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NBA Players Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

Updated December 19, 2019 1.5k votes 424 voters 1.9k views25 items

List RulesVote up the athletes you wish had played longer.

While not known as the most physically demanding sport, basketball still takes a tremendous toll on atheltes' bodies, meaning the list of NBA players whose careers ended too soon is long and unfortunate. While some players made their mark in the short time they had before injuries or tragedy took them out of the game, some were not around in the league long enough to showcase the full extent of their talents.

Perhaps the most famous NBA player to have his career cut short is Magic Johnson, who famously left the NBA after a shocking HIV diagnosis. Then, there is Len Bias, who died before even getting to play a game in the league. Other popular players like Yao Ming and Penny Hardaway, while they did not suffer the same tragic end as Bias, were forced to retire after multiple injuries made the game impossible to play.

So check out this list of the top basketball players whose short careers left fans wondering what might have been if not for injuries or tragedies or just not wanting to put their bodies through the pain anymore. Vote up the players you wish you could have seen hit the court again and the ones you think retired too early.

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  • NBA career years: 2002-2011
    Teams: Houston Rockets

    The Chinese NBA star got off to a fast and impactful start early on his NBA career; however, foot and ankle injuries kept him from ending his career on his own terms.

    61
    27
    Gone too soon?

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  • NBA career years: 2007-2014
    Teams: Portland Trailblazers, Miami Heat

    Greg Oden had all the tools to be a dominant NBA star, but his body couldn't handle its own size. Seven years and several knee operations later and Oden had to face facts and call it quits. 

    40
    9
    Gone too soon?
  • NBA career years: 1974-1987
    Teams: Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics

    Bill Walton had a hall of fame career, but his body was breaking down throughout most of it, and he underwent more than 30 orthopedic operations. 

    39
    9
    Gone too soon?

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  • NBA career years: 1983-1992
    Teams: Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors Sacramento Kings, Washington Bullets

    Knee and back problems prevented this college superstar from reaching that potential at the NBA level. Though he did win NBA Rookie of the Year in 1984 and made four All-Star teams, his career tapered off toward the end and he was out of the league after 10 seasons.

    36
    7
    Gone too soon?

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