There are only a dozen or so superstars in every professional sports league. And regardless of what their stats say, they all have the same goal in common, winning a championship. It’s hard enough to get to the finals and once some of these stars do, it doesn’t quite go as planned.
Choking has been a part of sports since the very beginning. And it isn’t always the worst players that choke, sometimes it’s the best. Below is a list of the absolute best athletes who have blown it in the biggest spots.
Phil Mickelson first turned pro in 1992. He was an obviously terrific golfer, though he had a number of issues with taking home major championships. Part of that was due to nerves and part of it was having to take on the teflon star, Tiger Woods.
The golfer became well known for 2nd place finishes in major tournaments. In fact, Lefty has finished 2nd in the US Open a total of 5 times. Mickelson finally broke through at the Masters in 2004 and he is now the winner of 5 majors.
Kicking in the NFL can sometimes be an agonizing job. If you nail the big kick, you did just what you were supposed to do. If you miss the kick, though, you become a gigantic choke artist.
Gary Anderson nailed more big kicks than almost any kicker in football. The South African won the Golden Toe award in the 1998 season that saw him make every field goal and PAT during the regular season. During the NFC Championship game, however, Anderson missed a chip shot field goal and his Vikings lost to the Falcons in overtime.
Despite being drafted in the 10th round of the 1984 Draft, Byner quickly established himself as one of the top running backs in the league. The halfback/fullback was a dual-threat – running and catching the ball with equal expertise.
Byner played an integral role in the 1987 AFC Championship, helping the Browns recover from an 18 point hole. With a minute left in the game, the fullback looked to be scoring a game-tying touchdown when he was stripped from behind and the Browns fell to the Broncos.
The Knicks landed the right to draft Patrick Ewing in the 1985 Lottery. It was supposed to create a dynasty in New York. Ewing was coming off a dominant stint at Georgetown and was made for the modern NBA.
Ewing was a star for New York and stands as one of the greatest players who have ever played for the franchise. While he led the ‘Bockers to a number of deep playoff runs, they never quite won it all. The closest he came was making it to game 7 in 1994 where New York fell to Houston.
While he is widely regarded as one of, if not the best regular season pitcher of his generation, Clayton Kershaw leaves fans wanting when it comes to the postseason. Over his career, Kershaw has notched a 4.43 playoffs ERA.
In 2019, with a two run lead in game seven of the NLCS, Kershaw gave up back-to-back home runs to the Washington Nationals on back-to-back. The Nats would go on to win the game, with Kershaw admitting after that he is what his postseason narrative says he is.
Vladimir Guerrero is one of the most naturally talented baseball players who ever lived. And the talent bore out in his numbers. The right fielder had a career OPS of .931, a Hall of Fame level number.
After a number of losing seasons in Montreal, Guerrero took his skills to Anaheim where he became a member of the Angels. Guerrero’s Halos made the playoffs a number of times, but his numbers there were starkly different. In 188 postseason at-bats, Guerrero only hit 2 home runs and had an OPS of .664.
Lolo Jones seemed like the perfect person to be America’s next great American athlete.Tall, fast and attractive, she enjoyed a massive marketing campaign going into the 2008 games where she was favored to win the 100-meter hurdles.
When the race began, however, she clipped a hurdle and finished in a disappointing 7th place. Jones came back again in 2012. She came out strong winning her first heat, but by the time the race came around, she finished in 4th and again failed to win a medal.
The 1994-95 Orlando Magic was one of the more explosive teams in the NBA. The squad featured Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway in their absolute prime. The third-best player on that team was shooting guard Nick Anderson who averaged 14.4 ppg over his career.
After taking out the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Magic took on the Houston Rockets. In game one, Anderson was fouled twice late in the game and missed all 4 free throws. The Magic were swept by the Rockets.
Jean van de Velde
Jean van de Velde, who began his pro golf career in 1987, spent the majority of his career playing on the European Tour. The Frenchman was successful enough on the tour that he decided to move over to the States in 1999.
He made a major impact at the 1999 Open Championship in Carnoustie. He played brilliantly over the weekend and he went to the final hole with the lead. Van de Velde, however, proceeded to have a total meltdown losing a three shot lead on the 18th.
Donovan McNabb, who was selected by the Eagles with the 2nd pick in the 1999 draft. The move paid off big for Philadelphia and the franchise quarterback made a total of 6 Pro Bowls in 10 seasons with the team.
All that in-season success, though, did not continue into the postseason. McNabb and the Eagles frequently made playoff appearances in the 2000s. McNabb was able to lead the team to 5 NFC Championship games, but only won one of them and then lost to New England in the Super Bowl.
The British, thanks to their connection to Wimbledon, love tennis and are wildly supportive of their homegrown stars. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, their major tennis star was Tim Henman who hailed from Oxfordshire.
Henman was able to make the finals of Wimbledon on four different occasions. In 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002, the Englishman was the runner up for his home tournament. Henman also lost in the finals of the French and US Opens in 2004.
Statistically, no quarterback could compete with the work Dan Marino did during his career. The first-ballot Hall of Famer broke finished his career as the league’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.
The Dolphins also made the playoffs in 10 of Marino’s 17 seasons. The team was never able to get over the hump and take home the Lombardi trophy. The closest the quarterback came was during the 1984 season when the team dropped Super Bowl XIX to the San Francisco 49ers.
Depending on how you feel about performance-enhancing drugs, Barry Bonds is either the best, or merely one of the best, players in Major League Baseball history. The lefty slugger finished his career as the all-time leader in home runs.
He also spent a lot of time in the playoffs, though his Pittsburgh Pirates and Francisco Giants never took home a World Series. It would be unfair to blame Bonds completely for his team’s failures, though he only hit .245 with 9 home runs over 208 plate appearances.
Still only 30 years old, it feels like James Harden has spent decades in the NBA already. He certainly has achieved some significant individual accomplishments. The 7-time All-Star also took home the 2018 NBA MVP Award.
These individual accomplishments, though, have not carried over the playoffs success. While he has the misfortune of frequently matching up against the dynastic Warriors, Harden’s Rockets have been unable to even make it to the NBA Finals.
Over the course of 18 NHL Seasons, Jeremy Roenick stood as one of the league’s best players. The American-born center was a star in the league almost immediately and recorded a total of 1,216 points to go along with 1,463 penalty minutes.
He also spent plenty of time in the NHL playoffs. Roenick played decently in his 154 career playoff games notching 53 goals and 69 assists. He made one career Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1992 with Chicago, but the team was swept in four games.
Chris Webber and the rest of Michigan’s Fab Five turned college basketball on its head during the early 1990s. Webber, along with Jalen Rose, Jimmy Walker, Ray Jackson, and Juwon Howard dominated the weekly competition put in front of them.
That is until they ran into North Carolina in the 1993 Finals. Down by 2 with 11 seconds to go, Webber called a timeout the team didn’t have and cost Michigan the game. While the Power Forward went on to have a great NBA career, he was never able to win a title at that level either.
Greg Norman didn’t have a bad career. In fact, the Hall of Fame golfer had a very successful career that was full of tournament wins and lucrative endorsements. He did, however, have a fair amount of trouble winning major tournaments.
Norman’s career is dotted with second-place finishes in the ’86, ’87 and ’96 Masters, the ’86 and ’93 PGA and the ’84 and ’95 US Opens. The Aussie was able to break through and capture the ’86 and ’93 Open Championship.
Jana Novotna was a tremendous tennis player who did finally break through to win a major during Wimbledon in 1998. She also won a total of 12 Grand Slam doubles tournaments including a two-year span where she won all four tournaments.
The Czech had a severe history of blowing big leads in major tournaments. She famously cried on the shoulder of the Dutches of Kent after losing a big lead at Wimbledon in 1993. She collapsed again at Wimbledon in 1997 while facing off against Martina Hingis.
When it is debated who the greatest Power Forward in NBA history is, Karl Malone is very high up on the list. The 14-time all-star finished his career with averages of 25 points 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
Malone was never able to capture a title with the Utah Jazz. Despite having a first-class teammate in John Stockton, the team dropped the 1997 and 1998 finals. Malone made one last grasp with the Lakers in 2004, but that team lost to the Detroit Pistons.
Mark Teixeira was a very good hitter for a number of years. For his first couple of seasons, he toiled in anonymity for the Rangers before moving over to the Braves and then to the New York Yankees.
Joining the Bronx Bombers gave the first baseman plenty of opportunities to shine in the playoffs. While Teixeira was a regular-season star with 409 career homers and a .869 OPS. The numbers were very different in the postseason as he had 3 home runs and a .659 OPS over 183 career playoff at-bats.
Daniel Alfredsson didn’t play his whole career with the Ottawa Senators, as he spent one season with the Detroit Red Wings. He did play in Ottawa for 17 seasons though and was the heart and soul of the team.
The numbers for “Alfie” are staggering. He played in six all-star games and won the Calder Trophy in 1996. The Ottawa captain was never able to get his team over the top, though, despite many great seasons and a ’07 finals appearance.