The perception of the “best” NBA players who retired too early can vary based on personal opinions and perspectives. However, here is a list of ten highly regarded players who retired relatively early in their careers and the reasons behind their retirements:
Magic Johnson: Johnson retired at the age of 31 in 1991 after announcing that he had contracted HIV. At the time, he was considered one of the greatest point guards in NBA history and had already won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Michael Jordan: Jordan retired for the first time in 1993 at the age of 30 to pursue a career in baseball. He had already established himself as one of the all-time greats, winning three championships with the Chicago Bulls and earning numerous individual accolades.
Dražen Petrović: Petrović tragically passed away in 1993 at the age of 28 in a car accident. He was a highly skilled shooting guard from Croatia and had showcased his talent in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers and New Jersey Nets.
Bill Walton: Walton’s career was plagued by injuries, and he retired in 1987 at the age of 34 due to chronic foot issues. When healthy, he was an incredibly versatile center and won an NBA championship and an MVP award during his career.
Yao Ming: Yao retired in 2011 at the age of 30 due to persistent foot and ankle injuries. Standing at 7’6″, he was a dominant force as a center and achieved numerous accolades, including eight All-Star selections and induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Penny Hardaway: Hardaway’s career was hindered by knee injuries, leading to his retirement in 2007 at the age of 36. During his prime, he was an exceptional point guard known for his playmaking ability and versatility.
Grant Hill: Hill’s career was marred by injuries, particularly ankle problems, which ultimately forced him to retire at the age of 40 in 2013. He was a highly skilled forward who showcased his talent with the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, earning multiple All-Star selections.
Drazen Petrovic: Petrovic tragically passed away in 1993 at the age of 28 in a car accident. He was a sharpshooting guard from Croatia and displayed his skills with the Portland Trail Blazers and New Jersey Nets.
Ralph Sampson: Sampson retired in 1992 at the age of 31 due to recurring knee injuries. As a 7’4″ center, he was known for his versatility and skill set, but injuries prevented him from fulfilling his full potential.
Len Bias: Bias tragically died just two days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1986, before ever playing a game in the NBA. He was highly regarded as a talented forward with tremendous potential, but his untimely death cut short his promising career.
These players are often mentioned as some of the best who retired too early due to factors such as injuries, tragic events, or unexpected circumstances that prevented them from reaching their full potential or continuing their dominance in the NBA.