Sometimes hard work, dedication and talent are not enough. Without a little luck, it can be tough to thrive or advance in any facet of life, especially in the world of sports. Even some of the world’s best basketball players were never able to reach their full potential because they weren’t lucky enough to stay healthy. For that reason, those players are often dubbed the best that never were.
Derrick Rose’s latest injury and surgery got me thinking about this subject. Rose had just torn his meniscus and went in for surgery last Friday. Although the doctors are optimistic and expect Rose to be back on the court in 4-6 weeks, Rose’s tendency to get injured is making him a candidate for one of the best that never was.
When healthy, there is no debate over the impact Rose has on the NBA. He is arguably the most athletic point guard the league has ever seen. His slashing and driving abilities make him nearly impossible to guard. A healthy Rose turns his Chicago Bulls from a capable Eastern Conference team to a championship contender. His personal achievements exemplify his abilities: 2007 McDonald’s All-American, 2008 AP All-American, 2008-09 Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star and 2010-11 MVP.
During his sporadic NBA career, Rose has averaged 20.5 points per game and 6.5 assists per game. Although his list of accolades is impressive, his laundry list of injuries matches, if not exceeds, it. Rose has torn his ACL and his right meniscus twice, accumulating quite the record of minor injuries along the way.
While it seems that Rose will return to the league, he will likely not return to MVP status. Rose reached that form in his third year in the league. Had he continued on a track of progression, he could have been one of the greats.
After four years with the University of Washington and an All-American senior season, Brandon Roy was drafted sixth by Minnesota and then traded to the Portland Trailblazers. During his time with the Blazers, Roy earned the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year award and was a three-time All-Star. Roy had a versatile offensive game, scoring in a variety of ways. He was proficient from beyond the 3-point line, had a silky mid-range game, could penetrate with anyone and could score with his back to the basket. During his NBA career, he averaged 18.8 points, 4.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Roy was developing into one of the elite shooting guards in the league. But as he continued to play his knees continued to decay. He had a slow degeneration of his knees that eventually led to his retirement. To fight the odds, Roy had arthroscopic surgery on both knees and tried more exotic treatments, but it was not sufficient to keep his knees healthy enough to play. However, he didn’t stop trying.
Roy played through the pain on numerous occasions and did everything in his power to continue. One of the games that some say defines Roy’s career is game four of the 2011 playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks. At this point in his career, his knees were really bothering him. The Mavericks took a 23-point lead going into the fourth quarter and were looking to take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Dallas. But Roy almost single handedly brought the Blazers back into the game. He scored 18 points in the fourth quarter on a pair of nearly broken knees. Although his time in the league was short, Roy’s moment in the NBA spotlight was still enjoyable. It is a shame that his career had to end so soon.
Some of the most talented players the world has ever seen never even made it to league. This was the case with Len Bias, a star at the University of Maryland. He was a two-time All-American. In his senior season he averaged 23.2 points and seven rebounds per game. He was an explosive athlete and the quite the playmaker for Maryland. Many compared Bias to Michael Jordan as he entered the draft.
Bias was drafted second in 1986 by the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately, Bias died two days after the draft after suffering cardiac arrest. Further examination revealed cocaine in Bias’ system. This was one of the saddest stories in sports history. Bias had so much potential to be great, but was never able to prove himself at the professional level.
There are many top-level players in the same boat as those described. In a scenario like that that of Bias’, it could have very well been Biases on our feet and not Jordans. Injuries and unfortunate circumstances are a part of the game – it’s something that teams must adjust to. While these players may not necessarily go down in the history books, the impact they had on those who were able to watch them is profound.