Big-Time Athletes Who Got Cut from Teams

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2014

Big-Time Athletes Who Got Cut from Teams

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    JOHN SWART/Associated Press

    No one enjoys being told that they're not good enough, but imagine the looks on some of the faces of athletes when they got word that they had been cut.

    Much like losing a job, when a great athlete gets turned away from a team, he can either use it as motivation to get better and play with a chip on his shoulder—as most do—or wilt away into obscurity.

    These are some of the athletes who did the former, working harder to prove that they were better than the coach who gave them the boot.

James Harrison

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Cut From: Pittsburgh Steelers, 2002-03 and Baltimore Ravens, 2004

    Is recently unretired NFL linebacker James Harrison a Hall of Famer? That's debatable, but one thing is not—the impact Harrison makes anytime he takes the field.

    An undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2002, the intense 'backer didn't only overcome odds to make a roster but stuck it in the faces of the Baltimore Ravens, who cut the guy back in 2004. He went on to play for the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers—who had him bounce around on their practice squad and released him a few times earlier—eventually winning a couple of Super Bowls and an NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Mark Buehrle

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    Cut From: High School Baseball Team

    When fans think of the most consistent pitchers of the past decade, some might overlook the greatness of Toronto Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle, but they'd be foolish to do so.

    With a career record of 198-152 and an ERA at 3.82, Buehrle has shown to be one of the filthiest pitchers since breaking into the majors back in 2000.

    But it could have never been, as the dude could have gotten down on himself following getting cut all the way back in high school.

    Instead—like most of these athletes—the southpaw used the setback as motivation to prove everyone wrong and ultimately get to where he wanted to be.

Wes Welker

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Cut From: San Diego Chargers, 2004

    Perceived as undersized and slow—which isn't actually too far off—Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker wasn't exactly a player many teams were interested in adding to their roster when he came out of Texas Tech in 2004.

    One of the teams that did take a chance on him? The San Diego Chargers, who brought him to training camp back that summer.

    Unfortunately for Welker, then Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer cut the wideout/return man after the team claimed another player off waivers.

    Schottenheimer would later go on to say that, in terms of roster cuts, releasing Welker was the biggest mistake that he ever made.

    That's some praise—and easy to say now that the player has made five Pro Bowls.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Cut From: High School Basketball Team

    It might not be as well-known as the Michael Jordan story—I'll get to him later—but New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony actually got cut from his high school team just like Mike did.

    While Melo is one of the best scorers the league has seen, his high school coach seemed to think he was too short to play for the team back then, giving him the boot during his freshman year.

    After a summer in which he grew nearly half a foot, Anthony transferred to Oak Hill Academy, became a star, committed to Syracuse and led the Orange to a national title just four years after the little hiccup of not making his prep team.

    Maybe that's why MJ signed Carmelo to be one of the faces of Brand Jordan—seeing how they both got cut in high school and led their college teams to national titles.

Landon Donovan

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Cut From: Team USA Soccer, 2014

    Arguably the greatest American-born soccer player to ever don the red, white and blue, Landon Donovan was seemingly going to help take the U.S. to new heights during this year's World Cup in Brazil.

    That is, of course, until head coach Jurgen Klinsmann denied Donovan the opportunity to do so by cutting him prior to the world's biggest tournament.

    Donovan was, rightfully so, a little bitter about it, claiming he deserved to be with his familiar mates in Brazil. He even admitted to rooting against the USA.

    Lately, though, he has poked some fun at it—although I'm sure he won't be sending Klinsmann a Christmas card this year.

Orel Hershiser

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Cut From: High School and College Baseball Team

    It's hard to believe that there was almost no "Orel Surgery."

    One of the greatest pitchers of the '80s, former MLB pitcher Orel Hershiser has the distinction of being cut from both his high school and college baseball teams. He refused to let it get the best of him and built an 18-year career that included three All-Star appearances and one Cy Young Award.

    Although Hershiser's story has some technicalities in it, it's clear that he overcame some adversity to achieve the career that he did.

Isiah Thomas

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Cut From: Team USA Basketball, 1992

    The story of basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas not making the 1992 U.S. Olympic team—otherwise known as the Dream Team—is legendary.

    With Thomas' then-head coach from the Detroit Pistons, Chuck Daly, assigned the task to coach arguably the greatest team ever assembled, many believed that Thomas would be a near lock to make the 15-man squad.

    That is, of course, until politics—and Michael Jordan's opinion—got in the way, with Jordan openly campaigning against Thomas being a member of the team after the two had plenty of shady moments during the late '80s and early '90s.

    To this day, both players recount the decision, as it's still one of the most debated topics about that specific team.

Kurt Warner

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Cut From: Green Bay Packers, 1994

    One of the nominees for next year's Hall of Fame class, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner's career ended with great success, but it started with near heartbreak.

    Following a collegiate career at Northern Iowa, Warner was brought to training camp with the Green Bay Packers in 1994—who already had quarterbacks Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and former Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer on the roster.

    Unable to survive past training camp, Warner was forced to find work elsewhere, with the well-known story of him stocking shelves at a local grocery store for near minimum wage.

    Of course, he resurrected his football career in the Arena League and NFL Europe, earning a chance to eventually play again in the NFL—where he accomplished enough to be considered for the Hall of Fame.

Charles Barkley

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    H. Rumph Jr/Associated Press

    Cut From: Team USA Basketball, 1984

    Many remember Hall of Fame hoops player Charles Barkley as the Round Mound of Rebound. He refined the small forward position with his work in the paint as well as on the perimeter.

    But before Barkley became a superstar in the NBA, he had to endure the pain of having other players chosen over him for the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team—which was stacked with guys like Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone, among others.

    Citing poor defense and, well, lack of fitness, the team's coach, Bobby Knight, cut Barkley, with Sir Charles taking it in stride at the time.

    Of course, Barkley would go on to play with a few of the aforementioned players eight years later on the Dream Team, as well as earn the title as one of the greatest players of his era.

Lionel Messi

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    Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

    Cut From: Soccer Team at age 11

    He may be a goal-scoring machine and arguably the top soccer player in the world, but Lionel Messi's career was nearly denied at age 11.

    That's when his junior team cut him due to his height—or lack thereof—which was caused by a growth hormone deficiency that stunted his growth compared to other kids his age.

    Even today, Messi stands just about 5'7" in soccer boots, yet it clearly hasn't held him back at all, as he weaves his way past and around helpless defenders whenever he's on the pitch.

Bob Cousy

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Cut From: High School Basketball Team

    A six-time NBA champion, 13-time All-Star and one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, Hall of Famer Bob Cousy seemed to have had all the skills whenever on the basketball court.

    That wasn't the case back in high school, however, as Cousy was cut during his freshman year, forcing to play in a rec league which helped him hone his skills.

    Even after gaining experience, though, Cousy was cut the following year during high school tryouts yet was invited by the school's coach to play for the varsity team after a breakout game in the same rec league during his sophomore year.

    From there, the guard never looked back, leading to a hoops career that left him as one of the best ever.

Johnny Unitas

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    Ron Frehm/Associated Press

    Cut From: Pittsburgh Steelers, 1955

    One of the most prolific passers in NFL history, Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas may have broken numerous records and won a Super Bowl, but it wasn't for the team that originally game him a chance.

    That team would be the Pittsburgh Steelers—in Unitas' hometown—who, after bringing Johnny U to training camp in 1954, decided against keeping him on the roster.

    The news didn't diminish Unitas' hope to play in the NFL.

    After a year of working construction and playing on a semipro team during the weekend, Unitas got his chance with the Baltimore Colts in 1956, where he started for the next 16 seasons, setting a number of passing records and winning a Super Bowl with the team.

Michael Jordan

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    REED SAXON/Associated Press

    Cut From: High School Basketball Team

    Hands down, the story of Michael Jordan not making his high school basketball team is the best-known among athletes being cut.

    Often referenced as his motivation to become the player he eventually became, Jordan had to overcome the pain of being told that he wasn't good or tall enough to play varsity hoops during his sophomore year at Laney High. He spent the entire season as the JV team's star.

    Growing four inches by the time the team held tryouts his junior year, Jordan made the varsity team, became a McDonald's All-American the following year, won a national title at the University of North Carolina a few years later and, well, became the greatest basketball player ever over the course of the next 25-plus years.


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