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