When you fall in love with athletes, you just assume they’ll never leave the game. I mean, how could they? They’re at the top of their prime, why on earth would they ever retire and retire young on top of that. Well these 15 athletes did just that, leaving hearts broken all over the globe.
This running back spent his entire professional career with the Detroit Lions. He’s a member of both the college and professional football halls of fame, and was even ranked by NFL Top 10 as the most elusive runner in NFL history; he also sadly topped the list of greatest players never to reach the Super Bowl. Averaging over 1,500 rushing yards per season, Sanders would leave the game 1,457 yards short of breaking the NFL all-time rushing record at the time.
The Swedish former world No. 1 tennis player is quite often considered to be one of the greatest in tennis history. From 1974 to 1981 he was the first male professional to win 11 Grand Slam open era singles titles, six at the French Open and five consecutive at Wimbledon. He also won three year-end championships and 15 Grand Prix Super Series titles. As a teenage all start at the start of his career, his stardom and consistent success helped launch the popularity of tennis during the 1970s. In his career, he made millions in endorsements. But the constant attention and pressure caused him to crash and burn because he retired when he was only 26.
Bo Jackson is one of few athletes who was named an All-Star in two major sports, and the only one to do so in both baseball and football. Jackson is commonly considered as one of the greatest athletes of all time. He would finish his baseball career (retired at age 32) as .250 hitter with 141 home runs. As a football player (retired at age 28), he had a 5.4 yards per carry average and 2,872 yards in his time with the Raiders, following a hip injury in 1991, he chose to retire.
Orr is commonly acknowledged as one of the greatest hockey players of all time. He used his speed, scoring, and play making abilities and revolutionized the position of defenceman. He played for 12 seasons, with the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Black Hawks. He is still the only defenceman to have won the league scoring title with two Art Ross Trophies. And he also still holds the record for most points and assists in a single season by a defenceman. Orr also went on to won a record eight consecutive Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenceman and three consecutive Hart Trophies as the league’s MVP. He was later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979 at the age of 31, which was the youngest at that time. After his hockey career, he became a well-known scout for many professional teams and he also spends time talking with and mentoring young skaters.
Brandon Roy was quickly becoming one of the best young players in the league when he began his career by winning Rookie of the Year in 2006-07. He would go on to land three consecutive All-Star games and was all-NBA two years in a row. He was an all-around player who could score in a multitude of ways and he was drafted with knee concerns so it wasn’t shocking every time his failing knee fell into problems. He underwent multiple knee surgeries and attempted to play through failing athleticism and increased pain. He officially retired after a brief comeback attempt with the Timberwolves in 2013 at age 29.
For seven seasons, Sayers played for the Chicago Bears, he was a first round pick in the 1965 NFL Draft. Sayers is also a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. During his rookie season, he received 22 touchdowns (which was a record back then) and he was known to be a devastating kick returner. However his consistent battle with knee injuries, forced him to throw in the towel when he was only 28 years old.
Thomas is still remembered by many for his dribbling ability as well as his ability to drive to the basket and score. Thomas is a 12-time NBA All-Star and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He was also inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He led the Pistons in the 1980s to consecutive titles. Thomas was one the best point guards of all time despite his lack of an outside shot. However he tore his Achilles’ tendon in April 1994, which forced him to end his career as a player just a month earlier than he had planned. He has also been a professional and collegiate head coach, a basketball executive, and a broadcaster.
Brown was a fullback for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 through 1965. Commonly referred to as being among the greatest football players of all time, Brown was a Pro Bowl invitee every season he was in the league, was the NFL Most Valuable Player four times, and won an NFL championship with the Browns in 1964. He led the league in rushing yards in eight out of his nine seasons, and by the time he retired, he had broken most major rushing records. In 2002, he was named by The Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever and his number 32 jersey is retired by the Browns.
Henin is well known for her all-court style of play and is notably one of few female players to use a single-handed backhand. She spent a total of 117 weeks as the world No. 1 and was the year end No. 1 in 2003, 2006 and 2007. She won seven Grand Slam singles titles, at Wimbledon, she was the runner-up in 2001 and 2006, and she also won a gold medal in the women’s singles at the 2004 Olympic Games and won the year-ending WTA Tour Championships in 2006 and 2007. In total, she won 43 WTA singles titles. She retired in 2011 due to an elbow injury.
The charisma of Magic Johnson on and off the court is well known all over the globe. Johnson’s 13 season career was spent playing point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. After he won championships in high school and college, he was chosen first overall in the 1979 NBA draft by the Lakers. Johnson of course won a championship and an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award all in his rookie season, and won four more championships with the Lakers during the 1980s. He would retire abruptly in 1991 after he announced that he had contracted HIV, but he did return to play in the 1992 All-Star Game, winning the All-Star MVP Award. After protests from his fellow players, he retired again for four years, but returned again in 1996, at the age of 36, tplayed 32 games for the Lakers before retiring for the third and final time.
This legend played for 15 seasons for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. He was easily one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and is considered as instrumental in popularizing the NBA around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. His retirement in 1993 was shocking to many, but everyone understood that he was still plagued with depression following his father’s murder and the love for the game fizzled away. Jordan would come back in 1995 of course, retire again in 2001, come back again later that year and officially retired in 2003.
Bossy played for the New York Islanders for his entire career, plus he was a crucial part of their four-year reign as the Stanley Cup champions in the early 1980s. Among many other remarkable achievements, he was the only player in NHL history to score consecutive Stanley Cup winning goals, the only player to record four game-winning goals in one series, is the NHL’s all-time leader in average goals scored per regular season game, also he holds the NHL’s third highest all-time average points scored per regular season game, and is one of only five players to score 50 goals in 50 games. He retired at the age of 30, following reoccurring back inquiry.
Rocky Marciano was a professional boxer who competed from 1947 to 1955; he held the world heavyweight title from 1952 to 1956. Marciano went undefeated in his career and defended the title six times. He is well known for his relentless fighting style, stamina, and an iron chin, he has been ranked by many boxing historians as one of the best heavyweight boxers of all time. His knockout-to-win percentage of 87.75 still remains as one of the highest in heavyweight boxing history. He retired at the age of 32 because he wanted to focus on his family. Sadly just before his 46th birthday, he died in a plane crash.
Aikman was the number one overall draft pick in 1989, he played 12 consecutive seasons as the quarterback with the Cowboys. During his professional career, he was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, led the team to three Super Bowl victories, and was the Super Bowl XXVII MVP. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He retired in 2000 following reoccurring back pain but at least he never had to approach in personal injury lawyer or things could have gotten real crazy.
Yao Ming was a staggering 7-foot-6 and when he entered the NBA arena in 2002, everyone was abuzz was he was the first overall pick. His career started off a bit slow as he learned the ins and outs of the NBA, once he got comfortable, he was a force to be reckoned with. At his peak, Ming combined his size and skill to crush opponents on the court, he averaged 26.6 PPG, 10 RPG and 2 BPG per 36 minutes, with a Player Efficiency Rating of 26.5. Sadly he injured his foot in the playoffs in 2009 and would only play five more games in his NBA career before he had to retire at age 30. Chalk it up to injuries at work, go figure.