In 1968, pop artist Andy Warhol said: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." To this day, the careers of reality show stars, pop singers and, yes, professional athletes follow Warhol's dictum. For every Michael Jordan who parlays athletic stardom into successful business ventures, there are dozens of others who burst into the mass consciousness like the Kool-Aid guy through a brick wall, only to be forgotten nearly as quickly.
The athletes in the following list are notable for their brief moments in the sun. They all worked hard, trained hard, and took their chosen fields seriously, but for reasons ranging from injuries to bad luck to simple lost mojo, they faded from the public eye like the athletic equivalent of onetime “American Idol” sensation William Hung.
Read ahead to see some athletes who have left their fame on the playing fields.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 24 May 2012
David Tyree seemed destined for a permanent place in the annals of NFL greatness. In the last 75 seconds of Super Bowl XLII in 2008, the New York Giants' receiver caught a pass while in the air from Eli Manning by pressing the ball with one hand against his helmet, even as the New England Patriots’ Rodney Harrison hung tenaciously on him. The Giants won the championship.
As a key participant in one of the most spectacular plays in NFL lore, Tyree became an instant celebrity and began earning as much as $15,000 for personal appearances. On the field he was well positioned to become a major star. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury at training camp and was put on reserve. He barely got another chance to play. He retired from the NFL in 2010.
Jay Williams spent his entire NBA career – the 2002-2003 season – with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls drafted him after a high-school and college career that ended with his being named national player of the year at Duke University.
He seemed destined for greatness, but in June 2003, he nearly lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident. At the time, the Bulls agreed to pay him the $7.7 million he would have gotten for the next two seasons, but his injuries were so extensive that they kept him out of commission for three years.
In 2006 he attempted a comeback and signed a non-guaranteed contract with the New Jersey Nets, but he was waived less than two weeks before the start of the season. "You can't make up missing 3½ years in a month in a half," coach Lawrence Frank told the Associated Press. Williams never played another NBA game.
NFL quarterback Doug Williams began his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1970s, starting at a $120,000 annual salary that was easily the lowest in the league. However, he became a true star when he joined the Washington Redskins.
In 1988, he led the Skins to victory in Super Bowl XXII, a remarkable accomplishment considering he played with his jaw wired shut following extensive dental surgery the previous day. He had more than earned the Super Bowl MVP honors, but the following season, he suffered a career-ending back injury, and he retired.
In February 1990, heavyweight boxer Buster Douglas entered the ring at Japan’s Tokyo Dome and did what was then unthinkable: he beat the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, in a 10th-round knockout. Sports Illustrated, the New York Daily News and ESPN called his victory one of the greatest upsets in sports history. And he did it while recovering from the flu.
Douglas undertook his first title defense eight months later against Evander Holyfield, an event for which he was offered a staggering $25 million. Holyfield promptly sent Douglas directly to the mat in the third round, and his career never recovered. He retired from boxing in 1999.
Before joining the NBA’s New York Knicks, Jerome James showed incredible promise, especially in his last season with the Seattle SuperSonics. In 2005, the Knicks signed the hot commodity to a five-year, $30 million deal, no doubt in the expectation that he would continue to excel on the court.
James shattered the team’s high expectations by posting statistics well below those of the previous season. On Jan. 2, 2006, less than a year after his excellent performance with Seattle, he was suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team.” According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, “James was a chronic underachiever who cashed in on a brief moment of excellence.”
Outfielder Shane Spencer joined the New York Yankees in 1998. In a season in which the Yanks could seemingly do no wrong, Spencer matched them with his performance, hitting 10 home runs and 27 RBI’s in only 67 at-bats, quickly endearing himself to the fans and gaining a reputation as a formidable hitter.
The following season his poster-boy status evaporated. In 205 at-bats, he had fewer home runs and RBIs than in his standout season, and he began an alarming trend of frequent strike-outs. The team kept him on the roster, albeit at rock-bottom prices -- in 2002 he signed a one-year contract worth $885,000, just one day after catcher Jorge Posada signed a five-year contract for $51 million. He ended his career in 2006 as a member of Japan’s Hanshin Tigers.
Jim Carey is a former NHL goalie who debuted with the Washington Capitals in 1995. He started strong, going undefeated in his first seven games and ultimately earning a place on the NHL All-Rookie Team. He made the NHL First All-Star Team the following year, so the teamed signed him to a four-year contract whose terms were not disclosed.
In 1997, in the middle of the season, he was traded to the Boston Bruins, and he promptly lost his mojo. His game suffered so severely that he was demoted to the AHL development league’s Providence Bruins.
The hottest prospect in the NHL draft of 1993, Alexandre Daigle was taken first overall by the Ottawa Senators, who signed him to a five-year, $12.25 million contract, then the largest starting salary in NHL history.
By the 1997-1998 season, the Senators had to concede that Daigle simply wasn’t working out. He was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers and later to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who got a grand total of 32 games out of him before trading him to the New York Rangers. In 2007, the Ottawa Sun named Daigle the number one NHL draft bust of all time.
Tyronn Lue joined the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers in 1998, but he didn’t really hit his stride until the 2001 playoffs, in which his speed and agility led the team to victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Now a star, he signed as a free agent with the Washington Wizards in the off-season and in the two years that he played for them earned a combined salary of over $3.5 million.
It all fell apart for Lue after he joined the Orlando Magic in 2003. The team stumbled to a 21-61 record, the worst in the NBA that season. Lue was then traded to the Houston Rockets, who traded him on the Atlanta Hawks in 2004. In Atlanta, he again led his team to the worst record in the NBA for the season, which at 13–69 was also the worst in the history of the franchise.