Worst NBA Injury Ever – What Are The Worst Basketball Injuries?

worst-nba-injury-ever

15 minutes

Last Updated: November 30, 2023

Scott Kostov

Seeing the worst NBA injury live must be a horrific experience. Professional sports are great entertainment but unfortunately, injuries are part of that product. Being carted off the field after some of the worst NFL injuries is less common nowadays. So is bleeding to death on the ice after a gruesome hockey injury.

While no basketball player has died on the hardwood, there have been some gut-wrenching scenes throughout the years. None of these have happened to any of the best NBA rebounders ever, so we’re not sure why so many ballers are scared of doing the dirty work.

What’s the worst injury in basketball history?

Kevin Ware Injury

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Kevin Ware was never in the NBA. And he’ll probably never be. But fans across the world are bound to remember his name. That’s because he suffered the worst basketball injury possible. Some might claim that Shaun Livingston blowing up his knee is the worst NBA injury ever. But Kevin Ware’s accident happened on national TV.

As a sophomore guard for Louisville’s men’s basketball team, Ware had his NBA stock measured heading into March Madness. But on March 31, 2013, in the first half of an Elite 8 game against Duke, Ware’s career trajectory would be altered forever.

As Ware jumped up to contest a corner 3-point shot by Dukeand, he landed awkwardly in front of his team’s bench. With all of his weight falling on his right leg at the wrong angle, Ware suffered an open fracture.

Both of the bones in his lower leg, the tibia and fibula, were snapped in half. To make matters worse, his bones pierced through his skin, something that was very obvious to the millions of viewers home once CBS showed the replay.

Beyond a dead silent crowd, players puking and passing out on the floor, and general disbelief, this has to be the worst basketball injury ever. Ware was rushed to a hospital in Indianapolis where doctors performed emergency surgery to prevent an infection that could have cost him his life.

Worst Basketball Injury College

Despite suffering the worst and most gruesome basketball injury in history, Kevin Ware’s injury had a positive outcome. After he continuously pleaded to teammates “I’m fine, just win the game”, as he was carted off the floor, they did just that.

Louisville beat Duke 85–63 to secure their spot in the Final Four. They would go on to secure the NCAA championship just 8 days after this tragic event. In the meantime, Ware received a steel rod, a plate, and multiple screws inside his leg to assist the recovery.

Less than a year later, in November 2013, he made his return to the court. Ware would redshirt his following season before transferring to Georgia State University for his senior year. There he would lead them to a NCAA appearance after earning MVP honors in the Sun Belt Conference.

He’s been playing professionally overseas ever since.

Shaun Livingston Injury

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I could watch Shaun Livingston’s post-up turnaround fadeaway jumpers from mid-range all day long. But it wasn’t always like that. Before becoming a spark plug for the 2015 Warriors championship roster, Livingston was expected to become the next Magic Johnson.

Sure, being a tall, lanky, and athletic point guard doesn’t necessarily translate into one of the greatest NBA passers ever. But Livingston had so much working for him before that horrific knee injury.

The former fourth pick in the 2004 NBA draft started contributing straight out of high school for the troubled LA Clippers. But his promising career took a tragic turn just as he was having his best career year.

On February 26, 2007, in a game against the then-Charlotte Bobcats, Livingston went for a layup and suffered one of the worst NBA injuries to date. He landed awkwardly, dislocating his left kneecap which resulted in his left leg snapping laterally.

Livingston ruptured 3 of the 4 ligaments holding his knee together (ACL, MCL, PCL). He also tore his lateral meniscus, dislocated his patella and his tibio-fibular joint. As bad as the sight was on TV, many doctors feared he would have to get his leg amputated altogether.

It took 18 months of rehabilitation for Livingston to be able to walk and play again. And that is on top of his troubled past where he missed 101 of 246 regular season games in his first 3 seasons.

Livingston played for 8 teams in his next 5 seasons. Suffering the worst NBA injury ever seemed like a distant past when he joined the Golden State Warriors. There he would cement his legacy and become a 3 time NBA champion.

Gordon Hayward Injury

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Hayward’s career trajectory has been heavily altered after he suffered one of the worst NBA injury to date. The Boston Celtics franchise has been a perennial overachiever since Brad Stevens entered the building. But untimely accidents like the one Hayward suffered have consistently prevented them from lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The ninth pick in the 2010 NBA draft, had consistently improved year after year. During his 7 years with the Utah Jazz, he played alongside a young Rudy Gobert. One of the best NBA defenders ever.

Prior to suffering the worst NBA injury ever, Hayward improved his scoring average every single year. As a result of his impressive shooting splits, he was named to his only All Star.

Hayward signed a four year, $128 million deal with the Celtics during the 2017 offseason. He was touted as the big piece missing to a budding championship contender. But all of that enthusiasm was sucked right out of the building when Gordon suffered a career-altering injury in his season opener.

Worst Ankle Injuries in Basketball

On October 17th, 2017, in a nationally televised season opener game against the Cleveland Cavaliers featuring LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, Hayward’s misfortune came to light. After just 6 minutes of play, Hayward ran down the baseline and went up to catch a lob pass from Kyrie Irving for a dunk.

The play was broken up, but when Hayward landed, his Celtic’s tenure would forever be altered. 

Hayward landed awkwardly resulting in his ankle being turned 90 degrees , a recipe for the worst NBA injury ever. He suffered an ankle dislocation and a fractured tibia in the process. 

On the live replay, everyone saw the ugly destiny that had unfolded. Hayward had multiple surgeries done right away and returned to NBA action 364 days later. He was visibly rusty in his first year back, but he managed to somewhat return to form in his last year in Boston. 

The Celtics gave him another 4 year $120 million dollar extension at the start of the delayed 2020 NBA season. That was before trading him to the Charlotte Hornets. In his first years with the team, Hayward managed to bounce back to his Utah days production, but the injury bug has plagued him ever since. 

Hayward has managed to play in more than 52 games a season just once following his injury. And that was in his first year back when he was on a minutes restriction. A multitude of lower body injuries have plagued the once-promising forward, and have certainly altered his career trajectory.

Who knows where the Boston Celtics and Gordon Hayward would have been now had he not suffered the worst NBA injury shown on national TV in recent memory? I guess we’ll never know.

Jorge Garbajosa Injury

Jorge Garabajosa was one of the most promising European players in the 2000s. He was the MVP in the Spanish league and Cup while performing admirably in the Euroleague as well. Garbajosa’s performance during Spain’s golden medal run at the 2006 World Cup all but solidified his spot in the NBA.

Then Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo was looking for the next Dirk Nowitzki. As evidenced by his signing of Jorge and drafting Andrea Bargnani first overall in the following draft. But while Garbajosa made an immediate impact and became a starter as a rookie, one play ended his NBA career.

Late in a game against the Boston Celtics on March 26, 2007, Garbajosa attempted to block a dunk by Al Jefferson and landed awkwardly on his left foot. Garbajosa suffered a broken fibula, dislocated his ankle, and tore multiple ligaments. He missed the remainder of the season after averaging 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game after 67 appearances in his debut season for the Raptors.

Despite winning the Rookie of the Month award in December, and making the NBA All-Rookie first team, Garbnajosa’s NBA career was over. He played only seven games the next season and looked nothing like himself.

An MRI revealed something that was addressed by the Raptors organization as “unusual”. This condition required a second surgery on his leg. The Raptors bought out the last year of his contract, and he returned to Europe, where he played another three years.

Paul George Leg Injury

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Paul George was on top of the world in 2014. He’d just gotten his max rookie extension, the Indiana Pacers were officially his team, and he was an All Star. Were it not for LeBron James and the Heatles for 3 straight years, Paul George might’ve had a Finals appearance.

With an All-NBA and All-Defense nods to his name, George was one of the brightest young stars the NBA had. So Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski invited the young and uber-athletic wing for a nationally televised scrimmage in preparation for the 2014 World Cup.

But on August 1 2014, disaster struck. George landed awkwardly at the base of a basket stanchion after fouling James Harden and suffered a compound fracture of both bones in his lower right leg.

Similar to Kevin Ware, both of Paul’s lower leg bones pierced through his skin, resulting in a gnarly site. After George was carted off the court, head coach Mike Krzyzewski halted the scrimmage as the entire nation prayed for his well-being.

George went immediately into surgery and made a full recovery by April 2015. The Pacers would go on to miss the playoffs despite George playing the last 6 games of that NBA season. Following his injury, George further refined his game to become one of the most impactful two way players in the NBA.

He spent another 2 years with the Pacers, where he led them to the playoffs, before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thankfully, this injury didn’t seem to have a long-lasting effect on George’s career.

After 2 years with OKC, George signed with the LA Clippers. There he’s continued being one of the best NBA small forwards of all time. 

Rudy Tomjanovich Injury

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The Punch heard across the National Basketball Association. According to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar it “sounded like a melon had been dropped on the floor.” That goes to show how much force was exerted on that day. 

On December 9th, 1977, the Los Angeles Lakers were matching up with the Houston Rockets. 

The then-rising star Kevin Kunnert of the Houston Rockets erased a basket with a chase-down block, after which a scuffle ensued.

As one of the best NBA centers of all time, Kareem was a well-respected figure and stepped in to diffuse the situation by removing Kevin Kunnert. The 26-year old Rockets power forward Rudy Tomjanovic was rushing to address the situation when Kermit Washington delivered the blow of a lifetime.

Tomjanovich instantly fell to the ground, losing conscience with blood gushing all over the hardwood. He suffered a fractured jaw, a broken nose, and a skull fraction so severe, he could reportedly taste his own spinal fluid. 

This ranks among the worst NBA injury, since Tomjanovich barely even survived. Doctors claimed that the damage done was similar to someone being thrown off a moving vehicle going at 50 miles per hour.

Tomjanovich was out for the rest of the season, but he did make an emotional comeback the following year. Washington, on the other hand, was benched for sixty days and fined $10,000. He was highly criticized for his actions by players, coaches, and the league, eventually losing his roster spot.

Tomjanovich would go on to have a 2-decade long coaching career. He won 2 NBA championships after his 5 All star appearances as an NBA player. These days NBA referees have been handing out technical fouls like candy. But that’s all done to prevent dangerous and unethical play.

Joel Przybilla Injury

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2007 wasn’t kind to Portland Trailblazers fans. Just months after being selected with the first overall pick ahead of Kevin Durant, their starting center Greg Oden went down with a knee injury. Soon after, it was time for backup center Joel Pryzbilla to get stung by the injury bug.

The 10 year veteran was inserted into the starting lineup after Oden went out, but on December 22, 2007, his career would all but end.

With 3:12 left in the first quarter of the Portland Trail Blazers regular season outing against the Dallas Mavericks, Blazers center Joel Przybilla went down with a right knee injury.  Przybilla fell to the floor while contesting a rebound with Mavericks center Erick Dampier and clutched his knee, banging his hands on the hardwood in agony. 

He was helped off the floor by teammates Jeff Pendergraph and Anthony Tolliver, and the MRI showed that Pryzbilla had suffered a dislocated patella tendon and a torn ACL. The medical staff tried to put his knee back into place, as fans gasped for air at the sight.

A few months later, on March 7, 2008, reports came out that Joel Pryzbilla had re-injured his surgically repaired knee. According to team reports, he reinjured the knee by slipping when entering the shower at his home in Milwaukee.

He got another MRI and another surgery that same day, just as he was 10 weeks post-operation and had started walking without a brace.

After another 8 month setback, Pryzbilla would make a comeback, but his knee was never the same. He would go on to developer arthritis and would suffer multiple nagging knee injuries prior to his retirement in 2013.

Andrew Bogut’s Elbow Injury

Many of you may remember Andrew Bogut as the starting center that helped the Golden State Warriors nab their first championship in over 40 years. But that’s doing injustice to the former first overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft. 

Despite never becoming an offensive hub, Bogut was as good as it got on the defensive end for a center. He had improved every single season, reaching averages of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 2,5 blocks per game during the 2009-10 NBA season. These numbers were good enough for the All-NBA third team, an honor he held as the only Aussie player until Ben Simmons repeated the feat in 2020.

But on 3 April 2010, near the end of a breakout season, Bogut suffered a major injury. Following a breakaway dunk, Bogut hung on the rim, undecided if he wanted to land or stay up there. As he was about to let go, Phoenix Suns power forward Amare Stoudamire nudged into him.

This caused Bogut to lose his balance and land on his back rather than his feet. Bogut instinctively used his right arm to break the fall, something that he would regret for the rest of his career.

Bogut was visibly hurt after bracing the fall and the next day he was diagnosed with a broken hand, dislocated elbow, and sprained wrist. These injuries kept him out for the remainder of the 2009–10 season.

More importantly, this injury hampered Bogut for the rest of his career. Bogut had to learn how to shoot again with his rebuilt hand and he had lost his touch. Plus, all of the joints in his hand would consistently swell and required multiple surgeries to clean the remaining debris in the season that followed.

Derrick Rose Injury

While we’re on the topic of knee injuries, we can’t gloss over the issues that Derrick Rose has faced. The story of the youngest MVP in league history would have probably gone a different way if not for the worst NBA injury possible.

The Windy City Assassin was on top of the world heading into the first round matchup of the 2012 NBA playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. But all hell came crashing down alongside Rose, as he landed awkwardly after a jump pass.

His Chicago Bulls had a 12 point lead with under 100 seconds remaining on the clock. And yet, the MVP was out there. That’s when he suffered the worst NBA injury or for any athlete for that matter.

The MRI showed that the non-contact injury was in fact an ACL tear. This meant that Rose would miss the remainder of the season. But ending the Bulls’ 2012 championship aspirations was the least of their worries.

Rose would go on to miss the entire 2012-13 NBA season. After making a complete recovery, Rose started off the next season a bit rusty. But disaster struck again in the same place. In November 2013, Rose injured his right meniscus in a game against the Portland Trailblazers.

Rose missed the entire season, and even though he’d make another comeback, the magic was gone.

Gone were the days when the league’s youngest MVP was one of the best NBA point guards. Rose had been zapped of the speed and explosiveness that made him special. Although he’s been a solid contributor and a borderline starting player since that’s a far cry from his peak.

On top of this, he’s consistently been suffering from chronic knee and ankle injuries on both legs.

Boban Jankovic Injury

This probably can’t qualify as the worst NBA injury. After all, Boban Jankovic was never even drafted. Nor did he suit up for an NBA team. But it has to be the worst injury in basketball considering how it changed this player’s life.

In 1992 Vlade Đurović, the head coach of the Greek basketball team Panionios, made sure Boban Jankovic signed with his team. He previously served as Janković’s mentor during his Red Star Belgrade days, where they enjoyed decent success.

The same held true during the 1992–93 season when the then 29-year-old Janković enjoyed a good run of playing form and success with Panionios. But that’s when destiny interfered. In one of the most tragic, stupid, and unlucky accidents in basketball history, Boban Jankovic would change his life forever.

On April 28, 1993, Janković injured himself during a Greek League playoff game between Panionios and Panathinaikos in Nea Smyrni, Athens, Greece, on the home court of Panionios.

The injury occurred eight minutes before the end of a tense playoff match. Janković thought he scored a basket on a drive to the hoop while being guarded by Panathinaikos player Fragiskos Alvertis. However, the referee, Stelios Koukoulekidis, called an offensive foul on him. It was Janković’s fifth foul of the game, which meant that he had fouled out.

In reaction to what he believed was a bad call at a crucial moment of a very important playoff game, Janković slammed his head hard against the padded concrete goal post. He permanently damaged his spinal cord and was unable to walk for the rest of his life.

After using a wheelchair for the final 13 years of his life, Janković gained weight, which resulted in a premature death due to heart failure at just 44 years of age. 

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