Frequently we see athletes as super-rich, famous and successful. Yet, we tend to forget that they are also facing enormous pressure. Unfortunately, this may lead to severe issues and even tragic endings that strongly resonate in people's minds. Unfortunately, the NBA has had its share of tragedy, and we need to remember all those involved. While making this top ten list, we decided to rank these deceased athletes based on their impact on the NBA league.
10. Eddie Griffin
Eddie Griffin did so well in the first college year that many saw him as a number one pick on the draft. Even though he slipped in the rankings, Griffin still joined the Houston Rockets as the seventh pick overall. Yet, despite being immensely talented, he failed to make an impact. As Griffin fought alcoholism, he still had his second chance in the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, he couldn't make much of it as his playtime and stats sank. After only 13 games in 2006-07, Griffin became a free agent.
Still not discouraged, he continued training the following summer, hoping he'd get another chance in the NBA. At this point, he was 25, with many believing it wasn't too late if he could only clear his head. Sadly, it was not to be, as he died the way he lived – recklessly. After ignoring the signalization, Griffin hit the train with his car, causing a massive fire that burned his body beyond recognition. His blood-alcohol level was several times above the legal limit. Sadly, Griffin could never escape his demons.
9. Bill Robinzine
Bill Robinzine was someone you could cheer for, as he did something almost impossible. Despite making his first basketball steps at 17, he was the 10th pick overall four years later. Robinzine did well as a power forward in his first seasons, often achieving double-doubles. After a few trades, he completed the 1981-82 season with Utah Jazz. By that point, he was relegated to a bench player, barely getting 10 minutes of action.
As the team decided to release him, Robinzine became a free agent. Still without a team a few months before the next season, he poisoned himself with carbon monoxide while in his car, committing suicide. Yet, no one saw it coming, as he kept in contact with his friends and family and was always all smiles. Furthermore, his agent later said that Robinzine only had minor financial issues. Yet as the NBA season came closer, he lost confidence that he'd ever play in the league. Robinzine did leave a letter to his wife but only suggested he was sad and needed to be alone. Unfortunately, it was too late when they located him the following day.
8. Ricky Berry
After his remarkable college career, Sacramento Kings chose Ricky Berry as the 18th pick in the 1988 NBA draft. While the team had another awful season, Berry was happy with his performance. As a small forward, he produced some solid numbers, averaging double digits in points. With above 40 percent three-point shooting, the young man quickly became one of the long-range experts on the team. He did this while playing only about 22 minutes per game, so the future looked bright.
However, Berry took his own life during the following off-season. It was even more shocking because he was never diagnosed with mental problems and had such a promising rookie season. Yet, the police revealed they found a suicide note, where he complained about his marriage and many other things that led him over the edge. Ricky Berry's death cause still remains a mystery as he committed suicide the same day he called his teammate Henry Turner to join him for the training.
7. Jason Collier
Standing seven feet tall, Jason Collier was an exciting college prospect selected by Milwaukee Bucks in 2000 as the 15th pick overall. Yet, things didn't start well. After being immediately traded to the Houston Rockets, Collier played only 81 games in the next four years. However, he participated in 70 games in his fifth season, although with limited playtime. Still, he was finally injury-free and just happy to play.
Unfortunately, only a few weeks before the 2005-06 NBA season, Collier collapsed after experiencing shortness of breath. Despite the best efforts, he died before reaching the hospital. The autopsy revealed that the 28-year-old had an enlarged heart, even when considering his extraordinary height. The NBA honored him with the annual NBA G League Jason Collier Sportsmanship Award given to players showing exemplary behavior on and off the court.
6. Terry Furlow
Terry Furlow remains one of the best players in Michigan State history, making him the 12th pick in the NBA draft. However, he played for four different teams in as many NBA seasons, mainly as a backup. Nevertheless, things changed once he joined Utah Jazz in 1979. As a starting shooting guard, he scored 16 points per game – his career-best. As he was only 25, it seemed he would only continue to improve.
Yet, on May 23, 1980, he took the wheel while high on Valium and cocaine. Unfortunately, he hit the pole near Linndale, Ohio, without even trying to brake. The damage to his car was so massive that it took over 30 minutes to extract him. Sadly, he was dead by then. Later, his coach at Jazz revealed that Furlow was very troublesome, often partying, gambling, and doing drugs. Yet, many don't know he was a mentor to Magic Johnson, who still calls him one of his best friends.
5. Len Bias
Extraordinary talented Len Bias had it all, as he was a massive college basketball star. While his scoring was unmatched, he was also a brilliant playmaker with terrific explosiveness. The hype was so massive that he was often compared to Michael Jordan, with some claiming he is even more talented. When the Boston Celtics chose him as the second pick overall, Bias became a member of the team capable of winning championships with Larry Bird, Robert Parish & the rest.
Yet, he decided to celebrate his success in the worst possible way, doing cocaine with his friends for hours. At one point, he suffered a seizure and collapsed, with his heart stopping. Despite attempts to revive him on the spot and at the hospital, Bias died a few hours later on June 19, 1986. Eventually, his death was the inspiration for the new law about anti-drug legislation, commonly known as Len Bias Law.
4. Bobby Phills
As a second-round pick for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1991, Bobby Phills had a very tough road, as he was cut before playing a single game. Yet after a stint in minor league tea, Sioux Falls Skyforce, and in Europe, he eventually signed a long-term contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and later with Charlotte Hornets. While never a star, Phills was a starter in his last seven seasons and was among the toughest defenders in the league. Furthermore, he also was an excellent three-point shooter, despite not primarily focusing on scoring.
Phills played his last NBA game on January 10, 2000, when his Hornets suffered a humiliating 137-87 defeat against the same team that never wanted him – Milwaukee Bucks. Only two days later, he was driving his Porsche on the open road and lost control while going over 100 mph. Even before the medical team arrived, he died as he hit the oncoming traffic. Yet, Phills was still honored, as the Hornets retired his number 13 jersey.
3. Malik Sealy
Like many other guys on the list, Sealy was a mid-first-round pick that never really stood out during his eight-year-long NBA career. As a shooting guard/small forward, he wasn't an extraordinary scorer. Still, he did play solid defense and started most games. Yet, he had lots of ups and downs. Sealy struggled at Indiana Pacers early in his career before doing much better at Los Angeles Clippers. While his Detroit stint wasn't successful, at Minnesota Timberwolves, he had his best season in 1999-00. Unfortunately, it was his final one.
On May 20, 2000, Sealy attended Kevin Garnet's birthday, and while driving back home, he was hit by a pickup truck driver going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, his car didn't have an airbag, and he died immediately. Sealy had a few prominent acting roles and did well in business ventures. If he was still with us, there's no doubt he would be an exceptionally successful businessman.
2. Reggie Lewis
In 1986, Boston Celtics tragically lost their future star Len Bias, but only a year later, they got Reggie Lewis. The 22nd pick overall proved to be better than everyone expected and was the refreshment that the aging team needed. When Larry Bird got injured, Lewis took his place, and even when the star returned, he remained a starter. He also kept improving, as he averaged almost 21 points per game in his last two seasons. Hence, that led him to his first and only All-Star game in 1992.
In the 1993 NBA Playoffs first round, the Boston Celtics were matched up against the Charlotte Hornets. Lewis played exceptionally well, scoring 17 points in 13 minutes before collapsing on the court. However, he did get up and even tried to play but soon realized he didn't feel well. After thorough examinations the next day, doctors concluded that his heart was in such bad shape that he should never play again. However, Lewis asked for a second opinion which was much more optimistic. This was enough for him to resume training before dying only three months later during the practice. Lewis suffered cardiac arrest, and all revival attempts failed. While various reports said he used cocaine, the doctors didn't think it influenced his heart condition in any visible way.
1. Dražen Petrović (Drazen Petrovic)
Back in the nineties, European athletes weren't welcome in the NBA, and Dražen Petrović (Drazen Petrovic) is the best example. Despite being the best player on the old continent, he was only the 60th pick overall. Dražen was humiliated during his first three seasons, never starting a single game and having minimal playtime. Finally, he exploded in his second season with the New Jersey Nets, producing over 20 points per game and becoming a team leader. More importantly, the Nets improved significantly and became regulars in the playoffs. Yet, the team management failed to recognize this, making Petrović think about going back to Europe.
During the 1993 off-season, he joined his Croatian national team in Berlin, where they easily won every game. However, he decided to drive back to Zagreb instead of taking a plane. On June 7, 1993, Dražen was sleeping in the passenger seat when his car hit the truck which previously blocked the road. Dražen died immediately, with his girlfriend Klara Szalantzy and another female basketball player suffering severe injuries. Croatian media still blame Klara for Drazen Petrovic death, as she was behind the wheel. Petrović's legacy remains massive, as he is still considered the best European basketball player ever.
Luckily, basketball isn't an extreme sport, so only 13 NBA players died during their stay in the league. Apart from those already mentioned, we also need to remember Conrad McRae, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and Nick Vanos. While today's NBA takes much more care about players' mental and physical health, professional athletes are still under massive pressure to perform at the top level. Yet, even some who didn't struggle, like Malik Sealy or Dražen Petrović, died because of someone else's fault.
Have you ever watched these top ten players, either live or on television? Who do you miss the most?
Cover photo: Marius Christensen/Unsplash
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