10 NBA Players Who Would Have Made the Hall of Fame If Not for Injury or Tragedy
One of the most heartbreaking things in sports is seeing a talented player have the prime of his career taken from him because of injuries.
Seeing a tragedy take the career of a player away is also one of the saddest events in sports.
In NBA history, there are several players who were on the fast track to the Hall of Fame but never made it because of a single career ending injury, battles with multiple injuries over several seasons, or sudden tragedies.
Players like Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill were two of the biggest stars in the NBA during the 1990s, but both of their primes were cut way too short because of terrible injuries.
Let's look at 10 NBA players who were bound for the hall of fame but will never get there because injuries held them back, or their lives were tragically cut short.
Terrell Brandon was one of the premier NBA point guards in the 1990s, and Sports Illustrated called him the best point guard in the league in 1997 when he appeared on the cover of the magazine.
Brandon had an unbelievable mid-range jump shot and was a fabulous passer. In 1997 he led the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 19.5 points per game average and a .902 free throw percentage.
Nagging injuries kept Brandon from carrying his all-star level play into the 2000s, and he said the following in a SLAM Online article from May 2011.
"...After I was hurt, I physically couldn’t play. Then, as I started to heal, it got back to where I was maybe two and a half steps slower than I used to be. I started playing tennis, doing yoga. But I can’t play basketball again. There’s no way I could play for fun. After all those years being competitive, playing as my job, I’d be out there like I was in the NBA, and nobody needs that..."
Vince Carter is one of the most exciting players in NBA history, but multiple surgeries and other nagging injuries have kept him from being a consistently premier player.
Carter's ability to dunk the ball like few in basketball history, and his underrated ability to score in so many ways made him a great NBA player for many seasons.
If not for knee surgery in 2002 and ankle surgery in 2008, among other injuries, Carter would have been strongly considered as a possible hall of famer.
Reggie Lewis was the man to carry on the Boston Celtics tradition of greatness after the retirements of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.
Lewis was a fabulous scorer and good defender, but his career and life came to a devastating end in 1993 when he suffered a heart attack.
During the first game of the 1993 playoffs, Lewis collapsed on the court, then died later that July during a workout.
Lewis was an all-star player and averaged 22.2 points per game in four years as a Celtics starter. His number 35 has been retired by the Celtics.
Tracy McGrady is one of the greatest offensive talents to ever walk onto an NBA court, and if not for injuries he would have been a top 5 scorer in league history.
McGrady could score in every way imaginable, from the outside, mid-range, driving to the basket, dunking in your face, you name it.
He has never played a full 82 game season in over a decade as an NBA player.
In 2005-06 he suffered from bad back spasms and missed many regular season games and the entire playoffs. Between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, McGrady played in only 75 games.
In 2007 he averaged 24.6 points per game despite claiming his ongoing back pain limited his explosiveness, and during the 2009 and 2010 seasons knee and other injuries caused him to miss many games.
The video provided in this slide is just legendary.
Coming out of college, Ralph Sampson was considered the next great NBA center, and was projected to be as good as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Sampson dominated as a rookie and was one of the league's best big men during the mid-1980s. He and center Hakeem Olajuwon were a great "twin-tower" combo in the paint.
During the 1986 NBA Playoffs, Sampson led the Rockets past the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, and hit the series winning shot against L.A. in Game 5 of the West Finals.
In 1987, injuries forced Sampson to miss many games, and in the years following surgeries and other injuries caused Sampson to need to fight to make teams.
Without injuries, Ralph Sampson is an automatic hall of famer.
Bernard King was one of the best scorers of the 1980s, and is one of the best players in New York Knicks history.
In 1985 he led the NBA in scoring with a 32.3 points per game average, and scored over 20 points per game 11 times in his 14 NBA seasons.
If not for knee surgeries that caused him to play in just six games over the 1986 and 1987 seasons, King would be an automatic hall of famer.
Alonzo Mourning still has a chance at the hall of fame, he is definitely on the fringe, but if not for a kidney transplant he would be an automatic choice.
Mourning missed many games through the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons due to his kidney surgery.
When healthy, Mourning was a defensive monster and also could score very well. He was able to play 65 games during the 2005-06 season and helped the Miami Heat win their first and only NBA championship over the Dallas Mavericks.
Yao Ming was one of the most productive NBA centers of the 2000s, and was a very good scorer, a tremendous rebounder, and an underrated defender.
Nagging foot injuries and surgeries cut Ming's career too short, and they ultimately forced him to retire earlier this season.
Rockets fans can only dream about how good their team would have been over the last 10 years if Ming and Tracy McGrady were healthy together for multiple seasons.
Grant Hill was one of the finest college basketball players at Duke during the early 1990s, and was selected third overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1994 NBA Draft.
Hill, Michael Jordan, and Penny Hardaway were the three premier perimeter players of the mid-1990s, and all of them were amazing scorers and passers.
From 1995-96 through 1999-00, Hill averaged over 20 points per game.
Coming off a career high 25.8 points per game season in 2000, Hill underwent surgery after surgery and was unable to finish the prime of his career.
He played in just 47 games during 2001-03.
The last three seasons he has missed only three games, but he's not half the player he used to be.
Hill was destined for the Hall of Fame and could have been one of the best players of his generation if not for multiple surgeries and injuries.
Penny Hardaway is one of those once in a generation players, and if not for many surgeries that derailed the prime of his career, he would have become a top 15 player in NBA history.
Hardaway was a 6'7" point guard who could score as well as anyone, and pass with Magic Johnson-like precision and flair.
Hardaway led the Orlando Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals with a young Shaquille O'Neal, but were swept by the Houston Rockets.
After that season the Magic were expected to contend for the title for many years, but after Shaq's departure to the Lakers in 1996, Penny's injury hardship began.
LeBron James and many other current stars looked up to Penny Hardaway as kids, and you can see flashes of Penny in James' play today.
Hardaway is one of the most talented and versatile players the NBA has ever seen, and was destined for greatness the minute he stepped onto an NBA court.