By Michael Tapia— If we’ve seen it once, we’ve seen it a million times – injuries hindering the next superstar’s performance and consequently limiting their chances of becoming the biggest thing. The list of great shooting guards/small forwards to hit the NBA with the potential of becoming the best player in the league exists but it is one of those topics that simply gets overlooked. You’ll be surprised to see who we remembered throughout the years.
How many times didn’t we toy with the idea of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway becoming the next Michael Jordan when he came into the league in 1993 while “His Airness” was retired? Then came Grant Hill a year later and everyone said, “no he’s the next Jordan”. The 90’s flew by, the torched was passed to Kobe Bryant, and he had his contenders for best player of the league title. In 2000, Tracy McGrady impacted the league with 2065 points causing everyone to say, “watch out for this guy”. Now in 2010 the latest phenom in this category is Brandon Roy who has been highly regarded as one of the premier guards/forwards in the league but as of late has been limited due to injury.
1993 was a sad year for basketball with Michael Jordan announcing his retirement and everyone saying, “what now”? Jordan had been spoiling basketball fans worldwide with his savvy and dominating game, revolutionizing the sport with a style never seen before. The competition was simply not use to a guy with so many weapons. Jordan was just simply unstoppable if he didn’t execute the next acrobatic dunk that kids would try to imitate in playground across the country the following day, he would simply pull his famous fadeaway jumper and if that was not possible he drive in and draw the foul. Jordan was simply one of a kind; the man simply knew the ins and outs of basketball better than anyone – when he left, the league lost its essence, that beauty that only Jordan could bring to the game. Naturally, everyone looked for a replacement and all eyes turned to this young up and coming shooting guard with a jumpshot as wet as Jordan’s.
His name was Anfernee Hardaway and they called him “Penny” because he wore number 1 for the Orlando Magic. He was this tall lanky 22-year old kid with a style as flamboyant as Michael’s who loved to dunk and with a jumper as smooth as Jordan and perhaps better handles. With a style so charismatic, that appealed to kids and adults everywhere and a future as bright as the stars why wouldn’t he be the successor to Jordan’s throne. To validate his case further he played alongside the next best big man in the league, Shaquille O’Neal. Penny had it all, talent, charisma, swagger, and great teammates in O’Neal, Nick Anderson and later Horace Grant. Being so extroverted and having so much potential, everyone simply said that the kid had to be the next Jordan. Unfortunately, in his fifth year in the league disaster struck and Penny will no longer be the same. Hardaway suffered a knee injury that limited him to just 19 games during the 1997-1998 season. From 1998 on it was downhill for him, as he had to endure an additional four surgeries that gradually weakened his explosiveness. Sadly, by the time Penny matured and acquire enough experience to reach his peak as a professional player his knees had suffered too much damage.
One year after Penny entered the league the Detroit Pistons drafted what many expected to be their ticket to good times in Grant Hill. Coming out of Duke University, one of the elite basketball programs in the nation; Hill was considered one of the best groomed players in the 1994 NBA Draft. The expectations for Hill were so high in Detroit that people expected him to bring back the Joe Dumars/Isiah Thomas glory days. What made Hill so coveted was his versatility as a small forward, the league had many midsize players that could score and create for themselves, but here came this kid that could create for himself and others. Hill’s abilities went beyond your typical scorer he was also a good passer and rebounder, in his rookie year he averaged 19.9 points, 5.0 assists and 6.4 rebounds. Hill had it all; he had offense and defense, he excelled on both sides of the floor. His talent was so high that he was the first Piston’s rookie to score 1,000 points since Isiah Thomas in the 1981-1982 campaign. With Hill scoring nearly as much as Jordan and Penny and rebounding more people simply regarded him as the future of the team. Coincidently, just like Penny while playing for Orlando, Hill kept suffering ankle injuries limiting him to just five games in his first season with the Magic. Hill just like Penny would never be the same, playing just 14 his second year, 29 his third and sitting out his entire fourth year in Orlando. In March 2003, doctors performed surgery on Hill in which they re-fractured his ankle and realigned it with his leg bone. Hill also victim to injuries could not reach his peak during his prime.
Another highly talented guard/forward to experience the same fate as the aforementioned was Tracy McGrady also known as “T-Mac”. McGrady came up with the Toronto Raptors but had to play under the shadow of his cousin Vince Carter, a very powerful dunker. McGrady did not blow up until the 1999-2000 season when he averaged 15.4 points per game. McGrady was paving the road for what seemed to be a start studded career in the best basketball league in the world. At just 23 years old, McGrady captured his first scoring title averaging 32.1 points per game during the 2002-2003 season, he’d become the youngest to do so since the NBA merged with the ABA. The following season McGrady took the scoring title again this time averaging 28 points per game. After leading the league in scoring two consecutive years people around the NBA started to compare McGrady to Kobe Bryant as arguably the best guard in the NBA. Unfortunately, calamity struck T-Mac in his second season in Houston when he suffered from back spasms limiting him to 47 games – from that year on, his level of play continued to decline never again coming close of averaging his career high of 32.1. Back injuries continue to sidelined McGrady who only got to play as little as six games in his last year in Houston. Due to his poor physical state throughout his best year McGrady soon faded from the pinnacle of the basketball world. By the time he was 28 McGrady was no longer subject of conversation regarding the best basketball player topic.
The latest victim to calamity seems to be Brandon Roy who has been ailing to knee injuries for the last two seasons. Roy who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers since the 2006-2007 won rookie of the year after averaging 17.1 points per game. After seeing Roy mature and making great progress in his first three years in the league, many started taking him as a serious as one of the premier shooting guards in the league right under Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. As of late, it seems as if Roy’s knees are taking the same route as his teammate Greg Oden’s who has had to sit a great part of his four years with similar issues. According to reports, Roy who has lost some athleticism and has been playing with troubling knees for years now is not optimistic as, “There’s no real hope of it improving,”. Another source adds that doctors say, “It’s bad and it’s not getting better.” Because of this, he is not as quick and explosive as he once was something similar to what happened to Penny Hardaway. One league source said, “He’s not going to be the franchise superstar that [Portland] thought he would be.” The toughest part of Roy’s predicament is the franchise and the fans coming to terms with the fact that he will not be the next Clyde Drexler who was just under Jordan during the early 90’s. It would be sad to see Roy not able to become the best shooting guard in the Western Conference once Kobe Bryant steps down.
Although we have enjoyed watching greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and now LeBron James play basketball against the best, how much more competitive would this great sport had been if it wasn’t for injuries limiting other greats on their way up. Just imagine how exciting it would have been to see a healthy Penny compete against Jordan in the Eastern Conference Finals during Jordan’s second stint with the bulls. Better yet let us picture what a great duo would Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady would had been matching up against the likes of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the NBA Finals. The latest victim of this wicked phenomenon called injury is Brandon Roy who we hope to continue seeing in many more All-Star games to come but are now uncertain of.