Gone Too Soon 15 Basketball Players Who Died During Their Career
It’s always sad to hear that a former NBA player has passed away, as there was always at least one person that really looked up to them. Thankfully, many of them live long enough to the point where they pass away from natural causes and were able to reflect at the impact they made with their careers. Just this year, we have lost NBA legends like Nate Thurmond, Bobby Wanzer and Kenny Sailors, all at ages of over 70.
When we hear that a basketball player has died young, it turns into a tragedy, even moreso when they were still in the middle of their careers. This includes college players that had a big national impact and possible NBA careers in their future. Some of the players that have passed away during their basketball careers include Terry Furlow, Nick Vanos, Ricky Berry and Conrad McRae.
Now, we remember some of the others that have lost their lives before they were able to finish their careers in the NCAA, NBA and even former American greats that lost their lives while playing overseas. Here are 15 basketball players that were gone too soon and what happened to cause their tragic and early losses.
- BRYCE DEJEAN-JONES
After attending three colleges (with his last stop being Iowa State), Bryce Dejean-Jones went undrafted in 2015. However, he was picked up to play in the D-League for Idaho, and made his NBA debut with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2016, playing in 14 games and averaging 5.6 points per game in that time.
Dejean-Jones passed away earlier this year in Dallas when he was visiting an ex-girlfriend, who is the mother of his daughter. Dejean-Jones and his ex got into an argument, and he left to go for a walk. When he returned, Dejean-Jones had gone on the wrong floor and tried to kick the door open. The resident of the apartment that Dejean-Jones mistakenly entered fired a gun at the basketball player and he was pronounced dead at the hospital. He is the only active NBA player in the past decade to die.
- ROBERT TRAYLOR
A former standout at the University of Michigan, Robert “Tractor” Traylor was the sixth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. Traylor played for the Bucks, Cavaliers and Hornets in his NBA career, averaging a total of 4.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in seven total seasons.
While Traylor was not in the NBA at the time of his death, he was still playing professionally overseas. In May 2011, Traylor was on the phone with his wife, when suddenly the phone cut out. Panicked, she called police who went to his apartment in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico to find that Traylor had passed away from a heart attack. It was a sudden and tragic loss, as Traylor was just 34 years old.
- TYREK COGER
North Carolina native Tyrek Coger was hopeful that he would make a big mark in Division I basketball. Coger had transferred from Cape Fear Community College to Oklahoma State after once committing to Ole Miss. Coger had not played a game for Cape Fear before tragedy struck.
Coger suffered from an enlarged heart and was working out at Boone Pickens Stadium on the Oklahoma State campus. It was a hot and muggy day when Coger decided to sit down during the workout. It appeared that Coger was suffering from heat stroke, so paramedics were called onto the scene. Coger was taken to the hospital, but was pronounced dead less than an hour later. It was an ongoing problem for Coger, who had been dealing with arrhythmias through his life. He was just 21 years old.
- REGGIE LEWIS
Graduating from Northeastern, Reggie Lewis was the 22nd overall pick by the Boston Celtics in 1987’s Draft. Lewis ended up being a pleasant surprise for Boston as his productivity increased dramatically and quickly. At the height of his career, Lewis was an All Star that was averaging 19.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while missing just nine games in his final five seasons.
Lewis was practicing with the Celtics in July 1993 when he collapsed on the court of Brandeis University. Lewis had suffered a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and paramedics weren’t able to resuscitate the young star. There were rumors that cocaine use had led to Lewis’s heart problem, but coroners said that that wasn’t the case. The 27 year old had his jersey retired by the Celtics in 1995 as a tribute.
- DEMONTEZ STITT
Even though he was not heavily recruited, North Carolina native Demontez Stitt was able to secure a basketball scholarship with the Clemson Tigers in 2007. It was there that Stitt was the best player on the team, scoring 14.5 points and hauling in 4.3 rebounds per game in his senior season. Stitt led the Tigers to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and had been playing internationally after his college career ended.
Like Reggie Lewis, Stitt was just 27 years old when he passed away. Stitt was found dead at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina in July 2016. After an investigation, officials found that it was natural causes that claimed Stitt’s life. It was ruled that “Stitt reportedly suffered a cardiac issue” and the heart attack was very unexpected to friends and family alike.
- EDDIE GRIFFIN
Coming out of Seton Hall, Eddie Griffin had a lot of potential and he was taken seventh overall by the Nets (who traded him to Houston) in 2001. Griffin played his first two seasons with the Rockets and he would play his final three with the Timberwolves. For his career, Griffin averaged 7.2 points per game with 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
Griffin was an NBA free agent at the time of his death in August 2007 and only 25 years old. Griffin was driving late one night, but made the poor decision to drive under the influence. Griffin had blown through a railroad crossing, colliding with a moving train. The vehicle caught on fire, taking Griffin’s life. The scene was so grisly that Griffin was not immediately identified and coroners had to rely on dental records to determine who he was.
- LORENZEN WRIGHT
Born and raised (and playing college) in Memphis, Lorenzen Wright was just like Eddie Griffin in the fact that he was once a seventh overall pick, with Wright being drafted in 1996 by the Clippers. Wright played for the Hawks, Grizzlies, Kings and Cavaliers in addition to the Clippers, finishing his career with 8.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game.
Wright was with his ex-wife on the night of July 18th, 2010 in Collierville, Tennessee when he left the home. The 34 year old wasn’t responding to calls and was deemed missing four days later. After searching for nearly a week, Wright’s body was found. The death is still a mystery and the only piece of evidence that remains is an emergency call that Wright placed after leaving his ex-wife’s house where gunshots could be heard in the background.