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We've already noted that SportsNation is optimistic it hasn't seen the last of Yao Ming in the NBA (although that begs the question whether Nets fans would like to be optimistic they have seen the last of Yi Jianlian). But even if Yao makes it back, he could be one of the great what-if players of all time. Our five candidates for the top spot.

Sam Bowie: Essentially a seven-foot punchline at this point, Bowie was doomed the minute he was picked ahead of Michael Jordan. But as Marc Stein recounted, leg injuries -- not Jordan -- were what cost him a chance to make a name for himself.

Bo Jackson: What highlights are more iconic than Jackson running up a wall on the baseball diamond or over Brian Bosworth on the football field? He was 28 when he suffered his hip injury, which isn't young for a running back, but he didn't have a lot of NFL miles on his legs.

Mark Prior: He may not be technically done, but Prior's days as a Cooperstown lock are long gone. At 22, he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 211 innings. Slowed by countless injuries, he's won just 18 games since that season.

Sterling Sharpe: He still ranks in the top 50 all time in NFL receptions and never played a game after the age of 29 because of a neck injury. Imagine his numbers with six or seven more seasons with Brett Favre in the quarterback's prime.

Bill Walton: One of the greatest college players of all time, Walton wasn't exactly Bowie in the pros, leading the Trail Blazers to a title in 1977 and winning MVP in 1978, but chronic injuries robbed him of most of his prime years.


Take another lesson from Bill Walton, Yao. Don't try to come back just because you feel guilty or responsible. Let that thing heal. And come off the bench like Walton or take every other game off like Shaq if you need to. Everybody criticized Kareem for taking it easy, jogging up and down the floor. Well the guy was 7'3" and his body lasted 20 years in the league.

-- thechendaddy

The NBA with its hardwood floors and 82 game seasons are just not meant for 7 and a half footers. Shaq is probably the best example in this era of longevity for people 7 feet and beyond, and he is 7'1. On top of that Yao also has Olympic priorities with China!!!

-- trunkmonkey1980

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Stephen Strasburg is supposedly the greatest thing since sliced bread. The problem, as Keith Law sagely put it in a recent chat, is that sliced bread is the best thing since Matt Wieters. Every potential new star is going to be the next player to redefine the sport.

We're addicted to hype (it's definitely one of the top five addictions in the ESPN era). So is Strasburg special, or just the best prospect this year? Baseball experts drop by SportsNation on an almost daily basis to answer to you, and the consensus seems to be this might be legit. No, seriously.

Buster Olney: I think that Strasburg will sign with the Nats, in the end, and that he'll be in their rotation all year. They desperately need something to create some interest in their franchise, and Strasburg will be that guy right away -- right from the start of his career, he'll have FernandoMania type of attention, Mark Fidrych type of attention. I'd bet that he'll sign a major league deal and that the Nationals will want him in the majors ASAP.

Jayson Stark: Tony Gwynn said this week that whatever team drafts him should ease off and let him recharge for next year after all the innings he's thrown in college and international competition in the last year.

Keith Law: I'm confident that they'll take him and that eventually he'll sign. He's not going to do better by waiting a year, and the risk to him is enormous. My suggestion, again, is to offer him some huge number on Draft Day with a condition: "It's $30 million if you sign today. It goes down half a million dollars every day you don't sign." And you leak it to the press so everyone knows what the kid is turning down if he doesn't sign.

Andy (Chicago)

Would any player who was drafted over the last 10 years have been taken over Strasburg if they were in the same draft?

Jerry Crasnick
Jerry Crasnick

That's a great question. Guys like Josh Hamilton, Mark Prior and Joe Mauer came with a ton of hype, but I'm not sure any of them would have been selected over Stephen Strasburg. Full transcript

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