It’s always sad to hear that someone in the basketball community passes away because even if we never met them personally, we feel close to them because of the shared love of the sport. Basketball is a universal language that bridges the gap between races, religions, cultures, and social classes. So regardless of anything else, there is a bond made to these players through the sport we love. This post is dedicated to individuals who have made a profound impact to the game of basketball and unfortunately passed away way too soon.
Reggie Lewis (November 21, 1965 – July 27, 1993). Reggie Lewis was the truth before Paul Pierce adopted the nickname. One of the worst moments in sports history is him collapsing on the court never to be seen in Boston green again. Reggie was the team’s premier player and was averaging a career high of nearly 18 points. He was a scoring machine for the well balanced Celtics and scored with ease. Team doctors knew that Lewis had a condition after the infamous game vs the Charlotte Hornets in the 1993 playoffs. In the first quarter Reggie seemed to stumble without coming in contact with anyone. He was warned that any further Basketball activity could be dangerous to his health. He resumed light workouts and got a second opinion who told that he really didn’t have a heart ailment at all. He resumed normal activity and on July 27th, 1993 he collapsed at a practice facility and died. Doctors officially rule that he died from cardiac arrest. He was 27 years old.
Drazen Petrovic (October 22, 1964 – June 7, 1993). Drazen was the first foreign born player who I saw kill in the league. He was from Croatia and had success playing professionally in Europe before coming to the USA to play in the NBA. In 1989 Drazen was brought over and played on the Portland Trailblazers. Portland brought him over with the idea of using him as a spot up shooter. They didn’t know that he was much more than just a shooter. He was more of an aggressive, attack the rim type of player. Portland already having that type of player in Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, saw Drazen as expendable. After a few years of limited playing time Drazen was dealt to the New Jersey Nets in a multiplayer trade. The Nets were terrible at this time but he would be teamed up with Derrick Coleman and later Kenny Anderson. He started proving himself and made himself a valuable asset to the team shooting 51% from the field and 45% from 3. He would average about 22 ppg and I even witnessed him giving Michael Jordan a hard time on the offensive end of the floor. He was snubbed for an all-star appearance that year and there was said to be tension between him and the team. That summer he was back in Europe checking out the Croatian national team play in Poland. On the drive back to Croatia he and his girlfriend were involved in a bad car crash with a truck that left him dead and his girlfriend with grave injuries. He was 28 years old.
Eddie Griffin (May 30, 1982 – August 17, 2007). Eddie Griffin was supposed to be one of the next great power forwards in the league. He had a smooth game and was supposed to make some good things happen. A Philadelphia native, Griffin attended Roman High School, where he earned the Parade Magazine National player of the year award. He later attended Seton Hall University and was named freshman of the year by the Sporting News. With the 7th pick in the 2001 draft He was drafted by the Houston Rockets (via NJ Nets). He played decent for the rockets but suffered from alcoholism, which clearly affected his game. The problems started to pile up on him and in December of 2003 he was released. He then moved to the Nets where he missed the entire season so that he can enter rehab. He later got dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves teaming up with Kevin Garnett. Many people hoped that Griffin and Garnett would be incredible together. They were wrong. The Timberwolves later parted ways with Griffin in March or 2007. Months later he was killed in a car crash. He was a great guy and an even better teammate. You will not find a person who can ever say that he was a bad person. He just let his vice be his downfall. He was 25 years old when he died.
Robert “Tractor” Traylor (February 1, 1977 – May 11, 2011). Tractor Traylor was a gentle giant. Nicknamed Tractor for his hulking frame, he played 7 years in the NBA. He was drafted in 1998 to the Dallas Mavericks and later dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks in a trade that sent Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas. Although Traylor did well in the league he is probably best known for his three seasons at the University of Michigan. After his time in the league Traylor continued his basketball career in a few overseas leagues. He was playing for the Vaqueros de Bayamon in Puerto Rico when he was found dead in his apartment on May 11, 2011. Initial reports say that he most likely died of a heart attack. Traylor struggled with his weight and had a lot of health issues that directly related to that. He was loved and respected by so many people in the basketball community and is sorely missed. He was 34 year old.
Anthony Mason (December 14, 1966 – February 28, 2015). One of the most prolific New York Knicks that I can remember. When I attended Knicks camp as a youngster Mason was the guest speaker assigned to my group. He lectured us on how to play with heart and told us that without heart that we wouldn’t be able to play this game of basketball at a high level. He was a rugged player who also had a level of finesse to his game. He knew how to handle to basketball, and for a player of his size, that was unthinkable at that time. Sixth man of the year in 1995, Mason was a vital piece to his Knicks squad. He also was a NBA All Star in 2001 as a member of the Miami Heat. NBA players and fans alike admired his tenacity on defense and his playmaking ability on offense. A native New Yorker, Mason was a physical player who spared no feelings on the court. It was this toughness that he provided, alongside Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing, which made him beloved in New York. He fought like a warrior to the very end and will always be remembered for playing every game as if it were his last. He also will be remembered for his haircuts. He always had a new design etched in the side of his head that related to the moment at hand. He will always be remembered as a Knick and I’m grateful for having had a chance to meet him in person. He was 48 year old.
When you think about it we really have a short time with life. Some shorter than others and there are no do overs on this ride. Live your life to the fullest. Love humanity and do your part to spread that love to as many people as you can. We are saddened that these ball players were plucked from the earth at such young ages but let their deaths serve as notice to everyone reading this article. Life is precious. You could be here one day and gone the next. Play ball but don’t let the game consume you. There are things out there that are far more important that basketball. Love your family and love yourself and that should give you some gratification and purpose.