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10 NBA Players That Could Have Become Superstars

Updated on December 18, 2019
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Demosthenis has worked for many years as a sports journalist in Greece for various websites, radio & TV stations and newspapers.

The ΝΒΑ is all about superstars and great stories. Michael Jordan came back from retirement, won three more rings and became a legend. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird's rivalry, both in collegiate and then in pro level, helped the NBA to become a worldwide phenomenon. LeBron James, a child prodigy from Ohio, surpassed the expectations, became the face of an era for the NBA and won the first championship for his home state. A 19-year-old German kid who played in the second division of his country, became, probably, the greatest European basketball player of all time. Another 19-year-old from Greece, a child of Nigerian immigrants who lived in poverty, Giannis Antetokounmpo, made all the world learn his -not so easy to pronounce- name and became one of the youngest MVPs of all time.

The ΝΒΑ has so many stories of hard work, success and fame. On the other hand, there are also many stories about players that didn't reach their full potential. Players that could and probably, should, have been superstars and even all-time greats. Some of them had decent careers, but most of the players we are going to talk about in this article saw their careers decline early, due to injuries, mostly, drugs or sometimes, just... fate. I tried to avoid including in this list players that had lengthy careers and managed to be considered, at some point of their journey, superstars, even though they never reached their full potential. That's why players like Derrick Rose, T-Mac, Grant Hill, Yao Ming and Bill Walton from the earlier days, won't be mentioned in this list. This list is about the even more unfortunate ones... As always, feel free to comment and please be polite and respectful. And without further ado...

For reference, this list will be in alphabetical order.


Len Bias

Technically, Bias was never an NBA player. He never actually played in an NBA game. He was selected, though, as the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. The belief was that Bias could have become the future of the franchise. He was a great college player and his physical attributes were considered to be unprecedented at the time. Two days after he was drafted, Bias died in his dormitory at the University of Maryland. The cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia caused by drug abuse. His death forced the NBA (and the US as a whole) to raise its awareness regarding drugs. He definitely had the potential to become great. He is sadly now considered to be the best player to never play professional basketball.


Sam Bowie

Sam Bowie is going to be one of the numerous Portland Trailblazers draft picks that are going to be included on this list. Bowie was drafted higher than Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft! This was an idiotic choice, especially given the fact that he had proven to be really susceptible to injuries ever since his college years. Let's be serious, Bowie was never going to be better than MJ. But he had the potential to become an NBA superstar. During his injury-plagued career, Bowie was only able to have two seasons where he played in more than 70 games. Obviously, he never became an All-Star. Even though he played for 10 seasons in the NBA, he is mostly remembered as just being an average player who was drafted ahead of Michael Jordan.


Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway

Of all the players on this list, Penny had the most prominent NBA career. I wasn't sure if I should include him since he was a four-time All Star. The truth is that he actually enjoyed great early success while playing for the Orlando Magic. Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal were an exciting and dominant young duo that reached the NBA Finals in 1995. He was also a part of the 1996 gold-winning US Olympic basketball team. When O'Neal left for LA , Hardaway's career drastically declined due to several serious injuries. He never became an All-Star again after 1998, a season in which he only played 19 regular season games! He kept on trying to make a comeback, and the fans loved him for his drive. Unfortunately, for almost a decade, he was nothing but a shadow of his former self. Hardaway eventually retired in 2008.


Greg Oden

In his one and only year with Ohio State, Greg Oden was a beast! A marvel on both ends of the floor, Oden was tall, strong and skillful. He led the Buckeyes to the National Championship Game in 2007. In that same year, he was selected in the NBA draft ahead of another promising player named Kevin Durant. There were some rumors back then regarding Oden and his fragile knees, but the Blazers once again showed that they don't have the best luck in making draft picks. Oden missed his entire rookie season due to injury. When he only played in 61 games during his second season, it was pretty clear that his body couldn't withstand the modern NBA schedule. He played in his last NBA game in 2014 at the age of 26. Oden was probably the last old-school type of center that could have made an actual impact in the NBA. Instead, he is considered to be the biggest draft bust of all time. That's a real shame.


Drazen Petrovic

This entry is tough. Drazen Petrovic, the "Mozart of Basketball", was one of those players that were really ahead of their time and he paved the way for the generations that followed. He was probably the first European player to make a real mark in the NBA and even though he was never an All-star, he was a part of the All-NBA Third Team in his last year with the New Jersey Nets. A tall guard with exquisite vision and great handling and shooting skills, Drazen was a star in Europe since he was a teenager. He was reportedly disappointed with the Nets and the fact the he wasn't enjoying the recognition he deserved in the US and he had decided to return to play basketball in Europe. And then a car accident tragically ended his life on June 7, 1993. He was only 28 years old. Petrovic is considered to be one of the greatest of all time in Europe, but as far as NBA fans are concerned, unfortunately, he was just a really good player that fate never let him reach his full potential.


Brandon Roy

Brandon Roy played in only four full seasons in the NBA. However, he managed to become an All-Star three times and was included in the All-NBA Teams twice! That's a huge achievement. Roy was a prolific scorer (he once scored 52 points in a game, at a time when scoring 50+ points was actually news) and a developing superstar, but his knees failed him. His case is more proof that the Portland Trailblazers are the unluckiest NBA franchise. He tried to make an NBA comeback in 2012, but he quickly decided to retire from basketball due to a degenerative knee condition. There's not much to be said here. If Roy hadn't been that fragile, he would definitely have become one of the best players of his generation.


Arvydas Sabonis

The case of Arvydas Sabonis is a pretty special one. The Lithuanian center had a great career overseas and some could argue that he played close to his full potential. He is considered to be one of the greatest European basketball players of all time. However, he decided to join the NBA too late in his career; he was 30 when he joined in 1995. He had a few solid years playing for a good Portland team, but by that point he was quite injury prone and not as athletic as he used to be. He still had great vision, a pretty reliable outside shot (at a time when big men stayed inside) and he was really strong and skillful. However, even with these qualities, he never managed to become an NBA All-Star. Sabonis was like an early Nikola Jokic. If he had decided to join the NBA earlier, his legacy would have been even greater.


Roy Tarpley

Most people nowadays don't even remember Roy Tarpley. Prior to his suspension from the NBA in 1991 due to drug abuse, Tarpley had managed to become the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in just his second season in the league in 1987. He was also included in the NBA All-Rookie First Team the year before. He was a really good basketball player but, unfortunately, a troubled soul that went on to become a really successful player overseas, even though he, sadly, struggled with alcohol and drugs throughout his short life. Tarpley died in 2005, at the age of 50, due to liver failure.


Jason Williams

I'm not so sure Jason Williams could have become a superstar, but he should have been, at least, an All-star. At his best, the "White Chocolate" was so skillful and flashy, an "artist" on the floor, a real joy to watch, a Steve Nash look-alike! Williams had a few minor injuries throughout his career, but the real problem was his attitude. Many people that knew him thought that he didn't even care about basketball, he was irritable and he was always giving his coaches (and the league) a headache! He enjoyed his best season in 2001-02 with Memphis and in 2005-6 he won a championship playing for the Miami Heat. But he never became an All-star and that's all on him. If only he had a "LeBron James mentality"...


Jay Williams

We have another Williams on this list and his story is definitely a sadder one. Jay Williams was a great college player; he was the second overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, just after Yao Ming. Despite having signs of great potential, his performance during his rookie season was subpar and inconsistent. During the off-season in 2003, he had a terrible motorcycle accident. He was reportedly not wearing a helmet and he wasn't even supposed to ride a bike due to the terms of his contract with the Chicago Bulls. Unfortunately, his career was over due to his injuries. He attempted a comeback in 2006, but he simply couldn't compete at the level he used to. Could he have become great? During his last two seasons with Duke, he was considered to be the best player in college basketball. But his NBA career was cut short, so we'll never know what he could have been.

© 2019 Demos Karayiannopoulos


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