6’10" power forward was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round. He was not an instant success, but once he arrived he began reigning on the heads of his foes.
In fact Kemp's dunks were so nice that he once gave Chris Gatling an immediate dap.
He was the perfect storm and his reign from 1990-97 was legendary. Kemp was traded from Seattle to the Cleveland Cavaliers before the start of the 1997-98 season. The All-Star forward requested the trade after reading that “perennial All-Star” Jim Mcllvine was slated to make $4 million more than him. Mcllvine, who single-handedly set Caucasian basketball players back by at least 100 years, signed as a free agent with the club.
The disappointment here is drugs, women, greed and alcohol robbed Shawn Kemp of any type of Hall of Fame career. He would play 14 years in the NBA, with the last six years resembling nothing like the form he so poetically displayed in Seattle.
Yes Latrell Sprewell went after Jerome Kersey with a two-by-four. Yes Sprewell aka Bart Simpson choked then Golden State Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo. This aside, for a small window the man known as Spree was one hell of a basketball player.
From 1992-97 he was one of the top scoring guards in the league. Spree thrived playing in Don Nelson’s “screw defense” system and the Warriors looked poised to be one of the teams of the future with Spree and Webber as their building blocks. Yet, as with every member on this list, things did not go as planned and Spree’s disappointing downfall would take place.
Webber was traded to the Bullets, Don Nelson left and the Warriors were hit with a rash of bad drafting. Spree remained with the club, but was eventually ousted after a miniscule spat with then head coach P.J. Carlesimo.
When Sprewell arrived in New York he was not the player who had Derrick Rose speed combined with Dominique Wilkins hops. Instead he was a defeated man who still had the pride and heart to play at a high level, but had lost the edge that made him one of the game's most exciting players.
Spree would help the Knicks make a title run during the NBA lockout shortened 1998-99 season, but never quite returned to form. He would finish his career in Minnesota and despite playing fairly well, he was again a shell of the magnificent firecracker who fearlessly exploded to the basket. The disappointment here is that such a talented player allowed himself to be burdened and begrudged by such a senseless act.
Patrick Ewing’s disappointment stems from always finding a way to lose. Ewing was the first pick in the 1985 NBA Draft and immediately gave hope to a downtrodden franchise.
The problem was Ewing was the epitome of your best is just not good enough. He gave his life to the New York Knicks' franchise but never gave them a championship. The disappointment in it all is there was nothing more he could have done. His knees were shot as early as 1986 yet he still managed to be a force in his career. Despite playing with tremendous courage year in and out, the results remained the same.
He played injured and hurt but always came up short. Numbers do not do the Knick great justice because his best talent was immeasurable. Ewing played with heart and true grit, these talents can never be measured by a stat sheet.
In life it is permissible to have selective memory when dealing with failures of the past, especially when it is your hero who bears the weight of each humbling defeat. Ewing’s playing career ended when he was traded unceremoniously to the Seattle Sonics. He is remembered for many different things, none of which is for being a champion.
Has there ever been a more fluid scorer to grace the NBA hardwood? The answer is debatable, however McGrady’s presence in the conversation is not. Time has given people an excuse to forget about McGrady and has given the prolific scorer an opportunity to be forgotten. Time has allowed us to be indolent about how injuries destroyed his career and his epic playoff failures have been placed by the waste side.
McGrady had the entire scorer’s package: range, quickness, speed, hops and a high basketball IQ. He was virtually unstoppable leading the league in scoring twice, and only Kobe Bryant (35 points per in the 2006 season) and Allen Iverson (33 points per in 2006) have had a higher single-season scoring averages in the last 19 years (32 points per in the 2003 season).
Injuries are what bring about the disappointment when speaking about the former scoring champion. Scorers rarely are able to lead a team to an NBA championship and have a history of early playoff exits. McGrady’s playoff failures are well documented, including him being 0-3 in Game 7 matchups. What is not well documented is that the guard/forward has the fourth highest playoffs points-per-game average in NBA history.
Today McGrady is an injury-riddled scoring has-been, who once walked among the more accomplished players in the game. His scoring prowess is an afterthought when discussing top performers and his presence is no longer must see television.
He was once the bully of the block. The man who gave the city of Denver championship delusions and just like that he was gone. A person can spend a year and a day trying to understand the enigma that is Carmelo Anthony.
Melo was once an add water star, meaning you add him and your team is guaranteed success. He transformed the Nuggets instantly after they drafted him, as they went from 17 wins to 43. Now he has turned into “what's his name” or “you know money in New York.”
Why is a mystery that only he can solve, but it needs to be solved expeditiously if he is to regain his place among the top five players in the NBA.
A funny thing happened on Melo’s way to JFK, his game got lost. The drives to the hoop, the suddenness and the spin moves that he made so frequently in Denver had become sporadic in NY. His thunderous finishes became lay-ups and his swan-like movement without the ball now resembled Gheorghe Muresan on a fast break.
In short he was no longer Melo, he had become mellow. That is what was so disappointing about his brief time in New York and distraction-laden final season in Denver, he appears to have lost his glow.
There is, or better yet was, no excuse for his abominable playoff performance. Yes he put up nice numbers but he was not the player we have come to know and love.
There are a plethora of reasons for his drop-off but there is no excuse. Anthony is too good of a talent to get continue to have it handed to him in the first round of the playoffs year in and year out. Or is he?
The champion of contradiction will forever be a disappointment. Barkley’s lack of discipline kept him from being a champion and his lack of decorum has kept him from being taken seriously as an NBA analyst.
The Chuckster’s brutal honesty about other players' shortcomings is laughable because he speaks as if he did not do the very same thing he is chastising. Barkley’s career ended in disappointment because of him. He was his own oppressor. He was his own worst nemesis.
Barkley had the talent to be a champion and the situational desire to appear as if it mattered to him. When Barkley left the court, the game mattered less and the spoils of being a participator in the game mattered more.
To say Barkley did not care would be an unfair and ignorant statement. To say he cared about the game in the same capacity as a Wilt Chamberlain would be a pretty fair assessment. Barkley played in one NBA Finals and had it not been for the Olympics that summer, the notorious weight-room dodger would not have been in shape to make it that far.
His entire career was an exercise in contradiction. Barkley’s best attribute as a player was his rebounding which tells you how hard he played. Standing at 6’4" you could not help but root for the little man, but he always found a way to break your heart. He would gamble on a pass and miss thus compromising the defense and giving up an easy score. Sometimes the forward would take an ill-advised three-pointer simply because the rim was orange.
He was easy to love but hard to figure out. Barkley more than any player in NBA history was a prisoner of the moment. He would do anything he could to win once the game was going, but he did not duplicate that effort off the court. .
The cat known as "Half-Man Half-Amazing," or "Half-Man Half-A-Season" depending on the person you asked, will always be must see television. The NBA is filled with high flyers, but none got higher than Carter. Some may have gotten as high, but nobody got higher.
Carter came into the league known as a dunker and will leave known as a dunker. To not evolve his game and maximize his given ability was more than disappointing, it bordered on travesty.
To play that high above the rim and be able to rise so quickly, Carter should have been a much better rebounder. His 5.2 rebounds per is insulting to anyone that watched him play. His long arms and deceptive strength should have garnered much more defensive intensity from him instead of the occasional weakside block.
Carter is a YouTube Hall of Famer, but he had all the tools to build an indisputable basketball Hall of Fame resume. To have never played in the NBA Finals and have only participated in one Conference Finals matchup with that much natural talent is unconscionable. Carter’s talent demanded more of him and while he did achieve some level of success he had the skill set to fly even higher..
He came to us from a place where poverty was prevalent and ignorance was reinforced. He is the quintessential disappointer, not from his lack of effort but from his lack of understanding. A.I.’s entire life was made possible by his iron will.
He trusted himself to defy all odds and to be dominant regardless of the situation. The will to domination is a ravenous beast and that beast lived in the heart of Iverson.
Iverson’s unyielding desire for the moment compromised his understanding of the process. The disappointment with the six foot mercurial guard is that he never held the people around him to the same standards that he held for himself.
He never demanded that the Sixers get better talent around him, because he felt like he could do it regardless.
The guard never thought about the next game because to him all that mattered was the current game, which is why he played it like it was his last.
Instead of privately feuding with head coach Larry Brown, Iverson needed to publicly blast the coach for his horrendous drafting. When the 76ers lost, it was never because of Iverson, yet he allowed people to believe it was. He never understood that you need at least a gun to win a gunfight.
The man is mimicked for a rant that actually had nothing to do with practice, but rather how they had just been eliminated from the playoffs. Iverson needed to demand the same level of accountability that the 76ers’ brass publicly requested of him.
To him the Sixers were his family and he loved them to a fault, when he should have loved them to a point. His legacy and his career is what suffered from their ineptitude.
He carried them to heights they were not prepared to reach, nor equipped to handle. A.I. needed to rule the land by the same rules the villagers lived by. That was not A.I. He had a champion’s heart but not a champion’s mindset.
Sadly the sun set on one of the game's truest soldiers whose armor displays the chinks of battles he was never supposed to be a part of.