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NBA Players Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

Updated December 19, 2019 1.3k votes 399 voters 1.5k 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.

  • NBA career years: 1989-1993
    Teams: Portland Trailblazers, New Jersey Nets

    One of the early pioneers for European stars making the transition to the NBA, Dražen Petrović had his number retired by the Nets after he died in a car accident in Germany. 

    Gone too soon?
  • NBA career years: 1970-1980
    Teams: Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans/Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics

    Pistol Pete Maravich left a huge legacy when he retired only 10 years into his career. Who knows what he would've accomplished if his knees held up?

    Gone too soon?
  • 3

    Len Bias

    NBA career years: N/A
    Teams: N/A

    Len Bias was drafted as the No. 2-overall pick by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft. He died two days after the draft from a cocaine overdose. Bias never got to play in the NBA. 

    Gone too soon?


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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.

    Gone too soon?

    More Yao Ming 

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