One of the tragedies of professional sports is unrealized potential.
We see a player with such incredible ability, yet he or she doesn’t reach the heights possible for one reason or another.
Perhaps the player starts using drugs, falls in with a bad crowd, or there’s the Yoko Ono factor where a girlfriend creates locker room problems.
Probably the most tragic of all is when a great player is felled by injuries.
When LeBron James graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, I cringed. It just seemed to be tempting fate. What could happen to him before he ever became a star player?
Luckily, LeBron was able to avoid personal crisis and injuries to become “The Chosen One” the headline predicted Feb. 18, 2002.
In some cases, a player puts up such impressive numbers in a short career that fans still push for the player to be enshrined in that sport’s hall of fame.
Sandy Koufax spent six years as a wild hurler before he finally put it all together. He had one pretty good year and then became the most dominant pitcher in the game for five seasons. Then an elbow problem forced him into retirement.
That’s it — five years. Baseball writers didn’t hold it against him that his first six seasons were nothing hall-worthy; they just looked at his prime.
Gale Sayers took the NFL by storm. He put up impressive numbers in his first season, then improved upon them the next year. He had five very good years before injuries limited him to just four more games. No one had any problem putting Sayers in the Hall of Fame.
Roger Staubach served in the military, then split time at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for a few years before finally becoming the full-time starter at age 31. He put together some good seasons, but he didn’t have any longevity, either. He had four good seasons and a couple of okay seasons, and yet he’s in the hall.
Some examples for basketball could be Bill Walton, Ralph Sampson, Yao Ming and possibly Amar’e Stoudemire.
Bill Walton had two great seasons with Portland and won an NBA title and an MVP award. Then injuries set in. From 1978 to 1982, Walton only played in 14 games out of a possible 328 games. He was never the same.
Ralph Sampson came into the league as a force, averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks for his first three years before knee issues cropped up. He played in 241 games in his first three years. Over the next six seasons he would play only 215, with his minutes going down over time.
Yao Ming had three good seasons to start his career (and should have received rookie of the year over Stoudemire in my opinion). He only had one other full season. Foot and ankle problems limited Yao to 165 games in five other seasons — about two full seasons’ worth.
The argument for Ming is that he was a cultural icon who made basketball popular in the most heavily populated country in the world. The argument for Walton and Sampson is that they are also judged by what they did in college.
Walton was part of the super-loaded UCLA teams under John Wooden who ran roughshod over the NCAA Tournament from 1964 to 1975. He averaged 20.3 points and 15.7 rebounds.
The 7-foot-4 Sampson blocked three shots a game while averaging 17 points and 11 boards.
Without revealing my name yet, consider that my player led a team to a four-year record of 111-26, 81 percent. The team went to two regional finals and was considered the favorite to win the national championship in another year until its point guard was hurt.
A decent starter for two years, he stepped up his junior and senior years to average 18.7 points and 9.4 rebounds with two assists, one steal and one block, too.
He became the number one overall draft pick and played seven and a half years before severe back problem sidelined him for good.
He posted at least 15 points and 8 rebounds every season, even when injuries took a toll. He had three straight seasons of 20 points, 10 boards, three assists, shooting 50 percent from the field and 75 percent from the stripe. He was right in his prime, then the next year he was knocked out of the game.
For his short career, this player had career averages of 19 points, 9.5 boards, 3.7 assists, 53.3 percent shooting, 74.7 percent foul shooting and 36.5 minutes played per game (despite his back problems).
Last year there was much debate over whether or not Stoudemire deserved to get in the hall of fame. Some pointed to his microfracture surgery and his detached retina and how much he still accomplished despite these injuries.
Stoudemire and my player have almost identical numbers. Stoudemire scored 18.9 points per game, 53.7 percent shooting, 76.1 foul shooting. Stoudemire only had 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists, which isn’t as good as my guy. And, he played with Coach Mike D’Antoni’s 7-second offense and Steve Nash was passing him the ball. That’s a pretty good advantage.
Who is my mystery man? UNC and Cleveland Cavalier center Brad Daugherty.
Despite his short career, consider these stats from basketball-reference.com.
He is ranked 37th in career shooting percentage, 35th in minutes per game, 70th in rebounds per game, and 88th in points per game. In advanced stats, he is ranked 81st all-time in offensive rating — ahead of Hall of Famers like Moses Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and James Worthy.
The only knock against Daugherty could be that he didn’t play in the Finals. But let’s not forget his time overlapped the heyday of the Detroit Bad Boys and Chicago Bulls who won five championships.
Jordan’s iconic game-winner over Craig Ehlo? That was Daugherty’s Cavs. Can’t blame him for that.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.