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25 Most Disappointing Unfulfilled Legacies in Basketball History

David DanielsSenior Writer IDecember 23, 2011

25 Most Disappointing Unfulfilled Legacies in Basketball History

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    While the vast majority of NBA players are forgotten, many don't fade from memory banks because of a lack of talent.

    These ballers' natural, insane physical gifts and supreme skill sets were so eye-catching that even Michael Jordan could tell that they were called to ball.  These athletes oozed potential.  You could call them homeless because they had no ceiling.

    Born with a map to Everest in hand, many weren’t interested in following the Yellow Brick Road while others were involuntarily taken off the path that had been paved.  These basketball players would’ve, could’ve and should’ve been known as the greatest to ever grace the hardwood, and while a select few accomplished much, not a single one fulfilled the entirety of their potential.  Ah…the infamous P-word; if only it were guaranteed…

    Victims to injury, substance abuse, death and the sin of sloth, here are the 25 most disappointing unfulfilled legacies in basketball history.

Honorable Mention: Ronnie Fields

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    Star Is Born

    You know the dude on the left.  The guy on the right: Chicago legend, Ronnie Fields.  Words straight from Kevin Garnett’s mouth (via TFB): “I had a teammate in Ronnie Fields that was probably better than I was.”

    Considering that the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Garnett fifth overall straight out of high school, that's extremely high praise.  Parade Magazine ranked Fields the third-best player in the nation as the 6'2" guard familiarized himself with being extremely high as much as possible.  No, not with marijuana, but playing above the rim.

    As much as KG loved to dunk in his prime, Fields threw it down at an even higher rate.  Comparisons to Michael Jordan stemmed from Fields’ 50-inch vertical.  Fields had stardom within his reach and even if that glory was 12 feet in the air he could’ve leaped up and snatched it.

     

    What Went Wrong

    His senior season, Fields broke his neck in a car accident.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    He wouldn’t have been the next MJ, but he would’ve been a physical force.  Opposing defenders would've had nightmares attempting to check Fields with his unmatched explosiveness.  On the defensive end of the court, he would’ve used his ups to disrupt shots in a special way for a perimeter player.

25. Lamar Odom

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    Star Is Born

    There once was a basketball player that stood at 6’10, 230 pounds.  He had handles like a point, shot like a shooting guard, ran like a small forward and rebound like a center.  No, this isn’t someone I created on NBA 2K; that description matches none other than Lamar Odom.

    The Candy Man won Parade Magazine’s Player of the Year award in high school and with his size and skill set, becoming one of the greatest power forwards ever should’ve been a given.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Because I got high…yeah, this time it is about cannabis.  In 2001, Odom got suspended for violating the league’s drug policy twice for smoking marijuana and while he never got caught again, he sure played occasionally like he refused to break the habit.  His lackadaisical effort kept the key role player from becoming a superstar.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Odom develops into a matchup nightmare.  He spreads the floor in a Rashard Lewis-like manner while continuing to dominate the glass.  Twenty points, 10 boards and five assists a game would not be out of the question if Odom cared as much about basketball as he did candy.

24. Brandon Roy

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    Star Is Born

    He lacked lightning-quick feet and a sky-high vertical, but Brandon Roy made up for the elite physical gifts he failed to possess with a ridiculous skill set paired with a killer instinct.  In 2002, Roy had the talent to enter the NBA straight out of high school, but chose to pursue a college education, a decision in hindsight that looks extraordinarily wise. 

    After four years of greatness at Washington, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him sixth overall and dealt him to the Portland Trail Blazers.  Roy immediately not only made the trade seem foolish, but also the teams that passed on him as he went on to win Rookie of the Year (fun fact: MJ drafted Adam Morrison third overall that year).

     

    What Went Wrong

    Since college, Roy’s knees were his greatest rival.  Multiple surgeries to both forced Roy into retirement.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    One can only imagine...being such an incredible leader and clutch performer, Roy could’ve won multiple rings if put in the right situation.  When healthy, Roy dropped 20 points and dished out five dimes a night.  He wouldn’t have been an all-time great solely in terms of statistics, but as a winner, legendary wouldn’t have been out of the question.

23. Baron Davis

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    Star Is Born

    Baron Davis could be called the Lamar Odom of point guards.  His ability to do it all separated him from the pack at an early age. 

    In high school, he won the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest showing off his explosiveness.  At 6’3”, 215 pounds, Davis combined his athletic ability with unrivaled size and strength at the position.  While he had great physical ability, his skills were even more superb.

    At the top of his game, Davis could kill you from downtown or effortlessly penetrate and kick the rock to an open teammate, if he didn’t choose to posterize you.

     

    What Went Wrong

    After his first three seasons in the league, Davis played a full season only once in the next nine because of injuries.  Along with multiple knee surgeries, he often played with that Odom-like attitude that kept him from tearing up the league.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Davis would’ve been an All-Star every single year.  Instead of being reduced to the second tier of top point guards, he would’ve headlined the best of the best including Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Tony Parker.

22. Steve Francis

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    Star Is Born

    One of the most gifted scorers in the NBA, Steve Francis put on a show every single night.  The hybrid guard had the handles of a point and the high-flying ability of a 2.  Stevie Franchise’s didn’t only excel at penetrating the lane, though, as in his second year as a pro he increased his three-point percentage to nearly 40 percent.

    But you couldn’t call Francis one-dimensional.  He averaged six assists and almost six boards for his career despite standing at 6’3”.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Injuries and Ménière's disease, a migraine disorder, cut Francis’ career short.  Tendinitis in his right knee along with a left quad injury which required surgery led to his rapid decline.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Imagine the 2008 Houston Rockets fully healthy: Francis, Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks, Dikembe Mutombo, Rafer Alston, Kyle Lowry, Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes.  The Boston Celtics wouldn’t have stood a chance.  Francis, as a key player on that team, would’ve punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

21. Larry Johnson

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    ­­­­­­­­­Star Is Born

    Blake Griffin is the present-day Larry Johnson.

    As the No. 1 overall pick in the 1991 NBA draft, the world of basketball expected Johnson to blow up immediately and he failed to disappoint.  At 250 pounds, he had the strength to body big men in the low post, but at the same time, held unmatched athleticism at the 4.  In just his first two years in the league, he averaged almost 20 points and 10 boards a game.

     

    What Went Wrong

    A back injury which Johnson suffered in his third year in the league caused him to miss 31 games that season.  He never fully recovered and chronic back problems eventually forced him into retirement.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Johnson made the All-NBA Second Team in just his second year in the league.  If he could’ve kept up his dominance as a physical fiend until his 30s and then evolved his game as more of a perimeter player, Johnson would’ve had success into his late 30s.  Instead of his 30s, though, Johnson’s back forced him to change his game in his fourth year in the league and he shot over 38 percent from downtown.

    Johnson would’ve been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

20. Warren Jabali

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    Star Is Born

    Warren Jabali could jump and touch not just his afro, but his forehead to the rim despite being 6’2”—how's that for an introduction?  In his first two seasons in the ABA, he averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds; did I mention that he only stood at 6’2”?  As a rookie, Jabali helped lead the Oakland Oaks to an ABA Championship.

     

    What Went Wrong

    In just his third season as a pro, a knee injury sidelined Jabali and the superstar’s athletic ability deteriorated; noticing the pattern here?  After playing only seven years, knee problems led to his retirement.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Like Larry Johnson, Jabali evolved his game post-injury and became more of a three-point threat.  His ability to evolve his game proves that he could’ve put up strong numbers into his 30s and not declined with his vertical. 

    Hall of Famer Rick Barry once said of Jabali that, "No doubt he's one of the best guards I've ever played with, or against.”  Barry played against a few players that weren’t too bad in his day.

19. Shawn Kemp

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    Star Is Born

    The high-flying Shawn Kemp didn’t begin his career as an instant success, but after a couple years of development, no one could touch him.  He averaged six straight double-doubles and played his way into six straight All-Star Games.  Along with Gary Payton, Kemp carried the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals and managed to take Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls to six games.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Cleveland must have some great fast food because as soon as Seattle traded Kemp to the Cavs, he ballooned.  He played the 1998 season at 275 pounds, 45 pounds over his usual playing weight of 230.

    And Portland must have some easily accessible drug dealers—OK, I’ll stop.  After being dealt to the Trail Blazers, cocaine and alcohol teamed up with food to derail Kemp’s career.  His first season in Portland didn’t end with knee rehabilitation like so many others on this list, but drug rehabilitation.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Despite being drafted at the age of 20, Kemp only produced for 11 years.  According to Basketball-Reference.com, Kemp still has an 11 percent chance to make the Hall of Fame despite his steep decline.  If he would’ve continued to put up numbers for the entirety of his capability, his bronze-bust odds would be in the 90s.

18. Bernard King

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    Star Is Born

    You didn’t need a stat sheet in front of you to see that Bernard King could put the ball in the basket.  From above the rim to the three-point line, King could score from anywhere on the court.

    A stat sheet may not be needed to show his greatness, but I have one anyway.  Averaging over 24 points in just his rookie season, fans’ minds were doubtless that King would one day rule the league.  In 1984, his best season as a pro, he dropped two consecutive 50-point games in January and a 60-pointer on Christmas Day.

     

    What Went Wrong

    The very next year, King tore his ACL causing him to miss all but six games in the next two seasons.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Six years later, King completed his impressive comeback by increasing his scoring average back up to 28 points a game.  The seasons that his severe knee injury stole from him in his prime, though, have kept him from being elected into the Hall of Fame.  He still has a shot, but instead of going down as one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, he’s been reduced to one of the best of the rest that aren’t remembered in that top-tier.

17. Michael Ray Richardson

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    Star Is Born

    Another New York Knick and another absolute stud.  Coming into the NBA, analysts labeled Michael “Sugar” Ray Richardson the next Walt Frazier.  New York selected him over Larry Bird and early in his career, he made them look wise for doing so.  Richardson became the first player in NBA history to lead the league in assists and steals, doing so in just his second season.  

    He rode that momentum to make three straight All-Star teams.  Ironically, after signing Bernard King, the Knicks were forced to let Richardson go as compensation and the Golden State Warriors traded him to the New Jersey Nets.  As a Net, he eventually increased his scoring average to 20 points a game and earned another trip to the All-Star Game in 1985.

     

    What Went Wrong

    The very next year—I’m getting déjà vu over here—David Stern brought the hammer down on Richardson, banning him from the NBA for life after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy three times.  After being offered another chance, he tested positive for cocaine twice.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    A playmaker with the ball in his hands, Richardson would’ve complemented King well if the two played side by side.  Sugar is second in NBA history in steals per game averaging 2.63—more than Jordan, more than Scottie Pippen, more than John Stockton.  Subtract crack, lengthen Richardson’s career and he’s a legend.

16. Penny Hardaway

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    Star Is Born

    “Penny” may have not been the most appropriate nickname for Anfernee Hardaway.  You could call him Dime because of his Houdini-like passing ability.  Of course, 50 Cent could work as well; he got shot in the foot in college.

    Never mind, Penny works I guess—on to Mr. Triple Double’s game.  Hardaway did it all from the point guard position and he earned four straight trips to the All-Star Game early in his career.  During that time frame, Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets and MJ’s 72-win Bulls were the only things that stood between Penny and a pair of Larry O’Brien Trophies.

     

    What Went Wrong

    After Shaquille O’Neal bolted, the injuries began to pile up for Hardaway.  Four operations on his left knee reduced the All-Star to a role player.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Shaq didn’t end up being the last star Hardaway played alongside in his career.  As a Phoenix Sun, he combined with the likes of Jason Kidd as well as the up-and-coming trio of Amar'e Stoudemire, Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion.  A healthy Hardaway on those teams could’ve gotten back to the finals.

    Knee-injury-free, it wouldn't have taken Penny more than one year of eligibility to hear his name called for the Hall of Fame.

15. Rasheed Wallace

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    Star Is Born

    Rasheed Wallace is the reason why it’s always sunny in Philadelphia.  In high school, he tore up Philly earning the USA Today’s High School Player of the Year award as well as an offer to play under Dean Smith at North Carolina.  His unique skill set for a power forward led to him being selected fourth overall and voted into four All-Star Games.

    Wallace could dunk it in your face, pop a three in your face and play in-your-face defense.  He really was all about "in your face."

     

    What Went Wrong

    I found it appropriate to have Wallace’s mouth open in his picture.  Sheed had all the talent in the world, but technical fouls were the only statistic he really left his mark on.  He is the NBA’s all-time leader in getting T’d up and holds the single-season record as well with 41.

    Besides referees, Wallace’s own mortal enemy happened to be himself.  Despite being 6’11”, his laziness on the boards resulted in him only averaging 6.7 boards a game for his career.  And while Sheed had the ability to be an elite defender, a lack of effort prevented him from consistently being one; Robert Horry thanks him for that.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    In Portland, he had plenty of brilliant moments.  The 2004 Detroit Pistons also couldn’t have won a championship without Mr. Ball Don’t Lie.  Still, Wallace only showed flashes of his ultimate potential and should’ve been one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game.  

14. Danny Manning

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    Star Is Born

    Chris Paul, if you’re reading this, just go on to the next slide.

    NCAA champion, Naismith College Player of the Year and first overall pick—failure had no hope to take down Kansas Jayhawk legend Danny Manning.  The Los Angeles Clippers finally got their hands on a 6’10” monster that could turn their franchise around.  He won the Wooden, left KU as their all-time leading scorer and rebounder and he had NBA DNA as his father Ed played pro ball.

    What could possibly go wrong?!

     

    What Went Wrong

    Manning’s rookie year, he tore his ACL.  He battled back from the injury, though, increasing his average above 20 points per game and earning two straight trips to the All-Star Game.  Two more knee surgeries then sent his rise to the top in reverse.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Manning should've at least been one of the greatest scoring big men to ever play the game.  He never averaged over seven boards a season over his career, but that early knee injury held him back.  With sturdy knees, let's just say fans wouldn't be expecting the Clippers to finally blow up this year because they already would have done so behind Manning.

13. Greg Oden

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    Star Is Born

    Greg Oden could’ve easily gone straight from high school to the NBA.  He led his team to three straight quad-A state championships and won National Player of the Year as a junior and senior.  After one season of domination at Ohio State, the Portland Trail Blazers selected the next Hakeem Olajuwon first overall.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Attempt to smile and look at this picture at the same time; you couldn’t do it if you tried…unless you’re a psychopath.

    Since being drafted in 2007, Oden has managed to play in a total of just 82 basketball games.  Every single season in his career has been marred by some type of severe knee injury.  Oden may only be 23 years old, but he has the knees of a 43-year-old and will never regain the athleticism that once made him such a feared shot-blocker.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Oden makes his case to be on the Mount Rushmore of centers after carrying on a long career as an eraser on the defensive end.  Portland took him over Kevin Durant knowing exactly how good the Texas scorer could become.  They chose Oden, though, not out of foolishness, but because he would’ve been a championship-caliber game-changer and one of the rare and respectable true centers in the league, making him unstoppable.

12. Marvin Barnes

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    Star Is Born

    While Greg Oden could’ve been unstoppable, Marvin Barnes was unstoppable.

    His senior season at Providence he scored 52 points in one game, put on a record 10-of-10 performance from the field in another and led the nation in rebounding.  The Philadelphia 76ers selected him second overall in the NBA draft, but he chose to play in the ABA instead for the Spirits of St. Louis.  His first two years in the league, he averaged an incredible 24 points a game and 13 boards.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Technically, what went wrong went side by side with Barnes’ success on the hardwood.  In high school his gang—yes, street gang—attempted to rob a bank.  He showed off his Einstein-like intelligence by wearing a state championship jacket with his name on the back during the botched heist.

    At Providence, he assaulted a teammate with a tire iron.  Barnes violated his probation from the incident four years later as security found an unloaded gun in his bag at the airport which resulted in him serving a 152-day jail sentence.  Arrests on charges that included burglary, trespassing and drug possession left Barnes homeless team-wise and literally homeless.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Barnes showed his enormous potential in his first two professional seasons.  Going 24-13 at 22 and 23 years old is insane.  With a few more years of dedication to the game and development, the height of his ceiling is difficult to even imagine...homeless.

11. Yao Ming

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    Star Is Born

    Incredible hype surrounded the 7’6” Chinese giant prior to the 2002 NBA draft.  The Houston Rockets selected him first overall and like many predicted, it took him a while to adjust to the faster American game.  Once he adapted, though, Yao arguably became the most dominant center in the league after Shaquille O’Neal’s decline.

    Averaging over 22 points, 10 boards and two blocks in his best years, no single player had more potential to impact a basketball game with his incredible size.  Fans voted him into seven straight All-Star Games and an eighth in 2011—some deserving, some not. 

     

    What Went Wrong

    After three injury-free years to begin his career, Yao couldn’t avoid knee, ankle and foot injuries that plagued him until his forced retirement in 2011.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    No single player has been embraced more by his home country than Yao Ming.  He influenced the most populated nation in the world to love the sport of basketball.  His unique level of power in and outside the paint alone would’ve made him worthy of the Hall of Fame, but his impact on the transformation of an entire culture puts him on a George Mikan-like, founding-father level historically.

    And again, look back at those 2007-2009 Rocket teams and tell me they wouldn’t have won at least one title at full strength.

10. Bill Walton

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    Star Is Born

    If Metta World Peace convinced Bill Walton to change at least his last name, Bill Winner would be a more-than-appropriate swap—more than Artest’s.

    Walton didn’t lose a single basketball game for almost five years from high school to college.  He led UCLA to two 30-0 national championship seasons.  After winning three straight Naismith College Player of the Year awards, he didn’t have too much competition to be selected first overall (fun fact: Marvin Barnes went No. 2).

    He averaged over 16 points and a beastly 13 boards over his first four years in the league.  In his third and fourth seasons, Walton added a couple more pieces of hardware to his extensive trophy collection.  In 1977 he led the Portland Trail Blazers to an NBA Championship and took home the Finals MVP and in ‘78 he won league MVP.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Walton injured so many body parts that he’s qualified to teach anatomy.  I’ll start from the top: Nose, wrist, leg, ankle and foot injuries caused him to miss time over his career.  Severe ankle and foot injuries were what ultimately led to his demise.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Walton is a two-time NBA champion and has been inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.  While he accomplished more than many players do in a 12-year career, Walton easily had the ability to achieve twice as much or more of what he managed to realize in the nine incomplete years that he did play.

    Now isn’t it a shame that injuries forced the great Bill Walton to retire, but “Oh My Back” Luke keeps on stealing money from the Lakers?  OK, rant is over.

9. Tracy McGrady

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    Star Is Born

    USA Today named Tracy McGrady the National Player of the Year and he wasted no time leapfrogging college to the NBA.  After a few years of development in Toronto, T-Mac became a scoring machine in Orlando.  He averaged 25 points, eight boards and five assists in his first two years with the Magic and won the NBA scoring title in years three and four.

    Orlando traded him to the Houston Rockets the next year and his scoring dipped a bit as a result…if you consider 25.7 points per a dip.

     

    What Went Wrong

    From 2005-2007, back spasms sidelined McGrady.  His numbers slowly began to decrease and the Rockets suffered without their star on the court.  The need for and rehabilitation of shoulder and knee surgeries summarize the rest of T-Mac’s tenure in Houston.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    McGrady can get into the Hall of Fame, but he isn’t the lock that fans thought he’d be as a member of the Magic.  He isn’t ranked in the top 50 scorers in NBA history.  With health on his side, he’d be top 25.

    And despite many clutch performances, T-Mac will forever be remembered for not being able to lead his team past the first round of the playoffs.  One last time, if those '07-09 Rocket teams were healthy…I’m not even going to say it aga—championship.

8. Grant Hill

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    Star Is Born

    After winning two national championships at Duke, the spring-loaded Grant Hill shouldered the burden of being the next Jordan.  Taken third overall by the Detroit Pistons, Hill managed to fulfill all expectations as he became a bona fide stud.  Over his first six years in the league, he averaged approximately 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists a game.

     

    What Went Wrong

    This Superman had more than one Kryptonite: From 2000-2003, Hill’s first three seasons after being traded to the Magic, he only played a total of 47 games because of an ankle injury that eventually required surgery.  He couldn’t dodge the injury bug as the next year a shin injury caused him to miss games; the next season his groin led to hernia surgery and the next, a knee and ankle tendon held him back.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Hill wouldn’t have been the next MJ in terms of being an unstoppable scorer and closer because that doesn’t match the now-Phoenix Suns’ playing style.  What he would’ve been, though, is arguably the greatest all-around player to ever live with his ability to score, find his teammates open looks and crash the boards.

    I kept referring to the Rockets and asking what if, but look at the Magic: Hill, Hardaway and T-Mac—imagine those three healthy and in the same starting lineup.

7. Maurice Stokes

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    Star Is Born

    Maurice Stokes once grabbed 38 rebounds in a single game.  No, he didn’t pull it off in middle school as a kid eight inches taller than everyone else; Stokes did it as a rookie in the NBA.  You definitely couldn’t describe him as a one-game wonder either as he went on to break the single-season rebounding record with 17.4 a game the next year.

     

    What Went Wrong

    On the last game of his third season as a pro, a defender knocked Stokes to the floor after a drive to the hoop.  Stokes hit his head on the hardwood and became unconscious.  After a playoff game three days later, he traveled with the team back to Cincinnati and the pressure from the airplane flight on his injured head triggered seizures.

    Stokes fell into a coma which left him permanently paralyzed.

     

    Fully Fulfilled Legacy

    In his three years in the NBA, Stokes earned three trips to the All-Star Game and three appearances on the All-NBA Second Team.  His remarkable career averages of 16 points, 17 boards and five assists a game not only support the statement that Stokes is one of the greatest rebounders of all time, but he’s one of the most versatile bigs.  While he’s in the Hall of Fame, his name deserves more recognition.

6. Derrick Coleman

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    Star Is Born

    Drafted first overall out of Syracuse, Derrick Coleman’s expectations were sky-high, but 100 percent justified.  At 6’10”, 230 pounds, Coleman had scoring ability in the post that drew comparisons to Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.  On top of that paint presence, though, he could spread the floor all the way out to the three-point line with tremendous shooting ability.

    For the first five years of his career, he satisfied number-lovers by averaging about 20 points and 10 boards a game.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Forget sugarcoating it: Coleman was a lazy bum.  Red flags surrounded him coming into the league and while he put up solid stats, he never gave his all on the court or in preparation.  The final two-thirds of Coleman’s career, he played the role of a team cancer gaining weight, abusing alcohol and being disruptive.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Insert Michael Jordan’s brain into Coleman’s skull and you’d have the greatest power forward to ever grace the planet.  He had it all talent--wise, but he never got his mind right.  Even just a basic work ethic combined with an ounce of leadership would’ve been enough for Coleman to make the Hall of Fame.

5. Ralph Sampson

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    Star Is Born

    I could say the 7’4” Ralph Sampson had tall expectations, but that would be corny...

    In college, Sampson won an incredible three straight Naismith College Player of the Year awards at Virginia.  Drafted first overall by the Houston Rockets, the lengthy center overpowered opponents right out of the starting blocks.  He averaged about 20 points, 11 boards and two blocks over his first three seasons in the league.

     

    What Went Wrong

    And then, Sampson cut his hair…never mind, wrong story.

    In the 1986 NBA Finals, he injured his back and the next season, his knees.  The lack of healing in those two body parts led to his demise.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Sampson would’ve combined with Hakeem Olajuwon to form the most dominant pairing of big men in NBA history.  A player gifted with his size alone possesses the ability to take control of a basketball game.  On top of this size, though, his scoring would’ve made a healthy Sampson Hall of Fame-bound, if not Mount Rushmore-bound.

4. Vince Carter

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    Star Is Born

    Vince Carter finds his way onto the countdown as "The Next Michael Jordan No...." I’ve lost count.

    Vinsanity is the greatest dunker in NBA history.  His freakish athletic ability raised his potential as high as his vertical.  Carter didn’t allow himself to be reduced to a designated dunker, though, as he averaged 40 percent from downtown for much of his career.

    He increased his average points per game to 27.6 in his third year as a pro and looked like he could, possibly, maybe still be the next "you know who."

     

    What Went Wrong

    Injuries, but more than injuries—a lack of a hunger kept Carter from taking that next step.  The last of his years in Toronto were plagued by knee and ankle injuries as well as a failure to push himself, as VC infamously admitted to TNT.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    One of his many nicknames, “Half-Man, Half-Amazing,” fit Carter well.  His soaring ability made him into a YouTube hero and his ability as a sharpshooter, one of the most feared scorers in the league.  As bogus as MJ comparisons are, they’re accurate in one way: measuring potential.

    Sure, it seems unfair to set the bar that high for such a young player, but absolutely nothing is wrong with expecting a gifted athlete to do whatever it takes to become all that he can be.  Carter, and many others on this list, just didn’t do that.

3. Earl Manigault

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    Star Is Born

    The man, the myth and the legend…

    New York calls itself the Mecca of Basketball and according to Slam Online, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called Earl “The Goat” Manigault the greatest player in NYC history.  Many who played against Manigault would take it a step further and tell you that he’s the greatest of all time. 

    Mind-blowing stories of The Goat’s incredible airtime are headlined by his signature dunk in which Manigault would dunk it with his left hand, catch it with his right and slam it home again all while still in the air.  Legend also has it that he could grab quarters and dollars off the top of that backboard.  Manigault once took off from the foul line and threw it down two-handed over two players.

    And he did all that at standing at 6’2”.  The Goat didn’t just dunk, though.  He had the range and accuracy of a sniper from downtown.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Manigault didn’t get along with his coaches and hated school.  He also prioritized smoking marijuana over getting along with either of the two.  That immaturity led to him getting kicked out of high school, dropping out of college and eventually becoming addicted to heroin.

     

    Fully Fulfilled Legacy

    If you’re a believer of The Goat’s legend, he could’ve been as good, if not greater than Michael Jordan.  If you’re a skeptic, you must still at least give Manigault credit for earning the respect of Abdul-Jabbar and other big-name professionals.  He may have not been MJ-great like the stories suggest, but he without a doubt would’ve been a superstar.

2. David Thompson

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    Star Is Born

    When you’re His Airness’ hero, you did something right.

    David “Skywalker” Thompson led NC State to a national title, catching the eye of the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and Virginia Squires of the ABA, who each selected him first overall.  Thompson defined "instant success."  He chose Atlanta and the NBA and went on to average over 26 points per game in his first three seasons in the league.

    Skywalker has been credited with inventing the alley-oop.  His 48-inch vertical made it quite easy to execute the lob-and-slam.  The title of the most exciting basketball player in history arguably belonged to Thompson.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Bill Simmons once said of Thompson: “He did enough coke during his career to put Tony Montana to shame.”

    The appropriateness of his nickname became quite ironic after Thompson’s drive to get high ran his career into the ground.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Despite Thompson’s career ending early and on quite a sour note, the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame voters still chose to enshrine him.  While the vast majority of players on this list had ceilings that ended at becoming one of the all-time greatest players, Thompson could’ve been ranked among the top 10, if not top five to ever play the game.

1. Len Bias

27 of 27

    Star Is Born

    Out of all the players labeled the next MJ, Len Bias’ expectations were the most justified.

    As a 6’8”, freak athlete on the wing, Bias displayed jaw-dropping leaping ability at the University of Maryland.  He posterized more helpless defenders in his four years there than most players do in an entire NBA career.  While Bias boasted rare athleticism, he also had a smooth jump shot making him nearly unguardable.

    The Boston Celtics went on to select him second overall in the 1986 draft putting him on a winning franchise and in position to carve an unparalleled legacy.

     

    What Went Wrong

    Just days after the NBA draft, Bias overdosed on cocaine and passed away.

     

    Fulfilled Legacy

    Bias could’ve retired as the greatest player to ever touch as basketball.  Numbers speaking, he could’ve rewritten the record books.

    Stats alone don’t put a player in the discussion as the greatest ever, though—championships do.  And on the defending champion Celtics playing side by side with Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, Bias would’ve entered the league mid-dynasty.  He could’ve taken his own pen and changed the late '80s and entire '90s to the point that today’s league would be unrecognizable.

     

    David Daniels is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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