The NBA players who would have been Hall of Famers if it wasn’t for injury, including biggest ‘what if’ in history

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is the pinnacle for any basketball player.

Countless superstars such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson have been inducted into the Hall of Fame over the years – which also factors in achievements outside the NBA, including international and college careers.

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Raptors legend Vince Carter is part of the 2024 Hall of Fame classCredit: Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

Meanwhile, active players such as LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are first ballot Hall of Famers who will be inducted in their first year of eligibility – usually after four seasons of retirement.

However, there are plenty of other NBA players, past and present, who would have been locks for the Hall of Fame had injuries not plagued their careers.

Here’s 10 of those unfortunate athletes.

10. DeMarcus Cousins

Once upon a time, DeMarcus Cousins was the best big man in basketball.

‘Boogie’ was a standout player in college for the Kentucky Wildcats and continued to dominate after being selected fifth overall by the Sacramento Kings in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Cousins made the All-Rookie First Team in his debut season and by the age of 27 was a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA member.

His future was bright but in 2018 his career changed forever after tearing his left Achilles tendon while playing for the Pelicans.

LeBron James does his best Patrick Mahomes impression with full-court touchdown pass to Anthony Davis in Los Angeles Lakers game

He eventually returned and signed for the Warriors and Lakers but quadriceps and ACL injuries continued to set him back.

The 33-year-old tried to comeback with the Clippers, Bucks, and Nuggets but his stints were short-lived, and he is currently with the the Taiwan Beer Leopards in Taiwan’s T1 League.

With all that said, there’s still a very slim chance he could make the Hall of Fame by virtue of winning a gold medal with Team USA at the 206 Rio Olympics.

DeMarcus Cousins was a fearsome big man before the injuries

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DeMarcus Cousins was a fearsome big man before the injuriesCredit: Getty

9. Gilbert Arenas

‘Agent Zero’ was one of the clutchest shooters in the NBA in the early 00s and was voted the NBA Most Improved Player in the 2002–03 season.

The former point guard then earned the first of three straight All-Star selections in his fourth season in the league.

The three-time All-NBA selection was a huge star in his prime but unfortunately his prime didn’t last very long.

Arenas suffered an MCL injury towards the end of the 2006-07 season that he never fully recovered from.

That, as well as a suspension due to off-court issues, meant he was out of the league by age 30.

Arenas struggled on and off the court

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Arenas struggled on and off the courtCredit: (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

8. Shawn Kemp

Shawn Kemp was another star plagued by injuries and off-court problems.

Kemp was one of the most athletic players in the NBA during his peak and was known as a vicious dunker who did his best work above the rim.

‘Reign Man’ was a six-time NBA All-Star and a three-time All-NBA Second Team member and one of the greatest Supersonics in franchise history.

Kemp would become a Cleveland Cavalier in 1997 but several minor injuries and battles with weight and addiction issues meant his career quickly fizzled out – and so too did his Hall of Fame chances.

Kemp was a ferocious dunker before injuries took their toll

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Kemp was a ferocious dunker before injuries took their tollCredit: PAUL K. BUCK/AFP via Getty Images

7. Brad Daugherty

Before LeBron became a star forward in Cleveland there was Brad Daugherty.

Centre Daugherty played alongside Michael Jordan at North Carolina before the Cavs selected him with the No.1 pick in the 1986 draft.

The 7-footer had a great start to his NBA career and became a five-time All-Star and a one-time member of the All-NBA team.

Sadly, back issues took their toll and he had two years of inactivity between 1994 and 1996.

Daugherty retired at the age of 28.

The Cavs man retired at the age of 28

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The Cavs man retired at the age of 28Credit: Photo by Jon Soohoo/NBAE via Getty Images

6. Andrew Bynum

At one point, Andrew Bynum looked nailed on to follow in the footsteps of great Lakers big men into the Hall of Fame.

The Purple & Gold drafted him 10th overall in 2005 straight out of high school and he became a double-double machine.

Bynum became the Lakers starting centre and won back-to-back championships alongside Kobe Bryant in 2009 and 2010.

He was an All-Star in 2012 but was later traded in a blockbuster deal that saw Dwight Howard sign with the Lakers.

From then on his career was derailed by persistent knee injuries and although he came back for the Cavs and Pacers he was never the same player.

He missed huge chunks of time and when he did play his numbers dwindled.

By the age of 26 he was basically done as an NBA player.

Bynum won two championships with Kobe Bryant

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Bynum won two championships with Kobe BryantCredit: Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

5. Brandon Roy

Brandon Roy was an incredibly talented and promising NBA player cut down by injuries.

Roy, a shooting guard, made an immediate impact on the Trail Blazers when he joined them in 2006 and won the Rookie of the Year award in his debut campaign.

‘B-Roy’ had bags of potential and went on to become a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA member, but a degenerative knee condition derailed his career.

He was forced to retire prematurely in 2011 due to the lack of cartilage on both of his knees.

Roy tried to make a comeback in 2012 with the Timberwolves but lasted just five games before needing career-ending surgery on his right knee.

Roy had the potential to be a star in Portland

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Roy had the potential to be a star in PortlandCredit: Getty

4. Greg Oden

Portland had absolutely rotten luck when it came to injuries to star players in the mid 00s.

Oden was a 7ft monster who dominated the college scene with Ohio State and was likened to Shaquille O’Neal.

The excitement around him was palpable and he was selected by the Blazers with the first pick in the 2007 draft.

However, it didn’t take long for injuries to start rearing their head, and Oden missed his first full season in the league due to a microfracture surgery on his right knee.

He was subsequently sidelined for extensive periods of his career as it became clear that there were major issues over his durability.

Oden suffered a left knee injury in 2009 and missed the entire 2010-11 season.

He made a brief comeback with LeBron’s Heat and came off the bench in three games in the 2013-14 playoffs as the Heat lost to the Spurs in five games in the NBA Finals.

Oden’s career was done after that as many pondered what his career could have been like without the injuries.

Oden was blighted by injuries from the jump

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Oden was blighted by injuries from the jumpCredit: Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images for BIG3

3. Amar’e Stoudemire

By all accounts Amar’e Stoudemire had a pretty stellar NBA career.

He won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in 2003 with the Suns and made six appearances in the All-Star Game.

Stoudemire was also named to the All-NBA Team five times, including one first-team selection in 2007.

He was one of the league’s premier power forwards for Mike D’Antoni’s Suns but microfracture surgery on his knees meant he missed the 2005-06 season.

Amar’e underwent rehab and was fine for a while, averaging 25.3 points per game in his debut season with the Knicks in 2010-11.

But back, hand and knee injuries led to a statistical decline and a reduced role in New York, and he spent the last few years of his career bouncing around the league and playing in Israel.

Had it not been for those chronic knee problems his Suns team may have won an NBA championship, and the narrative around Stoudemire’s career would be a lot different.

Sadly, they were a factor and likely massively impacted his chances of reaching the Hall of Fame.

Stoudemire might not make the Hall of Fame but he was recently honoured by the Suns in a Ring of Honour ceremony

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Stoudemire might not make the Hall of Fame but he was recently honoured by the Suns in a Ring of Honour ceremonyCredit: Photo by Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

2. Penny Hardaway

Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal formed one of the league’s most formidable duos during their time together in Orlando in the 1990s.

Hardaway, a 6ft 7in guard thought to be the next Magic Johnson, reached the 1994-95 NBA Finals with Shaq but the pair were swept by the Houston Rockets.

Penny played 14 seasons in the league and scored more than 10,000 points. He played in four All-Star Games and was also a two-time All-NBA first-team selection and finished third in MVP voting at the end of the ’96 season.

He seemed a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame but in 1996-97 his career trajectory altered after undergoing surgery to address a left knee ailment.

The microfracture surgery repaired cartilage damage he’d sustained, and although he returned to the court, he was never the same.

Recurring foot injuries also persisted and hindered Penny for the rest of his playing days.

Having said that, there’s a chance the 52-year-old’s fame and popularity could see him make the Hall of Fame.

He was listed as a nominee for the class of 2024 but failed to make it as one of the finalists who will officially be enshrined.

Penny also linked up with Shaq on the Heat but he was not the same player

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Penny also linked up with Shaq on the Heat but he was not the same playerCredit: Photo by Victor Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

1. Derrick Rose

Rose is arguably the biggest ‘what if’ in NBA history.

The explosive Bulls guard, named Rookie of the Year in 2009, experienced a meteoric rise during the 2010-11 season and claimed the MVP award as the youngest player in NBA history.

That season he averaged 25 points per game and had the 62-win Bulls back competing at the top of the Eastern Conference.

The hometown hero looked like he might be able to fill the Michael Jordan-sized void in Chicago, but all that came crashing down in the 2012 playoffs when ‘D-Rose’ tore his ACL.

Rose might become the only former MVP not to make the Hall of Fame

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Rose might become the only former MVP not to make the Hall of FameCredit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

He missed the following year and returned the next season only to tear his meniscus in his other knee and miss the rest of the season.

The effects of the injury were evident as Rose had lost much of the athleticism that had made him one of the most exciting players in the league.

Rose slowly worked his way back to becoming a solid if not spectacular NBA player, capable of sporadic moments of brilliance.

The three-time All-Star, who lost years of his career due to debilitating injuries, is currently with the Grizzlies as he rapidly approaches the twilight of his career.

No former MVP-winner has ever failed to make the Hall of Fame but sadly Rose looks as though he’ll be the first.



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