Allen Iverson and other not-so happy endings
|03.02.10 at 7:46 pm ET|
Endings are supposed to be climactic.
Same thing goes for the closing of a sports career. By right, it should be a culmination of a years of work, complete with standing ovations, confetti, horns — the works.
But the truth is, it rarely works out like that.
Just ask Allen Iverson, who on Tuesday was released by the 76ers, a move that figured by most to be a long time coming. Iverson was in the midst of attempting to revitalize his 13-year career, 10 seasons of which were spent annihilating defenses in Philadelphia. But after a failed stint in Denver, a mishap in Detroit and a misstep with the Grizzlies, Iverson appears to be done — finally.
Even Michael Jordan, Mr. Basketball himself, ended one of the greatest careers in NBA history with a finale that was far from epic. Jordan left Chicago with every intention of leaving the game, only to return with the Washington Wizards, a sequel that proved to be just as fruitful as “The Sandlot 2.”
The same goes for the great Emmit Smith, who after years of punishing defenses with the Cowboys left for Arizona for a year and fizzled to nothing. The list goes on and on — athletes who suffered ends that never came close to doing their careers justice. Cam Neely, Joe Montana and now Iverson.
As for the city of Boston? We’re no stranger to the art of smothered endings. From Drew Bledsoe to Mo Vaughn, Beantown has been the home of many a fizzled career. Here’s a look at some standouts.
Keith Foulke — He was a hero; he accomplished the impossible, clinching a World Series for Boston for the first time in 86 years, appearing in 11 of the Red Sox’ 14 postseason games in 2004. Over that stretch, Foulke allowed one earned run, fanning 19 batters. He was, for all intents and purposes, the perfect closer for the perfect season.
But then he paid for it. In 2005, Foulke was a silhouette of his former self, battling knee injuries right from the start. His ERA ballooned to over 5.00, and he eventually surrendered the closing role to Mike Timlin midway though the season.
It got so bad for Foulke, whose ERA reached 6.03 in late June, that the once-revered closer lashed back out at Boston fans who showered him with boos during his time of struggle. He called the Red Sox fans an afterthought, claiming that their disappointment wasn’t important to him.
His return in 2006 was just as disastrous, eventually being placed on the disabled list with an elbow injury as his ERA topped out at 5.63. Following the 2006 season, Foulke was released by the Red Sox and signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians for 2007. The closer then announced his retirement in early February, only to return in 2008 with the Athletics.
Last year, he was a relief pitcher for the Newark Bears in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.
Willie McGinest — Big No. 55 was a staple of the New England defense his entire career, coming off four years of record-shattering football at USC.
McGinest finally turned that success into a few rings, proving to be a crucial cornerstone during the Patriots’ three Super Bowl victories.
However, his time as a fan favorite in New England came to an end following the Patriots’ final Super Bowl win in 2004. After the following season, McGinest was released by the Patriots, only to sign a few weeks later with the Cleveland Browns, reuniting with former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
In his first year with the Browns, McGinest played in only 14 games, recording just four sacks — less than half as many as he had with New England in 2004 (9.5). In 2007, McGinest reached a career low in tackles with 19, appearing in just 13 games with the Browns. His sack total dipped to just one the following year, and McGinest then announced his retirement after the 2008 season, signifying the end to a trickling career away from New England.
Antoine Walker — ‘Toine might have been the most beloved member of the Green second to only Paul Pierce in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The 6-foot-9 forward was drafted by the Celtics in 1996, leading the team with 17.5 points a game and earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie team. Still, the Celtics struggled mightily, only recording 15 wins during Walker’s inaugural season.
But Walker continued to thrive in Boston, making the All-Star team the following year, his final year without Pierce as his right-hand man. When Pierce arrived, Boston’s 1-2 punch revitalized the once famous basketball city, eventually leading Boston to the playoffs in 2001, the C’s first trip in seven years. Boston advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, before the New Jersey Nets dispatched Boston in six games. Boston suffered the same fate the following season, with the Nets ending Pierce and Walker’s season in the Eastern Conference finals once again.
And that’s when the game of musical chairs started with Walker’s career.
The next season, the forward was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, used on a limited basis due to an already crowded roster of stars including Antawn Jamison and Dirk Nowitzki. Walker’s time in Dallas was short-lived, as he was shipped off to Atlanta just before the start of the 2003-04 season in exchange for Jason Terry and Alan Henderson.
Then, in a moment of poetic justice, Walker returned to the Celtics in a trade during the 2005 season, only to find himself involved in the largest swap in NBA history between Boston and the Miami Heat shortly after.
Walker did win a title with the Heat in 2006, scoring 14 points in the clinching game. But the next season, ‘Toine once again found himself on the road, heading this time for Minnesota in a trade that sent Ricky Davis to Miami. One season later, the forward was Memphis-bound, and he eventually was waived by the Grizzlies in December 2008, ending his time in the NBA.
And now? He’s broke and in debt. It’s a long way from the top …
Drew Bledsoe — No list of awkward and painful career endings would be complete without mention of Drew Bledsoe — Boston-based or not.
The former Patriots quarterback was revered in his prime with New England — a four-time Pro Bowl selection in his seven full seasons with the red, white and blue. But a very severe and very famous chest injury in 2001 would put an end to his reign in New England, as the gates opened for the golden boy, Tom Brady.
Following his departure from the Patriots in 2002 by way of a trade, Bledsoe returned to New England as a member of the Buffalo Bills in the opening game of the ’02 season. Bledsoe dismantled his former squad, and eventually threw for over 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns with the Bills. But in 2003, his second and final year with Buffalo, Bledsoe failed to get his team in the end zone in three straight games, prompting his release at the end of the season.
Bledsoe reunited with former coach Bill Parcells the very next season, posting a 9-7 record with Dallas on the wings of passing for a solid 3,000 yards. But in 2006, his play became so erratic that he was eventually replaced by current Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Shortly after the end of the ’06 season, Bledsoe was released by the Cowboys, and he announced his retirement in the spring of 2007.
Mo Vaughn — The “Hit Dog”
Vaughn buried himself into the hearts of Red Sox fans everywhere right from the start, becoming a centerpiece in Boston’s offense in the 1993 season, belting 29 home runs and driving in a team-leading 101 RBI. In 1995, Vaughn blasted 39 homers and drove in 126 runs, leading Boston to the postseason, though the Red Sox would fall to the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. For his efforts, the big lefty was awarded AL MVP honors.
Vaughn would continue to rake at Fenway, knocking 44, 35 and 40 home runs in his final three seasons with the Red Sox, his batting average never dipping below .300 and reaching as high as .337. But like so many on this list, Vaughn’s time in Boston eventually came to an end, as he headed for Anaheim, signing a six-year $60 million deal — the most lucrative contract in baseball at the time.
But that six-year deal would turn into only a two-year career with the Angels, as injuries and a fiery attitude lead to his demise in California. After falling down the dugout in the first game of the 2001 season and badly injuring his ankle, Vaughn was shipped off to the Mets in the winter in exchange for Kevin Appier, a trade that would eventually lead to the firing of Mets general manager Steve Phillips.
After a less-than-stellar campaign in 2002 when Vaughn ballooned to as heavy as 275 pounds, a knee injury permanently ended his career after he played only a month in 2003.
Trot Nixon — Nixon was the ultimate dirt dog during his time in Boston, a fan favorite through and through. No. 7 may not have ever drilled over 30 home runs in a season, or driven in as many as 100 RBI in a campaign, but he was a staple in the Red Sox lineup nonetheless, using top-notch hustle to weave his way into the hearts of the Fenway faithful.
But two years after Nixon and the Red Sox brought home the 2004 World Series trophy, he was released by Boston and signed a one-year deal with the Indians instead. Nixon would only appear in 99 games for Cleveland, hitting only three home runs and recording just 31 RBI in his lone season in Ohio.
The following season, he found his way to the Mets, appearing in just 11 games and hitting just a single home run, the only run he would drive in all season.
After finishing 2008 on the disabled list, Nixon signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, only to be released by them as well. Nixon announced his retirement that winter.
Seau’s story is a little different from the rest, in that he came to Boston following a stellar career and an announced retirement, rather than the opposite. Nonetheless, the 12-time Pro Bowler was still in football shape when he arrived in New England in 2006, recording 69 tackles before breaking his arm in a game against the Chicago Bears.
The very next year, Seau proved instrumental in New England’s 16-0 regular-season campaign, only to be a part of the NFL’s most famous upset as the New York Giants took down the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Seau signed his third one-year deal with the Patriots in 2008, replacing injured linebacker Adalius Thomas, but his career continued to spiral downward. Similarly, in 2009 he also returned to New England for seven games, recording just 14 tackles as a reserve on defense.
Following the 2009 season, Seau announced his “intention” to retire in 2010, though he has not officially left the sport for good.
Sam Cassell — Similar to Seau, Cassell was a highly decorated NBA veteran when he arrived in Boston. The three-time NBA champion, also sometimes confused with an alien, was signed by the Celtics in the spring of 2008 and proved to be instrumental in their 17th championship. According to Celtics superstar Paul Pierce, Cassell spent countless hours at practice with Pierce as he prepared to defend LeBron James in the Eastern semifinal round.
That would be the last of Cassell’s achievements however, as he was traded to Sacramento in the winter of 2009 in exchange for a conditional second-round pick in 2015. One day later, the former NBA All-Star was waived by his new team in order to make room for incoming players. He now is an assistance coach with the Washington Wizards.
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