11.02.2009

Scream All Day

xochi1

This will totally shock all of you: The still-untitled FreeDarko Book 2 will at one point address some "could've been" players. I had called them "what if's," but not only does that encompass much more, it also overlaps with the Simmons tome—one of my great anxieties about the project. The last thing I want to do is look like I'm ripping off another colorful NBA history book that came out one year before ours.

Last night, as I inexplicably watched the World Series over Lakers/Hawks, I struggled to come up with the perfect characterization of that kind of player. Then it turned into a model, so I decided to scrap it and make it a blog post, not in the least because it could use some copious reader input. I think they call it open source, or cheating. First, though, some glimmers from the NBA I caught last night: I fear the Lakers will win it all with Bynum as rampaging dinosaur and Artest and Odom used as unimaginatively as possible. The Blazers really bum me out, especially Aldridge. Blatche is the original Anthony Randolph. Stop comparing Oscar Robertson to LeBron, Robertson was a better mid-period Kidd with scoring genes (that was all Ziller). Ozzie Guillen's pre-game commentary shows you why Kevin Garnett will never be part of a studio crew.

But back to the problem that really bugged me. We all know that there exist players we say "if only" about. For one, there's two kind: Those that drive us insane when they're around, and assume the glow of exceptionalism once they've retired. That's due in large part to the fact that 99.99999% of these players have problems with injuries, which we've learned to hate the victim for, or fuck up personally, which just gets really old really fast (at least if you're trying to argue for their hypothetical place among the game's elite). Beyond that, there's the more complicated matter of what kind of legacy we're going off of. What I haven't figure out yet is whether, in the end, we view all these types the same way—many paths to the same honorary status—or the kind of career a player manages to have in fact decides how real, extravagant, or wishful our projections for them end up being. I also really want someone to tell me if certain of these scenarios are more common to one sport, or position, than others.

After much handwringing and chatting, I arrived at the following four categories, which for now lack snappy names:

1. Guys who, when all is said and done, somehow convince us they'd had an actual career. This one is startlingly subjective: Sandy Koufax, Gale Sayers, and Bill Walton all belong here even though each had a very different arc as a player. Maybe "non-player" is more appropriate. This is kind who make the Hall of Fame without anyone making a fuss.

2. One step below that, we have players who strung together several seasons of stardom, but either not to a degree, or without enough distinction, to elevate them to the top category. Sometimes, it's just a matter of us being unable to get over how incomplete their place in history seems; they're a strange mix of conjecture and actuality that's its own kind of purgatory. I put Pete Reiser and Maurice Stokes here; Stokes is HOF but it's largely sentimental.

3. Total flashes-in-the-pan, one-year wonders who sustain nothing but suggest multitudes. Herb Score goes here, as does Mark Prior. These are the real darlings of the "could've been" fetishists, at least those with the most preposterously Romantic streaks; that because Category #2 is generally classified as "tragic."

4. Pure potential. Never really got a chance for those initial assessments to be proven wrong. Len Bias is the obvious, and most extreme, example here. Ernie Davis. Shaun Livingston probably fits, as well.

With that, I open up the floor for discussion. Add names, critique the framework, give a sport-specific analysis. It's like a Wiki with the head cut off. Or the tail, maybe.

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156 Comments:

At 11/02/2009 4:05 PM, Blogger Grish said...

Chris Webber probably fits in category one, maybe two. Still, I was sure he was going to be on here and shocked when he wasn't.

Well on his way: Yao Ming. Looks like Walton 2.0.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:05 PM, Blogger Quantavius Sturdivant said...

jay williams for category 4.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:15 PM, Blogger Deckfight said...

i always think of adrian dantley for some reason--i guess #2? you occasionally hear his name, and then you look up the stats and you're like, oh nice. all his utah years are off the charts.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:20 PM, Blogger 7.5 PSI said...

Not sure where to put Sabonis. There's another distinction here: premonitions vs echoes.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Note: Cocaine probably deserves it own category. There will be something devoted exclusively to it in the book.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:21 PM, Blogger D.S. said...

No offense to Shaun Livingston fans, but you've got the wrong Livingston -- you should focus on Randy Livingston. That would be Category No. 4.

And I'm not sure where he fits in your framework -- No. 5: Blackballed? -- but I'd throw in Chris Jackson/Mahmoud Abdul Rauf.

Your framework could also use "If only they played in a different system....," which begs all sorts of hypothetical thinking, but that's part of the point, isn't it?

-- Shanoff

 
At 11/02/2009 4:22 PM, Blogger Chase said...

Anfernee Hardaway for #2...If you play as him in any 90s Legends team of NBA Live, you can really jack people up.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:25 PM, Blogger d said...

You should read Chuck Klosterman's essay about Ralph Sampson in his new book...it'll probably clear up some things.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:27 PM, Blogger Ule said...

the greatest bar none: bo jackson

 
At 11/02/2009 4:37 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Blue Edwards for #3.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:40 PM, Blogger Jiminy Jetpack said...

jamal mashburn in 2

 
At 11/02/2009 4:48 PM, Blogger Alex Martkovsky said...

Drazen Petrovic for number 2. A couple good years met with a tragic end.

 
At 11/02/2009 4:48 PM, Blogger Subliminal B said...

Larry Johnson, Category 1. I always felt he was a more athletic Charles Barkley, if that's even possible.

Shawn Kemp, category 1.5

Pavel Podkolzin for Category 4. Could have been the Soviet answer to Mark Eaton.

 
At 11/02/2009 5:17 PM, Blogger Craig said...

1. Terrell Davis

2. Reggie Bush

3. Ryan Leaf

4. Brian Taylor

Cocaine: Doc Gooden

The complete list seems like it would be heavy on football players and pitchers, but I am unwilling to perform the actual enumeration

 
At 11/02/2009 5:19 PM, Blogger Greg. said...

Tracy McGrady - 2, possible 1. I mean, if Dominique Wilkins is a HOF, then where's the bar?

 
At 11/02/2009 5:22 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

There's been some debate about whether college careers count as build-up, or actual experience. Kind of like the whole "Basketball Hall of Fame" problem.

 
At 11/02/2009 5:35 PM, OpenID wegman23aq said...

This is subject to change based on how this season plays out, but I like Vince Carter in #1, only on a grander scale.

Also, Tracy McGrady makes a nice candidate for 1.5, maybe a career in Toronto makes one destined for this list in either actuality or perception.

Lastly, and he's obscure, I like John Wallace in category #4, the man who carried Syracuse to the Final Four in 1995, was the 18th pick in '96 (the year the Knicks famously blew three first round picks)and could score at will but his inability/indifference on the defensive end turned him into the poorest version of a less explosive Amare.

And of course, college career build-up is required to justify his existence here...

 
At 11/02/2009 5:35 PM, Blogger Nic said...

I think I'd nominate John Starks for category #2, but perhaps he'd be more of a 3. More than likely I just grew up watching too much Pacers- Knicks games to think John Starks even matters.

 
At 11/02/2009 5:43 PM, Blogger Beef said...

Category 2- Martina Hingis/Kevin Johnson.
Category 3- Jay Williams/Robert Smith.

 
At 11/02/2009 5:52 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Grant Hill for category 1?

 
At 11/02/2009 6:00 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Are there any for hockey?

I really want someone to deconstruct sport-by-sport.

 
At 11/02/2009 6:14 PM, Blogger Vincent Atienza said...

Mats Sundin in number 2. High scoring Swede, one of the first European captains, just hasn't won the big one.

 
At 11/02/2009 6:22 PM, Blogger KAV said...

Larry hughes, and his one great year with the wizards. I'm still hoping he can recreate some of that play with the Knicks.

 
At 11/02/2009 6:26 PM, Blogger BigSaxmo said...

"The last thing I want to do is look like I'm ripping off another colorful NBA history book that came out one year before ours."

Ummm... is this a shot at Simmons?

 
At 11/02/2009 6:42 PM, Blogger ChrisD said...

Joe Thornton in #2. Although Bruins fans and San Jose fans may have differing opinions here. I can't believe I just contributed to hockey talk.

 
At 11/02/2009 7:17 PM, Blogger WCase said...

would it be too Sports Guy-ish to suggest that Brandon Lee and Lauryn Hill fit the bill?

 
At 11/02/2009 7:28 PM, Blogger mattsoucie said...

Since every sport seems to be in play here, I can't think of a better candidate for #2 than Dale Murphy, and how about Mark Fidrych for #3, or perhaps the immortal Dick Pole? Bobby Orr's career trajectory was Koufaxian in it's brevity, although he dominated almost every year he played, so he's maybe not a perfect candidate for #1. Maybe Mike Bossy's a better choice. Bryan Fogarty might be hockey's answer to Len Bias, though he killed himself slowly with booze.

 
At 11/02/2009 7:45 PM, Blogger vacuumcleanerbot said...

I for some reason want Yinka Dare to be included here.

 
At 11/02/2009 7:48 PM, Blogger W2 said...

Funny you shold mention Dale Murphy as I sat in a bar yesterday with a dude from Idaho and we figured that Dale Murphy's career benefitted more from TBS and the Mormon Church than anything he actually accomplished on the field.

2. Reggie Lewis.

 
At 11/02/2009 8:47 PM, Blogger Ed said...

lindros for hockey?

 
At 11/02/2009 8:51 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

@BigSaxmo, how is that a shot at Simmons? I'm saying I don't want it to look like our book, which is in some ways similar to his, is directly ripping his off.

 
At 11/02/2009 11:44 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Where does Adam Morrison fit? Is he even a 4? Was it injuries and diabetes? Was he just overrated? Was it a perfect storm of them? Did it all just happen to annoy everyone?

Also, John Daly is depressing and can be almost be all 4 at once.

 
At 11/03/2009 12:34 AM, Blogger daktx2 said...

2. Mitch Richmond and Glenn Robinson definitely.

 
At 11/03/2009 12:50 AM, Blogger joshc said...

Somewhere between #3 and cocaine, I submit Richard Dumas. He was insane in 93. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDkuVSFWogg

 
At 11/03/2009 12:59 AM, Blogger Avi said...

I nominate Jonathan Bender for category 4.

Does Ewing fit at all as a candidate for category 1? He's a HOFer, but transitioned from most athletic big man in the game to lumbering plodder awfully quickly.

What about guys who never got an opportunity? Most obviously, there are hundreds of Negro Leaguers, but also maybe Amir Johnson, James White, Tommie Frazier or really any quarterback who ran the option or is shorter than 6-2. Or is there some inherent trust in professional coaching staffs that if these guys would have received an opportunity if they were good.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:30 AM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

What about this one:

If you read "Heaven is a Playground" and then, after you finish, check the career stats of Albert King.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:46 AM, Blogger Robert said...

I'm not especially enamored with Vince Carter, but I don't think he deserves to be on this list. He's produced fairly well and been on successful teams. His career hasn't been tragic. You certainly can't put him in 3 or 4. I wouldn't suggest that "lazy" = "could've been"

I'm pretty surprised how many folks that are still playing I see on here.

Terrel Davis, absolutely. Also, although there's too many to ever remember, #4 is absolutely filled to the brim with highly drafted skill players. Antowain Smith, Curtis Enis, Robert Edwards, Tim Biakabutuka, Micheal Bennet, Willie Green, the list goes on and on.

Mike Shanahan is responsible for putting any number of other running backs into category 3.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:48 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I don't think someone just not being as good as they could've, or someone promising not getting a shot, counts. I'm talking HE COULD'VE BEEN A CONTENDER. The fact that #1 lands you in the Hall of Fame means something.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:49 AM, Blogger Robert said...

To elaborate:

(First, replace Skill Players in my previous comment with Running Backs - my bad)

Mike Shanahan's success using no-name running backs is what allows all the ones I listed for number four to actually be in that list.

Because Shanahan convinced us repeatedly (and football is just like this) that "If _________ just got more snaps, behind a good line, he'd be a star."

 
At 11/03/2009 2:14 AM, Blogger Sean Highkin said...

Cole Hamels for #3. Had a stellar postseason last year and has been incredibly hit-or-miss since. I had him in fantasy this year and I drafted him fairly high on the strength of him being World Series MVP, and he was pretty useless for me all year.

I know he's still young and he could very well turn it around, but as of now, I'd put him as a flash in the pan.

 
At 11/03/2009 2:21 AM, Blogger Ben said...

In the Len Bias and Reggie Lewis class of Players Who Died there's Hank Gathers and Drazen Petrovic. And also Eddie Griffin, who was on his way to making some sort of list like this way before he died.

in the language of this post, petrovic was a 2 or a 3, hank gathers a 4, eddie griffin a 3.

 
At 11/03/2009 2:22 AM, Blogger tray said...

I guess Shawn Kemp would fit in one of these categories? As would Kenny Anderson, and Marbury? These categories are a little too good for my taste, if you know what I mean; I'm more interested in the pure wasted potential players, the Jonathan Benders and Jerome Moisos.

 
At 11/03/2009 2:26 AM, Blogger tray said...

Oh, Rasheed.

 
At 11/03/2009 5:20 AM, Blogger rjlink said...

If we're including Jay Williams as a #4, then also Bobby Hurley.

 
At 11/03/2009 8:37 AM, Blogger David Sankey said...

Agree with the commenter who suggested Grant Hill... but I'd probably put him in category 2. While I'm certain I won't forget his name, I'm not sure to what extent I'll remember him with rose-colored glasses. He's the ultimate example for me. How about Christian Laettner? 3?

 
At 11/03/2009 9:59 AM, Blogger Bret LaGree said...

That Danny Manning fits in the second category rather than the fourth probably explains (along with the inevitable passage of time) why his potential has faded from memory for some.

With his original knee ligaments he was something like Garnett a decade earlier, the last cut from the '84 Olympic team as a high schooler. The '88 NCAA heroics help the Garnett comparison to begin to break down (though perhaps Manning's centrality to that team has some unexplored influence on the various members of that team who run or coach San Antonio, Charlotte, Portland, and Phoenix right now) though Manning's value, unlike Garnett's, always would have tilted more to offense than defense.

What he could have been was over before his 26th NBA game ended. It took the better part of the three years to make a full recovery but he became an All-Star (twice), was central to a terrible trade, then blew out the other knee.

Guile and effort were sufficient to make him good enough to win 6th Man of the Year after that rehab but also removed him one step further from what he originally was.

 
At 11/03/2009 10:38 AM, Blogger SeanW23 said...

In category #2, which is definitively the largest, I think Ron Harper fits the bill pretty well. He averaged 22.9 as a rookie and was the original Baby Jordan (before Harold Miner, who fits #4 nicely) until a blown out knee robbed him of his explosiveness. He will be widely remembered as a defensive specialist and role player on the second coming of the Bulls championship teams, rather than for the lost potential of his early career.

 
At 11/03/2009 10:48 AM, Blogger Pradajames said...

Michael Dickerson is a definite #3. His 99-00 season was bomb.

Sherman Douglas would be a solid #2. Played 11 years(!), averaged 11 pts, 6 assists. Shit, you could write a whole chapter fitting various Syracuse players to this numbering system. Billy Owens, Pearl Washington, Rony Seikly, Derrick Coleman, they could all fit in to at least one of these, maybe more.

 
At 11/03/2009 11:03 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This is depressing. I was looking for hypothetical Hall of Famers.

 
At 11/03/2009 11:35 AM, Blogger Pradajames said...

If you wanna go the boxing route, Gerald McClellan was/is/should be a HOF'er. One of the best punchers of all time. Frightening power. Boxing is littered with these types, but McClellan seems to fit the sort-of forgotted almost superstar.

Connie Hawkins basically fits in to every category and is in the HOF, despite not having the normal qualifying numbers...

 
At 11/03/2009 11:40 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Not surprisingly, this came about while writing about Hawkins. Brilliant answer.

 
At 11/03/2009 11:48 AM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

Hockey

2. Pavel Bure

In hockey, u could fill the whole list with the earlier Russian and Eastern European players.....so many uber-skilled and creative players who never seemed to make superstardom (or the HOF). Part media bias (blame: Don Cherry), part a tendency to shrink in the playoffs, part tendency to chill out after the ink dried on the first big contract. These guys cleared the path for Ovechkin, Datsyuk and Malkin to really rip it up.

Petr Nedved, Alexander Molgilny, the first wave from USSR (Krutov, Makarov, Larionov), Oleg Tverdovsky, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Samsonov, Valeri Zelepukin, Roman Hamrlik....

 
At 11/03/2009 11:54 AM, Blogger Mouth said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that Darko Milicic could, in a few years, belong in category 1 or 2.

It could happen. Hope springs eternal.

 
At 11/03/2009 12:00 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

Glen Rice put up hella #s, but he lost his hops & became all 3s, then sorta fell off after a couple really good years with Charlotte.

Eddy Curry is a #2, perhaps?

I remember being the first basketball junkie I know to comment that DeJuan Wagner was supposed to skip the NBA & go straight to the HOF. 1 or 2 okay years for Juanny, then. . .What happened there?

 
At 11/03/2009 12:04 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

Eddy Curry should be a #3, I meant. They called him 'Baby Shaq', for chrissakes--them's big expectations.

And his draftmates Tyson Chandler & Darius Miles? Flashes in pans, still grinding out average, underwhelming careers.

 
At 11/03/2009 12:13 PM, Blogger Deckfight said...

i'll go more utah jazz to finish up w/ adrian dantley. how about stockton? the symbiosis w/ malone has never been fully deconstructed.

-(non-jazz) mark price?

 
At 11/03/2009 12:18 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

There's a reason why injuries, death and drug problems, and possible Hall of Famers, are the examples I give. Fuck ups don't count. Very good players who could've been better don't count.

I'm talking the kind of player who makes your eyes wet when you think about their careers. Not just draft busts, or players who might've benefitted from another system.

 
At 11/03/2009 12:36 PM, Blogger mattsoucie said...

@walrus, Jaromir Jagr is 9th all-time in scoring and has 646 goals. I wouldn't throw him in a list with Oleg Tverdovsky or any other might-have-beens. I think Bure is an awesome choice, but I might classify him as a #1- arguably hall of fame numbers and a bigtime myth factor despite a truncated career. Category #1's are rare birds it seems...

 
At 11/03/2009 1:00 PM, Blogger chris said...

Do you need a category 3.5? I'm thinking here of players who have a one year flash, but nothing else. Prior and Score were injury cases (and actually Score may not truly have been if you believe him), so we view them as tragic figures.

How about the frustrating one year flashes? This is all fan/viewer perception -- Larry Hughes (mentioned above) is either bewildering because he can't get back to form, or one year lucky and able to cash in.

This group is actually my favorite. They're all starters who displayed some potential. The one-year jump is then looked at (by some) as "the year he put it all together." If he's a favorite -- someone you've been hoping would "put it all together" -- then you feel vindicated the year he does. After that, you struggle to determine how he lost the magic.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:06 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Isn't that called "a career year"?

 
At 11/03/2009 1:22 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

The prevalence of steroids in baseball has created a lot of one-year flashes. See: Brady Anderson 1996, Cecil Fielder 1990.

In pro wrestling: Category #1 includes Steve Austin (career cut short in 2002 due to neck problems after only 4 years of headlining) and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who left for Hollywood in 2002 after only six years of WWF. Category 2 includes Owen Hart (died in 1999 in horrible accident) and Eddie Guerrero (died from heart attack in 2005).

Magic Johnson could fit in category #1, if he'd been diagnosed with HIV after only 7 or 8 seasons of pro play. But at 12 seasons, his career seems pretty full.

Surprised nobody has mentioned Gilbert Arenas yet. Time will tell how well he recovers from the ankle problems and what kind of performance he delivers. But he's a candidate for #2 or #3.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:23 PM, Blogger 7.5 PSI said...

Tony Conigliaro would have to be here, at least around Boston.

Sort of tangentally related, but interesting partly because there are pretty few athletes:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_drug-related_deaths

You have to be pretty functional to make it far enough in professional athletics to become a drug martyr.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:35 PM, Blogger Robert said...

I think I'm getting closer to understanding what you're talking about, and since I can't stop thinking about it in terms of running backs...

Deuce McAllister. Cut by the Saints this year, their all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. A stand-up guy, who waited in the wings while Ricky Williams got his bust on, then came out beastly. Put up with Jim Haslett, Aaron Brooks and a lot of bad Saints teams, played a huge role in the Saints' magical 2006 season, which got bookended by knee injuries.

One of the most beloved men in the history of New Orleans football, and every bit deserving of a Super Bowl ring and a HoF entry, but instead he got cut this year. A damn shame. A 1 to me, maybe a 2 to anybody who isn't a Saints fan. Who Dat!

 
At 11/03/2009 1:43 PM, Blogger Pradajames said...

David Thompson works for #1. Dude was legendary. Insane hops, coke problem, blew his knee out at Studio 54, only played 9 seasons of pro ball. Still made the HOF.

There's a ton of guys from my youth that are borderline HOF guys, but somehow still havent made it...guys like Sydney Moncrief, Bernard King, Mark Aguirre. Hell, Spencer Haywood should be in the HOF for marrying Iman back in the day.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:43 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

Fella by the name of Mike Tyson was the man for a while, even had his own video game, and he coulda stayed being a contender, one of the best all-time just on his athletic merits, but for a nasty bit of rape conviction business.

He was a better boxer than either Vick brother was as quarterback (1998-2000 @ Va Tech was magical, though.)

 
At 11/03/2009 1:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'd put Deuce at #2. For a few seasons, he was an elite running back. But no one ever wants to talk about him as one of the greatest ever or even a defining player of that time.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:47 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I wonder where Vick goes. Probably #3, since he only really seemed amazing as an NFL player for a season or two.

 
At 11/03/2009 1:52 PM, Blogger Pradajames said...

Along the Vick lines, Randall Cunningham is almost a perfect #2. His Philly years were brilliant and great fun to watch, but they couldnt quite put it together. In Minnesota, he came oh so close...Transcendent talent without the wins/numbers/mainstream acceptance that usually comes along with it.

 
At 11/03/2009 2:01 PM, Blogger Doug said...

I'll second Lindros as a solid hockey #1. A good career, but was a shell of his potential way before the end because he got hit in the head so many times. Should have been a quintessential Flyer, ended up a quintessential Ranger.

 
At 11/03/2009 2:10 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

Dan Morgan, recently retired NFL middle linebacker, was better at his position than anyone since Lawrence Taylor. He could chase down wide receivers, tackle anyone with ferocity, and absorb concussions like a barren chick's fallopian tube absorbs protein.
He shined on every play of every game, but the number of games his battered skull allowed him to play was too few. He was selected as an alternate Pro Bowler one season despite playing just 8 games. Phenomenal athlete. I wish I could still wear my Dan Morgan #55 Panthers jersey at sports bars w/o that tinge of regret, of longing for what could have been.

 
At 11/03/2009 2:40 PM, Blogger SeanW23 said...

How about Fred Taylor as a number 1 toiling for mostly an expansion franchise. Also, Tiki Barber seems to be the definition of a number 2. Several early years of mush, followed by 3 years of being the man, then early retirement.

And if you allow Tiki's own talk of his desires and potential as a broadcaster beyond sports to dictate his perception, then his broadcast career is currently heading towards being a 4.

 
At 11/03/2009 2:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Not sure how I feel about players who start slow, as opposed to those who start fast and burn out.

 
At 11/03/2009 3:00 PM, Blogger SeanW23 said...

That surely eliminates John Salmons from consideration...

 
At 11/03/2009 3:02 PM, Blogger Gabe Berkowitz said...

Chris Webber and Antonie Walker are both good candidates for category #2.

 
At 11/03/2009 3:02 PM, Blogger SeanW23 said...

What about Rik Smits? A low caliber number 2? Roamed the middle for several very competitive, but not quite championship quality Pacers teams.

 
At 11/03/2009 3:13 PM, Blogger Ben said...

It might be a sore subject for this blog, but what about Amare? 2nd team all nba before microfracture surgery, and has made a 1st team and a 2nd team since. He was arguably better after the surgery but he was never the same player.

You could make a whole list of microfracture guys who make sense for this list. Off the top of my head: Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin (plus a broken leg in college), CWebb, Greg Oden(!).

 
At 11/03/2009 3:45 PM, Blogger BleedingHeartPessimist said...

I'd say one of the key differences between 1 and 2 is that catagory 1s were, if only for a brief time, the best. Grant Hill's perseverence may drop him to a 2, because he's given us too much to think about after he was quite possibly the best player in the league in his last year as a Piston.

Chris Webber: Definite 2. Never did quite what was expected. Rasheed Wallace is also a huge 2.

I nominate a catagory -4: Players who enticed us with their potential, only to play long enough to show that there was never really any there. Adam Morrison is playing himself there. Potentially appropriate for Shawn Bradley.

Catagory -4 is the type of player that makes you realize, after a while, that you'd talked yourself into them. There were too many "ifs" for it to ever work.

 
At 11/03/2009 3:48 PM, Blogger BleedingHeartPessimist said...

Note: Catagory -4 is particularly applicable to players who didn't have what it takes to make the college-to-pro jump, or to mysterious early European prospects who weren't scouted like they should've been.

Darko is a good debate between 4 and -4. Ed O'Bannon is definitely a 4, because it was his knee problems, and not his lack of natural ability, that cost him in the pros.

 
At 11/03/2009 3:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Sheed's just an underachiever. Darko's a bust.

 
At 11/03/2009 3:54 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

Monica Seles is a #1.
Rafa Nadal is potentially a #1 if injuries do him in.
Kobe Bryant would've been a #1 if he'd been convicted in 2004. Instead, he's getting closer to GOAT territory.
Antonio McDyess is a #2.

 
At 11/03/2009 5:14 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Joe Juneau looked like a franchise player at the start of his career with the Bruins, then devolved with remarkable speed into a third-line grinder on mediocre teams. By all accounts a great guy/teammate, he's an enigma nonetheless. Somewhere between categories 2 and 3, then?

 
At 11/03/2009 5:17 PM, Blogger ben said...

As a Cavs fan, I hate the jinx potential of this one, but Delonte West for category number 2/3 if he loses his trial (I'm thinking flash in the pan if the trial messes him up on the court).

He may be a slightly lower talent level than the players you're intending to talk about, but the narrative of him finally discovering a team and place where his talents are needed and fully utilized, only to be arrested in the middle of a mental episode and potentially go to jail for 3+ years in the prime of his career, seems much more powerful/tragic than, for example, Bill Walton's back.

Now I must spend the rest of this 45 minutes between now and 5 (central) trying not to start drinking ...

 
At 11/03/2009 6:09 PM, Blogger TheCaravanChronicles said...

How about Richard Dumas?

 
At 11/03/2009 6:16 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

I'm with Shoals, some of you are naming people who do not belong in this conversation in any way. John Wallace? Seriously? There's a reason he was only the 18th pick in the draft. He was a tweener with mediocre skills and athleticism. Absolutely nothing special about that guy.

 
At 11/03/2009 7:41 PM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

@mattsoucie agree on jagr but i'm biased. i bumped into jagr on the streets of montreal during his rookie visit. dude had an ankle length black leather trench coat and huge, moussed up, poofy-top, czech sport mullet. classic. i was in awe and asked for a photo. it was predigital so when i got it developed i was so disappointed.....i was all smiles and he looked like he was biting a rotten lemon....sorry for putting you out rook. gotta find that photo when i go home for christmas. memories.

 
At 11/03/2009 7:51 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

John Wallace for sure fits #4. I mean the guy had his own shoe.

Larry Hughes and I will always have something, that stretches far deeper than either of us care to admit...

 
At 11/03/2009 8:07 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I'm assuming Maravich is category 1?

For soccer, the real Ronaldo is certainly category 1 (although thinking about him at Barca, adn what might have been, still brings a tear to the eye when not sober), but any number of his contemporary compatriots would fall to 3 or 4 (Denilson being top of mind here). The Dutch, being the Brazilians of Europe, also do good line in 3s and 4s (Kluivert, Overmars, Bogarde). That Ajax team of the 90s actually provided a couple more non-Dutchmen for this list (Kanu is something between a 3 and 2 masquerading as a 1, Litmanen is somewhere between 2 and 3).

Beckham is a 2, although his celebrity makes many people loathe to admit that (in both directions).

Jeremy Roenick is the Sheed of hockey, a 2 who is distressingly solid in that slot. I want to mention Mats Naslund as a 2, because no one remembers him (and they should).

 
At 11/03/2009 8:20 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

Enough with the Hockey references, have we surrended to Canada yet? NO!!!

As for categories 1 and 2, I nominate the 1999-2000 Portland Trailblazers, in their entirety. I mean Steve Smith, Damon Stoudemire, Brian Grant, Shrempf, Arvydas, Bonzi- what do we do with these people?

I'd also think that the likes of Spreewell, Cassel (he's supposedly a supreme playoff performer), Greg Oden (just wait), Tim Hardaway, Vlade and of course, Alonzo Mourning qualify somewhere.

Now Shoals, I wanna know when we're gonna talk American Needle?

 
At 11/03/2009 8:41 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

In what way did Cassell, Mourning, and Divac not reach their potential? And the fact that Sprewell and Hardaway had many good years puts them in an entirely different category from Sandy Koufax or Gale Sayers or Pete Reiser.

 
At 11/03/2009 10:14 PM, Blogger Pradajames said...

Steve Smith is an excellent example of a #2. Not quite a superstar, certainly not a yeoman. Ultra smooth game, to the point that you see his stat line after watching a game and wonder when all of that happened. He was a Cadillac smoothly passing through a monster truck show.

 
At 11/03/2009 10:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

My apartment flooded and is a war zone so I'm going to be a dick. NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT.

WE ARE TALKING ABOUT PLAYERS WHO SEEMED DESTINED FOR THE HALL OF FAME AND THEN DIED OR BARELY EVER GOT TO PLAY. NOT STEVE SMITH.

Also, what Ty Keenan said.

 
At 11/03/2009 10:23 PM, Blogger fm said...

Antoine Walker is a perfect Canidate for #2...He would make for an excelent read he was maybe the most polarizing sports figure in boston ever. and he acomplished almost everthing you can as a basketball player but people just hated him and his 20 and 10 game
"hey antoine why do you shooot so many threes?.....Because they dont have fours."

 
At 11/03/2009 10:26 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Walker is an underachiever. Nowhere near this conversation.

A friend suggested to me another category: Guys you never thought would be amazing players who ended up being. I am totally prematurely putting Jennings in there.

 
At 11/03/2009 10:40 PM, Blogger Pradajames said...

My bad. I stand by David Thompson and Connie Hawkins though.

 
At 11/03/2009 10:52 PM, Blogger Pradajames said...

Would bringing up Walter Berry cheer you up?

 
At 11/03/2009 10:59 PM, Blogger Ian said...

I like Shoals' new category suggestion. If I may be so bold as to be Canadian, the best possible charter member would be Martin St. Louis. Is there another case, in any of the major sports, of an UNDRAFTED player--one with a considerable size disadvantage to boot--going on to become league MVP, scoring leader, and championship team linchpin? Why aren't there movies about this man?

 
At 11/04/2009 12:38 AM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I'm surprised that no one has brought up Amare yet. He certainly seemed like he was on the path until he got hurt. Or is it that everybody is holding out hope that he will be good for real?

 
At 11/04/2009 2:09 AM, Blogger fondso said...

What to make of the Iverson conundrum? 5 years ago, the mention of him as a "could've been" would have probably been considered heresy, but in light of recent developments, he seems tailor-made for category 2.
Also, this may just be me being a hopelessly nostalgic raps truther, but i can't stop thinking about Mcgrady and what might have been had he stayed in Toronto. In hindsight, his decision to bolt may have perpetually doomed both him and Vince to couldabeen status.
Both are category 2 worthy.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems like that second category will either be overcrowded or necessarily negligent.

 
At 11/04/2009 4:15 AM, Blogger rjlink said...

Most of these these names have been mentioned, but you could do a whole chapter on the potential of the 86 NBA draft alone. Bias, Petrovic, Roy Tarpley, Ron Harper...plus the never-wases Chris Washburn, William Bedford, Walter Berry...didn't Michael Graham look awesome for the '85 Hoyas...what happened? And damn Baskerville Holmes for not becoming a household name.

 
At 11/04/2009 9:41 AM, Blogger SeanW23 said...

Where does the entire crowd of top ten draft picks from the 2005 Rose Bowl stand on this list? Coming out of that season there was as much hoopla about Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, and Michael Huff as there has been or had been since the Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf draft.

On draft day everyone killed the Texans for taking Mario Williams but it turned out to be a brilliant decision. Reggie Bush is likely the best fit for this list given the infinitely high ceiling he was burdened with coming into the draft. People were throwing out Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders comparisons like bath water. He's a solid #2 with raw talent to be a #1 should he get it all together. I mean come on, dude scored on a leap from beyond the six yard line, that's almost 20 feet.

 
At 11/04/2009 10:40 AM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

Webber, though he had a good first half of what would have been a full career, totally still stands out.

He was injured while trying to play hard in a game against the Mavs that they were getting blown out in, though were still favorites for the finals. Webber steps on someone's foot wrong and goes down, not getting his face up from the floor for minutes. He is clearly out for the season and has a glazed look on the bench... probably understanding that he has passed his zenith when he should be finals-bound playing on a perennial contender.

He had the numbers during his pre-injury career, but more importantly he was developing the maturity to have a classic 2nd half of a career. He could have truly stood for redemption had he the chance (a role model for Melo, who is figuring out his greatness, still?), but the injury took it away. Compare how Webber responded to a bullshit playoffs to how the Mavs responded - the Kings were showing something special... then their franchise goes down.

Webber is a knight of resignation if there ever was one in basketball. What he achieved in spite of that is amazing and what he could have achieved was infinite.

 
At 11/04/2009 1:11 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

Wait a minute. Mourning had a kidney replacement. Spree makes Artest look sane to this day. Tim Hardaway found his way to awful teams throughout his career. The 2000 Blazers really don't make this list? Really? None of them? Huh? Look at that roster, these are dreamers who never woke up.

May I add Allan Houston, or is Zeke not enough of a handicap to count?

 
At 11/04/2009 1:13 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

If you insist on someone new from that era, it's Larry Johnson.

 
At 11/04/2009 1:18 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

and Sam Cassell was injured during the epic 2004 Playoffs. And he's the guy who created the giant balls dance.

And he was old for the 2008 Celtics run, which was sad.

(and Mike Dunleavey doesn't qualify as a misuse of talent? really? That whole Blazers team QUALIFIES!!!)

 
At 11/04/2009 1:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This isn't about mediocrity, but disastrous careers that didn't get the chance to be great. Not ten years that disappointed.

 
At 11/04/2009 1:29 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

Shoals, I have to ask, did you see the 2000 Western Conference Finals?

I mean honestly, this was the era defining moment, sure, but really Harper/shaw-Bryant-Fox-Horry-O'Neal with Rice off the bench should've beat the Mighty Mouse-Smith-Pippen-Wallace-Sabonis with Bonzi Shrempf and Grant off the bench combo? I mean they were up 3-1 in the series before Dunleavey took over.

They could've stopped the whole ShaqKobe era. But alas Dunleavey...

 
At 11/04/2009 1:35 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

For these purposes, I'm really not interested here in teams that could've won a title but didn't. Unless they won three straight and then everyone died.

Putting the 2000 Blazers in this discussion is like saying you want to kill yourself because you broke up with your high school girlfriend.

 
At 11/04/2009 1:42 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

Fair enough but look at the residual effects: Sabonis, Smith and Stoudemire, never achieved the highest heights. Pippen never accomplished without MJ. The whole of Bonzi's career.

You cited Coaching misplays. The 2000 Western Finals, stand as a monument to the omnipotence of poor coaching, and the effect it has on players.

 
At 11/04/2009 1:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This is really pissing me off.

"Never achieved the highest heights" describes 99.999% of pro athletes. The point of reference here should be the kind of exalted names in the actual post. Not underachievers, or "not quite there," or "if X had happened, he would've been really good."

Sabonis counts but not for the reasons you think.

 
At 11/04/2009 1:49 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

Ok. So lets not include Coaching misuses. I mean, that was one of the categories in the original posts. But you know, whatever.

 
At 11/04/2009 2:03 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

As in, made to play the wrong position for seasons on end and thus wasted.

 
At 11/04/2009 2:05 PM, Blogger Pradajames said...

So does Sabonis count because we never were privy to his best years, yet we heard whispers of his dominance? Or was it his ankles?

 
At 11/04/2009 2:08 PM, Blogger Robert said...

It's funny that you're getting so angry about people (including me, probably) missing the point.

Like you pointed out, it's very subjective. 'sides, the whole subject is obtuse. Whatever that means.

That being said, it's amazing that noone has mentioned Ken Griffey Jr. yet. Talk about wistfulness and tragedy, I don't even like baseball, and thinking about what could've been with him brings me down a little bit.

 
At 11/04/2009 2:14 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'm getting this way because this post is about finding new players to feel extremely emotional about, which involves making yourself very vulnerable, and in turn defensive when you feel like people are just using this framework to talk about you know, dudes, and like, teams that didn't win.

Sabonis is an interesting case. He was pretty old by the time he made the NBA, but on top of that there were injuries. I guess it would depend on what impact you think he might have made without injuries. Maybe a Connie Hawkins situation.

Griffey FOR SURE, and a definite #1.

 
At 11/04/2009 2:26 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

Ok. I guess whatever. Let's just go out and say that Larry Brown coached the 2000 Blazers, the way he did the 2001 Sixers. Does Stoudemire do more? Does he have a real career? Does Pippen win ring 7 if he plays more of a point forward role? Yes. What about Sheed? I mean does the whole Jail Blazer thing never happens if he wins the ring there? If Steve Smith wins a ring is he remembered as an all-time great that season? Heck if Bonzi is allowed to postup from the 2-guard, does he create a new position?

Actually now that I think about it, if the 2000 Portland Band of Misfits wins a championship, do they end Free Darko's whole reason for being?

But alas, Dunleavey put an end to all these questions.

 
At 11/04/2009 2:54 PM, Blogger Pradajames said...

Even with injuries and not making it to the states until his career was in decline, Sabonis is still the best passing center of all time.

His euro career is the stuff of legend (won his first european player of the year award at 20, drafted) and he should've been the driving force behind the best european talent coming to the NBA, but instead remains an afterthought in the average NBA fans mind.

He's an easy guy to get emotional about, had the commies not been such dicks we could've been privy to a player that could've changed an era.

I think Walter Berry is a great story. Maybe the best Big East player of all time, he swept the 1986 player of the year awards in the NCAA...Got to the league, averaged 14/game, hated his coaches (Larry Brown hated him back) and split to europe to be a star...He shouldve been James Worthy 1.5, but instead is a footnote.

 
At 11/04/2009 3:06 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

"Let's just go out and say that Larry Brown coached the 2000 Blazers, the way he did the 2001 Sixers. Does [Damon] Stoudemire do more?"

Lol.

This game is hard, by the way. Ron Artest might make your list. He really hasn't ever had the impact that he supposedly could, and the big brawl certainly seems like an acceptably dramatic catalyst. I think the problem with this is that the Pacers already sucked, and Ron was already a disaster on offense. To me, the brawl gave everyone a way to excuse Ron's pedestrianly frustrating play (on offense), and we think of him of someone who has enormous potential but is crazy instead of someone who has enormous potential but never learned how to play within an offense.

Penny Hardaway is really the only guy who I can think of that definitely qualifies as a #2. I can't think of any #1's, #3's, or #4's.

I don't see at all how Larry Johnson (of the 4 point shot?) qualifies. Was he mediocre because he got hurt? As far as I'm concerned, he's just another tweener who shot too many threes. I only saw him on the Knicks, but I remember he was in NBA Jam for the Hornets. Maybe he was better young.

 
At 11/04/2009 3:11 PM, Blogger M. Penn said...

Dajuan Wagner category 4.

 
At 11/04/2009 3:17 PM, Blogger Robert said...

Well I think I'm starting to get it. And I don't mean to say that I'm laughing at your anger or anything.

Barry Sanders would fit. Incredible player, always played hard despite the inevitable specter of mediocrity for the lions. I don't think anybody disagrees that the Lions did Barry wrong when they wouldn't let him walk. And he played hard anyways.

 
At 11/04/2009 3:30 PM, Blogger Andy said...

I think someone mentioned him in passing -- I nominate Kenny Anderson. No, he didn't die, but he was never the same after the flagrant John Starks foul that broke his wrist.

He was one of the most dominant college players ever. And, for a brief time, he and Drazen and DC looked frightening.

Maybe I nominate the 92-93 Nets?

 
At 11/04/2009 4:00 PM, Blogger MysticalBlack said...

Since the sports have been all over the map, why not include high school/playground prodigies?

1. Ronnie Fields
2. Felipe Lopez
3. Cam'ron - supposedly top 25 in the nation out of high school.
http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=4001667

 
At 11/04/2009 4:15 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

@spanish bombs. "Maybe he was better young." Nice understatement. Yeah, Larry Johnson was fucking better when he was young! His game was completely different, he was like a young Barkley, an absolute beast. And he shot less than one 3 per game before he injured his back.

@Andy. I feel like Kenny Anderson could be there, but he doesn't neatly fall into any of the categories. He entered the league with as much buzz as any point guard in his generation, and then he got injured and became an alcoholic.

 
At 11/04/2009 4:37 PM, Blogger jim said...

What about Artest's buddy Mike Chatfer? Better even than Brandon Roy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFFn-kH7WMw

A lock for HOF, surely, if jail hadn't interfered...


Sorry. Couldn't resist.

It strikes me, though, that while I've had a hard time putting my finger on many players that fit those categories, I can quite easily point to the exact opposite of what you're looking for: Pat Tillman. He's the negative space around the framework for future HOF-derailment that you've suggested. He was never anything more than a mediocre safety on a terrible football team whose (hushed-up friendly-fire) death in Afghanistan brought him the sort of attention and accolades afforded to only the elite of the league.

He's clearly not even remotely close to being anything that might, on a good day, resemble a hall-of-famer, but for a while there, the way his game got talked about could've fooled me. If I didn't know better.

 
At 11/04/2009 4:46 PM, Blogger fondso said...

I'm trying to figure out where a guy like Marbury (and possibly Telfair a few years from now) would fit into this whole schema, but none of the categories seems to fully encompass their undoings.

 
At 11/04/2009 5:50 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

Marbury/Telfair are not nearly good enough.

 
At 11/04/2009 6:51 PM, Blogger rjlink said...

Antonio McDyess is in the Danny Manning vein. Maybe a lesser ceiling though. Before his injury, he was amazing. Headed for perennial All-Star status and who knows what else.

 
At 11/04/2009 7:13 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I may be among those not getting the categories, but do AI and Pip belong in category 1? Hear me out ...

Using the HOF as a metric, since it's cited in the description, when AI is eligible, people are going to reflect upon startling memories that play like YouTube mash-ups and stats that will make them go, "How the F did a 5'11" 160-lb guy do that?" Maybe they'll remember "practice" but that will just be flavor and narrative. They'll think he had a career and he'll go in to the HOF without anyone noticing. And really (here comes the heresy) wasn't he, in his own way, as great and as unfulfilled as Walton?

With Pip, I feel like he too will slide into the HOF without question, but for different reasons. No one will challenge his accomplishments, but they'll always wonder how much of his career was his own and how much was MJ. His is a weird kind of greatness that was limited by someone who was greater.

For category 2, does Glenn Robinson fit? For several years, he played a technically beautiful game on a successful and promising Bucks team. But his game was all about developed skill, not inherent talent. Which meant that his ceiling was never as high as his game might suggest. And that played out as he was decreasingly able to perform at a high level over time.

 
At 11/04/2009 7:18 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Just a little more on Pip. His was just a weird career arc. He went from anonymous prospect to well regarded second banana with questions about mental toughness. Then he gets to lead and for almost two seasons, opinion about him shifts to wondering about his ceiling. MJ comes back and he becomes the best defender in the league, but still just a great second banana. At that point, he's past his prime and goes not to show a wide range of skill and talent, but just not enough to push even good Blazers teams to the summit. That seems like category 1 to me, but maybe I'm not getting it.

Also, where does Rodman fit in all this? Anywhere?

 
At 11/04/2009 7:36 PM, Blogger bloomer said...

How about the guys who simply couldn't get in physical condition to properly use their skills (for reasons, apparently, other than cocaine)?

In boxing, I'm thinking of James Toney. Didn't seem properly trained for his signature fight with Roy Jones, than instead of focusing on being one of the greatest super-middle or light-heavys ever, he blew up and fought overweight most of the rest of his career.

In hoops, there's the classic example of John Williams from the mid-late '80's Bullets. If the memories from when I was 14 are real, he was on the road to superstardom with Barkley-like skills mixed maybe with Bernard King (I might be making that up but it sounds cool) and then somehow ate himself out of the league. Still depressing.

 
At 11/04/2009 11:33 PM, Blogger berts said...

I think I'm joining the fray too late as the thread seems to be dead, but I don't understand why you, Shoals, feel compelled to be a dick about it, considering your categories were not that sharply delineated in the first place and you invited the public at large to chime in.

The dialectical definition of a 2 that you proposed is simply too loose; one person's "player who strung together several seasons of stardom...without distinction" is another person's "tragic."

What I've always understood as the beauty of the Freedarko model of aesthetic appreciation is that it lies in the perceiving subject; my Donnell Harvey is your Len Bias. Maybe it's just me, but the point where Freedarko stopped using continental philosophy as a jumping-off point and turned to Simmons-esque lists and abstract demarcations of value is where it stopped being compelling to read.

 
At 11/04/2009 11:40 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Was never that continental, sorry. And there have been a lot of great suggestions in here. Just not comfortable with comparing Steve Smith to Sandy Koufax.

 
At 11/05/2009 1:27 AM, Blogger berts said...

Sorry for the bluster. I still love the site, but stand by the point that these kinds of "cannon" arguments are, by nature, the province of a kind of conservative sports fandom that Freedarko has always stood apart from.

(And in the American academy, continental thought as a political regime was all about the destruction of the cannon. You can't drop Levinas in a post two weeks ago and come back with, "was never that continental, sorry.")

 
At 11/05/2009 1:33 AM, Blogger berts said...

p.s. cedric ceballos

p.p.s. the debate should be settled by hierarchical value in NBA Jam.

 
At 11/05/2009 2:25 AM, Blogger rjlink said...

Don't think Shoals is being a dick. Some of these comments have been way off base and showing inattention to or miscomprehension of the question, notwithstanding how loosely it may have been framed. No harm in calling people out on it to try to keep things on track.

 
At 11/05/2009 2:26 AM, Blogger Jordan Hartshorn said...

Hockey

1. Milan Hejduk? - Excellent stats throughout his career considering the era of the NHL he played in, and also has a Stanley Cup to boot. Hejduk even has a goalscoring trophy in his cabinet. Won't be remembered with the All-time greats, but was certainly valuable in his prime.

Brendan Shanahan - Has a 100 point season and a cup or two. Perhaps played too long - has been a non-factor over his final seasons.


2. Jason Allison or Cam Neely - Both had brilliant campaigns for the Bruins during the 90s, but injuries got the better of their careers. Of the two, Neely is likely the better fit.

Heck, if we're focusing on tragic, then we might as well toss Eric Lindros in No. 2. Who knows how effective he would have been if his brain hadn't of turned to mush.

3. Goaltender Jim Carey - Wins the Vezina Trophy (Outsatanding goaltender) one season, and then plummets. When Dominik Hasek was winning Vezinas and league MVP awards in his sleep, Carey outplayed him for one season. Now? Who knows.


4. Pavel Brendl - Tore up the Western Hockey League. Drafted fourth overall by the New York Rangers, but only got in 74 games.

Alexei Cherepanov - Big time prospect. Died of heart problems last year while playing in Russia.

Scott Scissons - Drafted after Jaromir Jagr. Got injured and managed a grand total of two NHL games.

Hockey GM Brian Burke once said that, and I am paraphrasing, "the hockey graveyards are littered with 100 point scorers from their junior days." In Canada many players get heralded as the next big thing, so when they achieve only role-player status in the pro ranks they're remembered as frauds. How well known they are to the general sporting populace, however, is likely another matter.

 
At 11/05/2009 8:50 AM, Blogger goathair said...

Pippen was an 'anonymous product' only in the sense that he went to a small school. He was picked 5th in the draft, after all. Teams were scheming to pick him because people were pretty high on him. It's not like he was some random bro who ended up being good. He was expected to be good.

 
At 11/05/2009 9:21 AM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I don't know many people who would make the claim that Pippen's career was remotely unfulfilled.

 
At 11/05/2009 9:48 AM, Blogger afh4 said...

Brad Daugherty.

The rest of the '86 draft fills up the "drugs" category but they never really played well enough to seem like dreams deferred.

 
At 11/05/2009 10:17 AM, OpenID paorta said...

Hartshorn--

Eric Lindros is a good one. I don't know about Brendl, Allison, Carey, or Scissons, though. And Neely--it's kind of hard to blame his career on injuries, because would he have had the same career if he hadn't played so recklessly?

 
At 11/05/2009 10:26 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Thurman Munson. Probably a solid 2. Had his number retired and hit .529 with six consecutive hits in the 1976 World Series. Died in a plane crash at 32. Sounds pretty tragic to me. His locker is in the hall of fame, so that's the only thing that throws me.

And am I the only one who thinks that All Day is headed straight for number 1 status? He even lowers his head into tackles. That's part of what makes him great, but at the same time, his longevity is doubtful.

 
At 11/05/2009 10:38 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

The NFL seems set up right now to manufacture #1's. I'm thinking of RB's who start as back-ups, then have to unseat a starter and/or sign with another team, then are done by 30.

Say Michael Turner goes for 1700 yards for four more years. Then what?

 
At 11/05/2009 11:51 AM, Blogger tray said...

In golf, Ernie Els. Anyone who's ever seen him play when he's on knows that his two U.S. Opens and one British, along with about 50 pro wins in non-majors and the 72 hole scoring record on the PGA and European Tours, is, as ridiculous as it may sound, ghastly underachievement. He could have had a career nearly as good as Tiger's; he definitely, much more so than Phil, could've given Tiger a run for his money.

 
At 11/05/2009 12:20 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

@goathair--"Low profile" might have been a better choice of words. I do think that he was "anonymous" to the general NBA public at the time. The small school history is relevant. People didn't and don't know how to evaluate talent from small schools. But it's a peripheral point.

@spanish bombs--I disagree. Winning six rings doesn't mean that he fulfilled his career. Jordan's presence obscures whether Pippen had exactly the career that he was capable of having or whether he could have been even greater than he was.

 
At 11/05/2009 1:01 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

As mentioned several hundred comments ago, Klosterman's essay on Ralph Sampson (in the new book, which I just got in the mail) adds a lot to this. I'd call Sampson a #2, and wish I'd written a more nuanced take on this instead of a taxonomy.

 
At 11/05/2009 3:59 PM, Blogger King Fish said...

Don Mattingly's a clear number 2. He won the 1984 batting title in his second season, won the MVP in 1985, hit .350 and finished 2nd in MVP voting in 1986. 1989-1990 the back gets bad, his BA falls under .300 for the first time in his career, and he is just above average until the end.
Guy takes steroids and he's in the HOF today.

 
At 11/05/2009 4:38 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Priest Holmes seems to fit your bill for running backs - set TD records and was done within a couple of years (broken neck notwithstanding)

 
At 11/05/2009 6:16 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Uncanny parallels can be drawn between Scottie Pippen and Jari Kurri. The main difference is that Jari won a Cup without Wayne Gretzky. (Wayne never won one without Jari.) We were also presented with the sad spectacle of a late Rangers reunion when both were pretty much spent. Imagine if Jordan and Pippen had done that.

 
At 11/05/2009 9:25 PM, Blogger 7.5 PSI said...

I feel there should be some real life Sidd Finch types, who just walked away into the sunset, but all I'm coming up with are Bjorn Borg and Bobby Fischer, both of whom were probably as high as they were going when they walked. I bet there are examples in non-money sports.

 
At 11/05/2009 10:39 PM, Blogger Mars Sunshine said...

Wow.

Hello there, Elephant. How did you come into the room

Watching the Cavs-Bulls game tonight, and I gotta say it, and I know with the degree of ESPN-ification of his career, but dammit, he was better three years ago, and...

Lebron for group #1

In ten years, we will be asking questions about how good Lebron would've been if he had been in a better situation.

I mean what is the crunch time supporting cast of Moe-Delonte-Z-Old Diesel?

Or the 1 v. 5 offense to close out every game vs. the Magic last year?

It's a cry for help, and somebody needs to intervene.

I know he's pre-destined for the HOF, but I mean that's a far cry from the Russell-Magic-Michael hybrid he could've been.

Tears from a star.

 
At 11/06/2009 9:32 AM, Blogger Greg said...

I agree with Shoals that the NFL (and, realistically, most sporting leagues) pushes players towards being of the #1 variety (which, using the law of averages, will produce an astounding number of #2s with a supporting cast of #3s). My question is, why?

It's like burning magnesium versus burning wood. Burning wood would seem to be in the better interest of the sport, but it's boring. Wood burns all the time. Magnesium is blindingly brilliant. It catches everyone's attention... but it isn't sustainable. I mean, I know the public tends to get bored with public figures quickly, but does that mean it's really the best business move to continually push out 7 year stars that end up crippled for life?

 
At 11/06/2009 3:26 PM, Blogger Justin said...

I feel like the first category should encompass people who (as time progresses and details fade) linger in everyone's hazy, nostalgic minds as big-time players and unfailingly clutch performers.

In light of that, I nominate Curt Schilling for inclusion. He'll spark big debate when he becomes HOF-eligible, and that debate will be fierce. His career numbers are dogshit, but his big-game play is unquestioned, and that distorts his legacy. People will think back and wonder why his numbers were so mundane, and it will logically follow that he was unmotivated, or poorly equipped, or an overwhelming waste of talent. But they'll remember. And that's the key.

 
At 11/06/2009 10:09 PM, Blogger torgo said...

As mentioned above, Ron Harper. He was a scoring machine. Granted, the titles say he got "fulfillment" but what could he have been without the knee injuries? I imagine the Bulls never would have been able to sign him on the cheap to play point guard, and that he could have, quite likely, ended up with a couple scoring titles (awesome talent on mediocre team type scoring titles).

What about Wally Szczerbiak? He wasn't supposed to be all world, but his knees have pretty much died on him. He was hyped up to be KG's Pippen, but, well, bam.

J.J. Redick, 3 or 4?

 
At 11/07/2009 2:11 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Everyone knows that the clutch is where it counts. Probably my favorite football player of all time is Terry Bradshaw. Mediocre stats. Favre-esque interceptions. But when the playoffs came, the guy was spot on.

 
At 11/09/2009 12:06 PM, Blogger Jack said...

Victor Page. He was a dominant scorer at every level he played (for the Hoyas and then in the CBA) at but wasn't drafted after he missed the pre-draft camp, blew his second shot lying about getting into a fight and generally was considered to unstable to bring out of the CBA. Then he gets shot in the eye in 2003, which would have been his prime.

 
At 11/09/2009 9:53 PM, Blogger RT Travaloni said...

Someone mentioned Albert King a little while back. I give you...Bernard King. Always depressing to see a dude still get his numbers in a way less athletic way, and B. King was the avatar of all that for me. Think new Amare, think new Gilbert, think. (IF blurb reference...)

 
At 11/10/2009 9:15 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

I know I'm coming to this really late, but here's a couple names that haven't been mentioned

1.) Jeff Ruland had a Pete Reiser type career. Excellent game, but was killed by injuries

2.) Alex Groza was arguably better than Mikan before getting kicked out of the league due to a gambling scandal.

3.) There should probably be a section dedicated to everyone who ever had contact with Jack Molinas (Hawkins, of course, is probably the ultimate "what-if" guy)

4.) He was only briefly mentioned, but Roy Tarpley was fantastic when he actually played.

 

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