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NBA Players Who Returned Successfully After Suffering Major Injuries

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NBA Players Who Returned Successfully After Suffering Major Injuries

Over the course of NBA history, we have seen many career trajectories change instantly. We have watched countless potential stars and superstars go down with significant injuries and never be the same again. Grant Hill, Brandon Roy, Penny Hardaway, and Bill Walton are just a few examples of players we saw tap into only a tiny fraction of what their NBA careers should have been. Injuries and other factors have robbed them of maximizing their potential and leaving a mark on NBA history forever. 

Then there are the guys who did bounce back. As time has gone on and medicine and science advance, injuries that once stole a career may only cost someone a season or two. Gone are the days of the career death sentence at the hands of a torn ACL. The players listed below looked adversity in the face and came out on top. After going down with injuries that would cripple the average human, these players came back to have a significant impact on winning basketball and shine bright amongst their peers.

These are the NBA players that suffered a major injury and came back strong.


Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

One of the more forgotten parts of Michael Jordan’s career is the foot injury he suffered in 1985. Before he established himself as the greatest player of all time, Jordan had to handle some adversity as well. It was just his 2nd season in the NBA, but MJ was well on his way to being the legend he is known as today. Just 3 games into the 1985-86 season, Jordan suffered a broken foot that would cost him the next 65 games. Jordan returned for the final 15 games of the season and made his first mark on NBA history that postseason.

The Bulls did enough without Jordan to earn a playoff berth. Unfortunately, they drew the Hall Of Fame roster of the Boston Celtics. Jordan went ballistic for Chicago, averaging 43.7 PPG, but the Bulls were swept in the first round. The following seasons began a streak of 7 straight seasons with a scoring title for Jordan and 3 championships for Chicago. Jordan would never face a major injury scare again with the Bulls as he became widely known as the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball. 


Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford Chicago Bulls

Jamal Crawford is widely regarded as one of the best bench players in NBA history. What most people tend to forget is that he tore his ACL very early on in his career. After his rookie season, Jamal Crawford underwent reconstructive surgery on his knee. The injury cost him 59 games of his sophomore season with the Chicago Bulls, but it didn’t stop him from working his way back into the NBA rotation. In his final season with Chicago, 2 years after the injury, Crawford developed into a 17.0 PPG player as a starter.

He would continue to thrive as a starter, and in 2008 with the New York Knicks, Crawford averaged a career-high 20.6 PPG in 80 games as their starting shooting guard. In 2010 is when Crawford would start to build his reputation as an all-time bench player. With the Hawks that season, Crawford appeared in 79 games off the bench and won his first Sixth Man of the Year award averaging 18.0 PPG. He would add 2 more Sixth Man of the Year awards to his mantle in 2014 and 2016 with the Los Angeles Clippers.


Kevin Durant

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One of the most polarizing personalities to ever step foot in the NBA, Kevin Durant lands on our list for what he has done over the past 2 seasons with the Brooklyn Nets. Love him or hate him, Durant is one of the more talented offensive players the game has seen over the past 20 years. He can score at will from anywhere on the floor. He can create a shot from anywhere on the floor as well with his slender build and 7’0’’ frame mixed with the ball handling skills of an elite guard. Leading up to the 2019 injury that sidelined him for over a year, Durant was in the conversation for the best player in basketball after leading the Warriors to back-to-back championships and claiming both Finals MVP awards.

The 2019 NBA Finals were supposed to be the Finals that the Golden State Warriors cemented themselves as the next dynasty in basketball. They were gunning for their 3rd championship in a row against the Toronto Raptors. Durant was banged up before the series again but pushed and pushed and fought his way back into the lineup. It didn’t take long for disaster to strike as Durant went down with a ruptured Achilles during Game 5 of that series. The injury would cost him 552 days of basketball. Over the past 2 seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, there have been some ups and downs, but Durant has returned to his status as an MVP-caliber player. Can he deliver the first NBA championship in the Nets' history?


Dominique Wilkins

Dominique Wilkins

Dominique Wilkins was one of the most exciting and consistent superstars of the 80s and 90s. He was a high-flying proficient scorer who left his mark on NBA history with the highlights he laid down throughout his career. His consistency is legendary, with his decade straight of at least 25.0 PPG in a season. He was elected a 9x All-Star, 2x Slam Dunk champion, and took home a scoring title in 1986. When Wilkins went down with an Achilles rupture in 1992, it was thought to be a career-ender. Wilkins made it anything but.

When Wilkins returned to action for the 1992-93 season, fans and the entire NBA community were stunned. What he did next was an inconceivable thought for someone who had just suffered an injury such as his. Wilkins adapted to his lost explosiveness and changed around his entire game. He would play in 71 contests in the 1992-93 season and average 29.9 PPG on 46.8% shooting. He would again average 26.0 PPG in the 1993-94 season for the Hawks and Clippers. He would retire for good in 1999 with a career-scoring average of 24.8 PPG. 


Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

The legend of Kobe Bryant is a tale that will be told for a lifetime. He was a 5x champion, 2x Finals MVP, and a 1x MVP. He gave us some of the greatest moments in basketball history throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Before the injury, Kobe was a basketball God. He was incredibly agile, athletic, fast, and strong. When he went down with a torn Achilles in 2013, many thought that with his age, it could have been the end of his career, but this is Kobe Bryant we are talking about.

Was Kobe an MVP-caliber player when he came back? No, he wasn’t. He would only play in 41 games over the next two years, as a matter of fact. He was still able to give us some vintage Kobe moments, even though it wasn’t translating to wins for the Los Angeles Lakers at the time. The end of Kobe’s career was awkward for all parties involved. Kobe wanted to win, and the Lakers needed to prepare for life after he was gone from the game. Kobe’s biggest moment post-injury was his final game played at Staples Center. Bryant went out there and led the Lakers to a win with 60 points on the Utah Jazz. He went out exactly how an all-time great should go out.


Willis Reed

Willis Reed

Willis Reed is one of those players that you sit back and wonder what could have been if it hadn’t been for all of the injuries. The thing is, Willis Reed was pretty spectacular, regardless. By the time 1970 rolled around, Willis Reed had already established himself as a 6x All-Star and one of the best big men in the league. He won the 1970 MVP award while leading the Knicks to a 60-22 record. He would lead the Knicks to the NBA Finals against Wilt Chamberlain and the Los Angeles Lakers. During Game 5 of those Finals, Reed would suffer a torn thigh muscle, calling into question the rest of the series and his career. 

What happened next is a story that should be told as long as NBA basketball exists. Reed would miss Game 6 with the injury, and the Lakers were able to force a Game 7 as a result. Reed would take painkilling injections before tipoff. He made his way out onto the court to a resounding roar from the crowd. Reed would play just 27 minutes of Game 7 but his 2 first quarter baskets and defense on Wilt Chamberlain propelled the Knicks to victory as Reed claimed the Finals MVP award. Reed would add another championship and Finals MVP in 1973, completing one of the greater comebacks in NBA history. 


Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor is one of the greatest small forwards to ever play the game. Over the course of his career with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers, Baylor helped them reach a total of 7 NBA Finals and averaged 27.4 PPG for his career. Baylor battled knee injuries and ailments for most of his career, but his most significant injury came during the 1965 season. Leading up to the injury, Baylor was one of the top-scoring wing players in the game, averaging 30.4 PPG over those 6 years. Toward the end of the 1965 season, Baylor suffered a detached patella that would stall his career as it stood.

The 1966 season for Baylor saw a valid attempt at a comeback but glaring evidence that he was not the same. In 65 games, he averaged 16.6 PPG and 9.6 RPG, both career lows. He began to find himself in the postseason, averaging 26.8 PPG in 14 playoff games. The trend would continue as Baylor returned to form and produced at an elite level for the next 4 seasons. Baylor never got a chance to be named an NBA champion but will still go down as one of the best players in league history. His valiant comeback from an otherwise career-ending injury only adds to his legacy.


Paul George

Paul George

Paul George is considered one of the best two-way players in the NBA today. However, his career trajectory was called into question at the 2014 Olympics in one of the more gruesome injuries you will ever see. Leading up to the compound leg fracture George suffered, he was already a 2x All-Star who had led the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances. The injury at the Olympics would cost George all but 6 games in the 2015 season, and the Pacers struggled without him, missing the playoffs for the first time since he arrived.

When 2016 finally came around, George was ready to go. He came out that season and played 81 games for the Pacers, averaging 23.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 1.9 SPG. He was back to being an All-Star and one of the best two-way players in the league. In 2019 with the Thunder, George nearly won both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year when he led the league in steals while averaging 28.0 PPG. Currently, George is trying to do something no NBA player has ever been able to do and lead the Clippers to a championship. 


Shaun Livingston

Shaun Livingston

Shaun Livingston suffered one of the most gruesome and gut-wrenching injuries right before our very eyes. In a 2007 matchup vs. the Charlotte Bobcats, Livingston landed awkwardly after a layup on a fast break. What proceeded made stomachs turn everywhere. Livingston had snapped his leg right in half and in the process, tore his ACL, PCL, and sprained his MCL. The injury was so severe that doctors didn’t know if Livingston would ever walk again, let alone play basketball. There were even talks of an amputation of the leg at one point.

Livingston had to work for months and months to build up the strength to use his leg again. After the injury, Livingston was thought to be severely damaged goods before landing with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. Livingston would serve a key role for the Warriors on 3 separate NBA championship teams. He wasn’t the same as he was before the injury, but he still played at a level high enough to serve a role in a title run. For his ability to bounce back from a nearly life-altering injury, Livingston has to be honored on our list. 


Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose 2010

Derrick Rose was well on his way to becoming one of the best point guards the NBA has ever seen. He was super athletic, explosive off of the dribble, and displayed no issues getting to the rim and elevating his teammates' level of play. He became the youngest MVP in NBA history during the 2010-11 campaign when he averaged 25.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 7.7 APG, and 1.0 SPG. He led the Bulls to a 62-20 record all while his 2nd and 3rd best players missed over 35 games each with injuries. His career was on a historic trajectory until one fateful night during the 2012 NBA playoffs.  

Rose went down towards the end of their Game 1 matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers. He was diagnosed with a torn ACL and would miss the rest of the playoffs and the entire next year with the Bulls. He would play just 10 games during the 2014 season and then tear his meniscus in 2015. Rose battled and battled to get back to his MVP form but the injuries had taken their toll. After a few down seasons, Rose found a new role with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons in 2019 and 2020. He has slowly morphed and adapted his game to become one of the better bench players in basketball over the past few seasons. In 2019 with Minnesota, he played in 51 games and averaged 18.0 PPG and 4.3 APG. He would play in 50 games with the Pistons the following year and average 18.1 PPG. Is it sad to see Rose get robbed of an all-time great career? Absolutely. Has it been rewarding to watch him make an epic comeback? Even more so.


Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson

Since Thompson arrived in 2011, he has established himself as one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history while being a perfect fit in the Golden State Warriors’ system. Klay’s electric scoring displays and swarming defense have become the stuff of legend while his efforts have aided in 4 NBA championships over the past 8 seasons for Golden State. His career was nearly cut short during the 2019 NBA Finals when he suffered a torn ACL in Game in Game 6 of the series. The setbacks didn’t end there.

As Klay was working ferociously to return in 2020, he would suffer a torn Achilles tendon that would cost him another season of play. After over 2 years of work and determination, Thompson finally made his return to the court on January 9th, 2022. His return was perfect timing for the Warriors as they made a late postseason push. Klay would appear in 32 games and averaged 20.4 PPG. He then appeared in all 22 playoff games to help the Warriors return to the top with an NBA title. What once looked impossible was now a reality for Thompson and The Warriors look poised to add to their dynasty moving forward with him aboard. 

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