What Could've Been

There's a huge flaw in today's NBA game, a word that gets tossed around way too much.  It's what gives guys like Darius Miles and Jonathan Bender and Nikol Tskitishvili and most recently, Andrea Bargnani, comfortable lifestyles they frankly shouldn't have.  That word is potential.

We can thank Kevin Garnett in today's modern NBA for it really.  He initiated the trend of skipping college completely and all of a sudden teams didn't care so much about players who could contribute immediately, since they weren't going to be competing for a title soon, but rather for the future.  Garnett turned that potential into an illustrious career.  Many others have not.

But what about that rarest of instances, where the potential for a player is seen.  Like one of those sampler trays at the mall where you get a little taste of how good something really is.  Kinda like Penny Hardaway.

Let's face it.  The guy was the entire package.  He was LeBron before LeBron.  He was the next Magic Johnson.  And after the 1995 Finals, after having defeated a Michael Jordan squad (albeit rusty) he was on top of the world at the tender age of 23.  Coming off of that loss to the Rockets in the Finals I really felt Hardaway was the 2nd best player in the entire league behind Olajuwon.  51% FG from a point guard who averaged 21 and 7 in only his 2nd year in the league?  Constantly demanding double teams in the post?  He was incredible. 

But then something happened on the way to the Hall of Fame.  Microfracture surgery.  And Hardaway was never the same.  In fact never even close.  Sure he had a few decent seasons in Phoenix but never at that level again.  To put it into perspective for Celtic fans, Hardaway had 2 All NBA first team appearances in 1995 and 1996.  In other words, 2 more than Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have ever had.  Combined.

This all comes down to one question I'm hoping someone can help answer: That is, has there ever been a player in any major sports who went from being so great to so bad throughout a career?  I'll admit I don't watch the other sports as much so I have no idea of what names to throw out there.  Grant Hill was very good- but his team never got out of the 1st round of the playoffs.  Steve Francis was good but not as good as Hardaway.

In my opinion, I think Anfernee Hardaway's career epitomizes the ultimate tragedy in modern sports history.  From being on the ultimate plateau (All NBA) to plummeting to the tenth level of hell (Penny "Expiring Contract" Hardaway).  Was his injury that bad?  Did he not work hard enough to get back to that level?  Was he comfortable financially and lost the drive?  Would MJ have done that?