Would you include talented basketball players whose careers were cut short by injury? I didn’t. I find it difficult to call someone’s talent wasted – take Ronnie Fields or Yao Ming for instance – because of injuries. Fields, who was a high school star in Chicago, broke his neck in a car accident. Yao Ming’s feet were consistently a problem, or who knows how dominant he could have been. Duke’s Jay Williams got in a motorcycle accident, effectively ending his career. Grant Hill’s Hall of Fame career was derailed by injuries. I left all those guys off this list. When I think of wasted talent, guys from the 80s like Roy Tarpley, Chris Washburn and Len Bias (drugs, drugs, drugs) come to mind. Going back 20 years, here’s a list (no order) I came up with.
Darius Miles - He’s the one who prompted this post following arrest this week for trying to bring a loaded gun on a plane. Miles was a high-flying AAU superstar who bypassed college and was the No. 3 pick in the 2000 draft. The raw talent was there – jump out of the gym, athletic as hell for 6-foot-9 – but he never bothered to develop a jumper or work on his game and amounted to nothing in the NBA. Kids loved him, and he was a NIKE pitchman, but his game never matched his hype. He was in Portland for the classic “Jail Blazer” years and beefed with coach Maurice Cheeks. He had a drug suspension, too.
Derrick Coleman - I know, I know – how can a guy who averaged a double-double for five years still on this list? He could have done it for ten years. Attitude, alcohol, and weight issues ruined what should have been a Hall of Fame career. I loved this guy at Syracuse in the 80s, and thought he’d win a title or two in the NBA. His NBA career can be summed up thusly: “Whoop-de-damn-do.”
Tracy McGrady – I hesitate putting him on this list because A) I was a big fan and B) for awhile there, he was a superstar. But like Coleman, T-Mac should have had a Hall of Fame career. He blew up one summer on the AAU circuit and passed on college for the NBA. He struggled early in Toronto, but proceeded to flourish in Orlando and then Houston. He led the league in scoring twice. But the work ethnic was never there, which is probably why he went to the playoffs seven times and never made it out of the first round. He seemed to possess assassin capabilities, but looked like he didn’t care to utilize them. He was called out by Jeff Van Gundy about his practice habits earlier this year, and then admitted to never being a good practice player.
Rasheed Wallace – Legendary high school talent who was a star at North Carolina but will always be remembered for his bad attitude in the NBA (and leading the league in technical fouls). He should have been one of the best power forwards ever, but he let referees and opponents get under his skin and was universally viewed as a ticking time bomb. He did win a title in Detroit, but that won’t be nearly as memorable as the time he tossed a towel in a teammate’s face (that teammate is on this list), or when he threatened a referee (Tim Donaghy) on a loading dock and was suspended for seven games. Let’s close with this epic rant against referees, shall we? “All that bullshit-ass calls they had out there. With Mike [Callahan] and Kenny [Mauer] – you’ve all seen that shit. You saw them calls. The cats are flopping all over the floor and they’re calling that shit. That shit ain’t basketball out there. It’s all fucking entertainment. You all should know that shit. It’s all fucking entertainment.”
Eddie Griffin – Parade All-American Player of the Year was recruited to Seton Hall by Tommy Amaker … and once there, he punched out a teammate at halftime. In the NBA (lottery pick in 2001), he battled alcohol issues and was busted for allegedly driving drunk while masturbating to porn in 2006. He died at the age of 25 when his car was hit by a train. Police later determined he was drunk at the time of the accident.
JR Rider - 2nd team All-American from UNLV was taken 5th overall in the 1993 and looked to be off to a promising start when he averaged 20 ppg in his second year. But insubordination, an incident at a bar in which he was charged with assault and a drug bust got him shipped out of Minnesota after just three seasons. He was busted for gambling in public in Oakland. In Portland, it was marijuana. He was suspended for spitting on a heckler. Then came Atlanta, which was a debacle on multiple levels (more drugs, plus getting in trouble for parking in the spot of the Atlanta Thrashers’ head coach) at Phillips Arena. What’s a higher number – Rider’s arrests or the number of women you’ve slept with?
Baron Davis – So, so gifted. For a stretch there, he was one of my favorite players in the league. Should have been a franchise point guard. Instead, indifference on the court got him traded to five different teams in his up-and-down career. When he’s on – think Warriors, playoffs, 2007 – he’s unstoppable.
Steve Francis - Some might question his inclusion on the list since he did average 18 or more points per game five times in his career, but Francis was a knuckleheaded buffoon who constantly feuded with coaches and never realized his full potential. Coming out of Maryland, Francis was supposed to be a star, but he was drafted by Vancouver No. 2 overall and refused to go. So he was traded to Houston, where he excelled at scoring, but little else. He butted heads with Jeff Van Gundy. So he was traded to Orlando, where things were going fine until they traded his buddy, Cuttino Mobley. Francis pouted again and was suspended by the team, and then dealt to New York, and then shipped back to Houston. Francis played in five career playoff games.
Vin Baker – Four-time All-Star was one of the game’s best power forwards before eating (and drinking) himself out of the league in the late 90s.
Arvydas Sabonis – Blame the Russians. Sabonis was a teenage star in Russia and drafted by the Blazers in 1985. But Russia prevented him from going to the NBA, and then a slew of injuries while playing international ball took their toll on him, and he didn’t get to the NBA until 1995 (when he was nearly 31). You may remember him dominating at the 1988 Summer Olympics (Russia won the gold). Might have ended up being a top 10 center in NBA history if he had gotten to the NBA in his early 20s.