For every athlete we admire, there are thousands of others who don’t manage to make it, for one reason or another.
However, there are times in which a potential star in the making, doesn’t turn out to be as bright as we expected.
Whether because of serious injuries, lack of attitude or pure bad luck, the list of athletes who underperformed throughout their sporting lives is almost endless.
Check out our list of famous athletes whose career could have turned out to be much better.
Jay Williams was one of the best basketball promises in 2002. A point guard for Duke University, one of the most established colleges for future sports stars, he was named Rookie of the Year during his first season with the Blue Devils, where he averaged 14 points and 6.5 assists per game.
He was chosen by the Chicago Bulls with the second overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, and every expert was predicting a bright career for him.
However, just before the start of the 2003 season, Williams crashed his motorcycle just outside Chicago, breaking his pelvis and tearing his ACL as a consequence. He required physical therapy just to be able to walk again.
Sadly, after several failed attempts to come back from the horrific injury, Williams was forced to retire and never played in the NBA ever again.
In 1993, at nineteen years of age, Monica Seles was at the top of her game and at the top of the women’s tennis world. She had just won her third French Open in a row and it seemed like there was nothing and no one standing in her way.
Destiny, however, had its own cruel plans, and on April 30th of the same year, the American superstar was stabbed in the back by a deranged fan in Germany, who was said to be a fan of her rival at the time Steffi Graf.
Although Seles’ injury was not life-threatening, she never really recovered psychologically from it, even though she managed to win the Australian Open three years later.
Incidentally, the crazy fan never went to jail for the attack due to mental instability.
During the 50’s, the US were madly in love with basketball up-and-coming champion Maurice Stokes. He had everything to make it big in the NBA, to the point that many people considered him to be even better than legends of the game such as Los Angeles Laker Elgin Baylor and Boston Celtic Bill Russel.
A revolutionary college player, he was one of the first who could play three roles in one, as he was equally effective as a centre, a power forward and a guard.
The Cincinnati Royals bet big on Stokes and selected him with the second overall pick in 1955.
Unfortunately, it all came to a devastating halt during the last game of the 1958 season when he hit his head on the hard floor.
Stokes felt dizzy on the plane back to Cincinnati and eventually suffered a seizure, went into a coma and woke up completely paralysed, a heartbreaking premature end to what could have been a glittering career.
Tonya Harding was the first woman to complete a triple axle in an official US competition, during the 1991 U.S. championships. She was a star in the making, one of the brightest in the entire world, who somehow sympathised with her due to her humble background.
However, the crowds suddenly turned their backs on their favourite ice skating star in 1994, when her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, together with some friends attacked his wife’s main rival Nancy Kerrigan while she was training for the US Figure Skating Championships. Kerrigan was eventually left unable to take part in the competition and Harding won it.
After the incident, she told reporters that she had no prior knowledge of the plan and she had absolutely no part in it, but admitted she was responsible for failing to report it to the police.
Because she eventually confessed, Harding was allowed to compete in the 1994 Winter Olympics, where Kerrigan, who recovered in the meantime, won the silver medal, while Harding finished eighth.
One month after returning from the Olympics, Harding was eventually found guilty of conspiracy to hinder prosecution and was banned from US figure skating for life.
Freddy Adu’s name has become synonymous with that of unfulfilled promise.
The once rising football star Adu, who is remarkably still only 30 years-old, moved to the US from Ghana back in 1997 when his family won a Green Card Lottery.
He made history when he made his Major League Soccer (MLS) professional debut with D.C. United at the very young age of 14, becoming the youngest ever professional in the history of US sport. He was destined for greatness.
However, something, somewhere, must have gone incredibly wrong, as, for the following 15 years, Adu began to wander the world in search of his much-anticipated breakthrough.
He played in Brazil, Serbia, Finland, Portugal, France, Greece and Turkey, without ever leaving his mark in any of the teams he played for.
He was last seen playing for the American lower division team Las Vegas Lights FC in 2018.
Perhaps there is no one way to explain why Adu’s career has not turned out the way it was supposed to, but if we can learn one thing from his story is that we can never foresee what the future has in store for us.
Former tennis player Andy Roddick was supposed to follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest athletes that the US produced for the sport, such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
Roddick climbed the ladder and, thanks to his 2003 US Open win, he found himself at the top of the APT ranking.
Sadly, that also went on to become the pinnacle of his career, as he was never able to claim another slam title ever, although he went terribly close in 2004 and 2005 when he reached the Wimbledon final in back-to-back years.
Surely playing during the time of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal did not help his cause, but winning a single slam title throughout an entire career is certainly a bitter disappointment for someone who was destined to be the next big tennis superstar.
Let’s be clear, by all means Chinese big man Yao Ming was not a disappointment for basketball fans around the world.
The 2.26 metres-tall centre averaged over 13 points and 8 rebounds throughout his rookie season with the Houston Rockets, proving he could be the answer to the dominating force in the league at the time, the great Los Angeles Laker Shaquille O’Neal.
Over his next seasons in the NBA, Yao forged a new type of big player, comfortable when close to the rim, as well as highly efficient when far from it, thanks to an impeccable technique and a deadly shot.
He was a true pioneer of the modern three-point-shooting centres we see everywhere now. So why is he on our list, one might ask?
Well, the truth is that Yao’s enormous potential was never quite fulfilled as he would go on to play less than 60 games a season between 2005 and 2008, due to the multiple surgeries to his left foot and ankle.
During his last season in the NBA, Yao only played five games before retiring at 30 years of age, a sad epilogue to what could have been a legendary career.
Being regarded as one of the most promising football players in recent years, Robinho has definitely failed to live up to the hype.
After an astonishingly brilliant start of his career with Santos in Brazil, he made a big move to Real Madrid. However, things did not exactly go as planned, in fact he failed to make an impact at Los Blancos, contrary to what everyone anticipated.
After only scoring 25 goals in 101 appearances, in 2008 he left Real Madrid to move to up-and-coming Manchester City for over €45 million.
Once again, the move didn’t go as well as planned, also due to some off-the-pitch problems and, in 2010, Robinho signed with AC Milan, but his prime years were obviously gone and he disappointed there as well.
Later spells in China and Turkey proved that the once promising Brazil international could have made it much bigger than he did throughout his lacklustre career.
It is quite disappointing that former quarterback Donovan McNabb never managed to win the Super Bowl title throughout his many years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
NFL fans either loved or hated McNabb and, in fact, the perennial split in opinion reflected his game most of the times.
In the space of just a match, he could turn from one of the best players of his time to a complete and utter disappointment.
A product of Syracuse, a college with decades of tradition for American football players, ultimately McNabb’s biggest enemy was often … McNabb!
His inconsistency, paired with an undoubtable talent for the game, baffled analysts, opponents and even his own teammates, who turned to their leader for guidance more times than not, only to be bitterly let down the majority of times.
McNabb’s career teaches us that talent is never enough on the big stage, unless it’s combined with dedication and hard work.
There was little doubt that the Portland Trail Blazers made the right choice when, in 2007, they selected Greg Oden with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Standing at 2.13 metres, Oden was definitely the biggest prospect in the basketball world at the time. As a second pick, the now defunct Seattle Supersonics chose a lanky small forward from the University of Texas, Kevin Durant.
Long story short, Durant went on to being one of the best ever players to grace the game, winning the NBA title and the Finals MVP Award twice, while Oden remained a proverbial unfulfilled basketball promise.
Before his first pro season even started, Oden had microfracture surgery on his right knee, which took him out him for the entire 2007-08 season.
Oden eventually made his NBA debut in the 2008-09 season, averaging 9 points and 7 rebounds per game, but, during his second year, he got injured again, this time on the other knee and missed another season.
He had later unsuccessful spells with the Miami Heat and with the Jiangsu Dragons in China, but never managed to revive his career, to the point when he actually had to call it quits in 2016, at only 28 years of age.
Legendary boxer Mike Tyson made his professional debut in 1985, when the then18-year-old force of nature defeated Hector Mercedes with a first round knockout.
After winning 26 out of 28 fights by knockout or technical knockout, he earned the possibility of becoming the next heavyweight world champion, which he did at 20-years-old, the youngest ever in history.
Tyson’s career seemed destined to go even further, as he continued to win countless fights and he even had his name associated with a video game.
Alas, his problems off the ring eventually had the better of him. In 1990, he lost his title amidst personal problems, such as his explosive marriage to actress Robin Givens.
Also, the boxer was accused and convicted of raping Miss Black Rhode Island Desiree Washington, and was sentenced to three years in jail.
After his release, in a match against Evander Holyfield, Tyson bit part of his opponents’ ear and his boxing license was rescinded.
He has also struggled with drug abuse and severe depression throughout the years, pleading guilty to possession of cocaine in 2007.
Once one of the most famous athletes in the world, Tyson’s fall from grace was as spectacular as his stunning, albeit brief, boxing career.
Tim Tebow was a true American football star in college, having lifted the coveted Heisman trophy in 2007, while playing for the University of Florida.
A great prospect for the upcoming NFL Draft, he was known for his great leadership skills and his positive attitude around teammates.
However, when he eventually joined the league, after being selected by the Denver Broncos, Tebow cracked under the pressure and started underperforming game after game.
He was eventually traded to the New York Jets, but his career, unfortunately, did not get much better, as he never even started a game from the beginning for his new team.
He subsequently had brief spells at the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles but was cut from both teams before the season even started.
His career took such a bad turn that eventually, in 2016, Tebow announced he would pursue a career in professional baseball, and signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets.