What If these 10 players weren’t stopped by injury, illness, scandal or worse?
The only players eligible for our historic Top 500 issue (on sale now!) were guys who played at least five years in the NBA. But think of all the great players who weren’t even in the discussion. This is one of the four other lists included in the issue, filled with ballers who warrant our respect forever, regardless of their NBA careers (or lack thereof). Here we count down 10 guys who could’ve amounted to so much more, had it not been for a variety of tragic, unfortunate and unlucky events.
8-10 (tie). Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Bill Spivey
Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp once claimed the gamblers infiltrating college ball “couldn’t touch my boys with a 10-foot pole.” He was wrong. These Kentucky stars were suspended from the NBA amidst point shaving scandals dating to their UK days. Groza was the second overall pick, and Beard a second-round pick, in the first NBA Draft (’49). Both had two seasons in before being banned. Spivey was banned before his career began; after a lengthy legal fight, he was an All-Star at age 38, scoring a game-high 12 points.—Al Stark
7. Wayne Estes
A 6-6 forward who averaged a school-record 26.7 ppg over his three-year career (’63-65) at Utah State, Estes was projected to be a top pick in the ’65 Draft. Tragically, he died heading home from a late-season game when he stopped at the scene of a car accident and brushed against a downed power line that electrocuted him.
6. Hank Gathers
The most memorable player on a very memorable college team, “Hank the Bank” averaged an NCAA-leading 32.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game for Loyola Marymount in ’88-89 and was posting more numbers the next season when he suddenly collapsed during the first half of a WCC Tournament game. He was declared dead shortly thereafter, the victim of a heart-muscle disorder.
5. Tony Jackson
A star swingman and Second-Team All-American at St. John’s in ’60 and ’61, Jackson was banned from the NBA for his involvement in the Jack Molinas point-shaving scandals. He spent a couple of years in the ABL and played two seasons in the ABA.
4. Drazen Petrovic
This intense 6-5 off guard from Croatia was a lethal shooter. After a slow start to his career in Portland, Petro was traded to the Nets and turned European stereotypes upside down. A car crash in Germany ended his life at age 28 after just four NBA seasons, but the memories of his extensive international success and brief stardom in the NBA got him elected to the Hall of Fame in ’02.
3. Sherman White
As a senior at Long Island University in 1951, White was leading the nation in scoring and was 77 points shy of tying the NCAA’s single-season scoring record when he was busted for shaving points. The scandal ended his college career and led to a lifetime ban from the NBA, where the Knicks were poised to take him.
2. Len Bias
In terms of “Where were you when...?” conversations, the ultimate for a certain generation. An explosive forward at the University of Maryland, Bias was selected No. 2 in the Draft on June 17, ’86 by the Celtics, poised to learn from Larry Bird and friends and extend Boston’s domination another decade. By the morning of June 19, Bias was dead of a cardiac arrhythmia related to cocaine use.
1. Maurice Stokes
The 1956 NBA Rookie of the Year, Stokes led the League in rebounding at 16.3 per game as a rook. He was an All-Star in ’56, ’57 and ’58 and headed for a legendary career when he suffered a career-ending brain injury after an awkward fall in the ’58 Playoffs.
Petrovic was a star and who knows could've been an All Time great if not for the car crash.
He should be 1st or 2nd on this list.
The guy that stands out to me on that list was Len Bias . The dude had talent. When you watch some of his college games when he was at Maryland, there wasn't anything the guy couldn't do.
No offense to the older gentleman because I don't know who they are but my top 3 have to be Petrovic, Lenny Bias and Hank Gathers. People forget about Hank man, kid was a beast, I mean look at those statistics....He would have been a player in the league, maybe not to Len's level but nontheless, a baller
There are a lot of guys who more or less wasted their primes in the Aba, and then underachieved when they reached the Nba.
Connie Hawkings, Marvin Barnes, David Thompson(to an extent), and Spencer Haywood were all supremely talented guys who all just were not the same when they entered the league. This was caused by a combination of injuries(Hawking, Thompson), drug addictions( Thompson), or just general insanity(Barnes, Haywood). It's sad but that league was just a giant black hole of "what-if" players with the exception of a few obvious people(erving, gilmore, gervin).
I wanna talk about Bias, Stokes, Gathers and Petrovic
Drazen would have been a great player. I think he would have been a GREAT player next to Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson, and could have kept them in check. If they could have gotten maybe another good pick, that team would have been great in the late 90's.
I said this before, my dad lived in North Carolina when Jordan played at UNC and has grainy tapes we keep. I think Bias would have been a LeBron James type of player. He wasn't the passer, but he had every size advantage and he could have played power forward as well because he was fast. He was the single reason why the Celtics dynasty crumble to me.
Gathers was a sad story. I think he would have been good player, he had that rebounding chip in his head and he was a legit scoring machine.
I never seen Stokes play, but my grandfather did. He called him "the best big man he ever seen not named Russell (he HATED Wilt)".
Idk many of those players but two I would like to add to the list are Damon Stoudamire and Jason Williams. Both had phenominal rookie seasons but some people just love weed a lil TOO much haha.
speaking of jason williams, what bout the other jason williams aka jay? im not saying he deserves to be on this list (idk maybe he does, but ive never heard of most of those players) but the dude who mentioned white chocolate made me think of him. He was a sick college player and a 3rd? overall pick. coulda been trully great in the NBA, who knows? on top of that he always seemed like a good person. The combo of great player and good person is something we don't see enough of these days.
And this is coming from a true duke hater
what about grant hill before injury - he was the air apparent to take over from Jordan...
i watched drazen petrovic play and i think you guys saying he would have been an all time great are overrating him a little. No disprespect to the deceassed, but he was an awful defender and was good for about 20 a night on bad teams. He didnt bring anyhing other then scoring. Think kevin martin type. Plus he was 28 when he passed away so its not like he still had a huge ammount of potential
Add Dajuan Wagner to the list
Dajuan Wagner, and I will add a player that played but I think he was the same player and thats Kenyon Martin. Kenyon Martin before the injury at Cincy was one of the most dominating defense big men ever in the college ranks. He did not have that same defensive dominance in the pros. Randy Livingston too, great game, a alot of injuries. Shaun Livingston as well.
Greg Oden will/should make this list 10 years from now. It's a shame, he was one of the most physically gifted Centers ever.