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Top 10 Sports Careers Cut Short

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Fred Humphries We will never know how good these guys could’ve been. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 Sports Careers Cut Short. For this list, we'll be taking a look at those athletes that gained a degree of prestige before their careers were curtailed, or who have an exceptional story as to why they can't play the game they love anymore. Special thanks to our user Joe DiProsperos for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Sports Careers Cut Short


We will never know how good these athletes could’ve been. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Sports Careers Cut Short.

For this list, we’ll be taking a look at those athletes that gained a degree of prestige before their careers were curtailed, or who have an exceptional story as to why they can’t play the game they love anymore.

#10: Sterling Sharpe

Sterling and his younger brother, Shannon, are considered by many to be two of the greatest players to have played in the modern era of the NFL. After joining the Green Bay Packers in 1988, the elder Sharpe became one of only a few receivers to have won the “Triple Crown” just a few years later. This means he led the 1992 NFL for receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and receptions. Unfortunately, a neck injury in 1994 ended his promising career after only six exciting years, five of which saw him named an All-Pro. Despite the fact that his career was cut short, he has still been inducted into Packers’ Hall of Fame.

#9: Dražen Petrović

This Croatian athlete had his first opportunity in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers during the 1989-90 season, and he certainly blazed a trail for European players in the North American game – however, it was as part of the New Jersey Nets squad. Regarded as one of the greatest European players ever, in his position as shooting guard he won two silver medals and one bronze at the Olympics. His life was tragically cut short by a car crash in 1993 when he was just 28 years of age, but he left behind a significant legacy in the sport. Twenty years after his death, he was named the Best European Basketballer in History.

#8: Yao Ming

One of the greatest Chinese athletes ever had his time in the NBA ended prematurely due to a string of injuries that eventually caught up with the giant, 7’6” center. Prior to his first game in 2002, many were skeptical of Yao’s ability to compete in the best basketball league in the world but he soon proved them wrong by becoming an NBA All-Star eight times. As well as being one of the best players of his generation, he has been involved with a number of charitable and humanitarian causes and has been praised for acting as a link between Chinese and American sports.

#7: Monica Seles

Victim to one of the most horrific attacks on a sportsperson ever; Seles was already a tennis superstar when she was knifed in the back while on the court. Before the stabbing, she was shaping up to be one of the greatest players ever, accumulating eight grand slam singles titles before she was even out of her teens. She returned to tennis following the incident but was never quite the same and played her last game professionally in 2003, ultimately retiring in 2008. A hugely popular player, she was revered not only for her impressive play, but also because of how she conducted herself in the face of such adversity.

#6: Michael Riley ‘Doc’ Powers

Although his career was not particularly distinguished, the story of this baseball player’s death is perhaps one of the most tragic stories in the sport. A player for four different teams in his ten-year career, Powers was injured when he crashed into a wall chasing a foul ball. He suffered internal injuries that several operations couldn’t aid. In fact, those surgeries even complicated his recovery, resulting in his death two weeks after the incident. His shocking death was possibly the first in baseball to have resulted from injuries on the field, and it may have even inspired a character in the classic baseball film “The Natural.”

#5: Mike Bossy

Bossy’s contributions helped form the basis of one of the NHL’s recognized dynasties. This record-breaking right-winger played his whole career for the New York Islanders from 1977-87, and played a key role in the team winning four Stanley Cups in a row. However, due to a series of injuries and a back problem that plagued him, Bossy played his final game at the age of just 30. Though his contributions to the NHL and hockey in general were eclipsed by the likes of his more long-lasting contemporaries like Wayne Gretzky, or even another player with a shortened career – Eric Lindros – Bossy’s statistics stand up next to the sport’s very best.

#4: Len Bias

As a college player, Bias was one of the best on the circuit and was named to two All-America teams. He eve drew comparisons to NBA great Michael Jordan thanks to the excitement he brought to the game. The Boston Celtics had been eyeing a move for the talented small forward for a few years, and in 1986 the team finally picked him up second overall in the Draft. Just two days later, he was dead from a cocaine overdose. Considering he never played one second in the professional league, no one will ever know what heights he could’ve hit in the sport. But the city of Boston and fans across the nation mourned the loss of what could’ve been.

#3: Bobby Orr

It’s always sad when a great in any sport has to call it a day. When that retirement is unduly early, it hits fans even harder. Orr’s potential was clear from day one, and he became one of the highest paid players in the NHL from the start of his career. He fulfilled his potential by winning two Art Ross trophies – quite a feat for a defenseman – as well as two Stanley Cups. However, while he arguably changed the way the game was played, Orr’s style of play was tough on his body – especially his left knee – and it forced him to prematurely retire at the age of 30.

#2: Sandy Koufax

At the time of his untimely retirement after 11 years with the Dodgers, 30-year-old Sandy Koufax was seventh in the list of all-time career strikeouts and had won three Cy Young Awards. Given a few more years, he could feasibly have become the greatest pitcher in the history of the sport. Just six years after arthritis in his elbow forced him into retirement; he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, making him the youngest inductee at the time. Koufax had four World Series wins to his name, and it’s a shame he wasn’t able to add to that list after 1966.

Before we reveal our top pick, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions:
- Gale Sayers
- Maurice Stokes
- Tony Conigliaro
- Vladimir Konstantinov
- Ayrton Senna
- Pelle Lindbergh
- Hobey Baker

#1: Bo Jackson

After taking the 1985 Heisman Trophy, hopes were high that Jackson would become one of the great players in the NFL throughout the 1990s. He instead became one of the great multi-sportsman, as he balanced a career between both baseball and NFL Football. Even though a 1991 hip injury put a stop to his NFL career, he carried on in the MLB for a few more years. We may never really know what he could have achieved in either sport, as his participation in both likely limited his ability to reach his true potential in either. But we will say this: Bo knows how to make an impact.

Do you agree with our list? Which athlete’s career did you wish had lasted longer? For more fulfilling top 10s, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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