Injuries in sports are absolute downers. They’re as bothersome as an uninvited guest who stays till the end of the party. In the past few months alone, we’ve witnessed some of our favorite sports personalities such as D. Rose, KD, Cain Velasquez, DLSU’s Ara Galang and Camille Cruz, and Kobe Bryant break down physically, bumming us out big time.
But with every athlete falling by the wayside, another makes a comeback. Witness: Paul George. The Indiana Pacer star fell down with a leg injury in August that was so gruesome that many thought it was the end of the road.
George made a successful return to the game today, and contributed 13 points in a win against the Miami Heat. While one game is barely an indicator of long-term success, merely seeing a player whose leg was split in half play again is truly inspiring.
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On that note, we've compiled 15 of the greatest sports comebacks from major injuries. Read up and be inspired by these remarkable individuals and their stories!
1) The broken foot that could've altered Michael Jordan's career
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In 1985, just a year after storming his way to the NBA, Jordan broke his foot, forcing him to miss 64 regular season games.
But as it turned out, His Airness wasn’t only great at doing all sorts of stuff mid-air, he was also great at recovering from injuries. By some miracle, the Jordan-less Bulls’ dismal 30-52 record was good enough to land them the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs that year, allowing MJ to return in time to face the top seeded Boston Celtics.
Although Chicago yielded to Larry Bird and co., Michael was able to set a league record by scoring 63 points on the road in Game 2—a sign of things to come. It’s quite amazing what a broken foot does to people, isn’t it?
2) Monica Seles' stabbing incident
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By 1993, seven months shy of her 20th birthday, tennis darling Seles had already won eight Grand Slams. The Yugoslavian-born prodigy’s meteoric rise seemed unstoppable until it was put to a screeching halt in the same year when a deranged fan stabbed her in the shoulder during a match.
One would think that having a knife violently pierce through Monica’s shoulder would end her days of competing at a high level. But after two years, she came back and remained a formidable force, winning the Australian Open in her return.
3) Rafael Nadal's continued dominance in spite of an injury-riddled career
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Nadal, a 14-time Grand Slam winner, goes after the ball like an animal, runs as hard as a gazelle trying to get away from hungry lions, and hits the ball like Thor hurls his hammer—a style of play that has caused him to miss action all throughout his career.
Knee tendinitis, ankle stress fractures, abdominal pulls, shoulder, and back and hamstring problems have been nagging the muscle-bound Spaniard for years yet he always manages to play like a beast—a brand of dominance often in full display in the fast clay courts of the French Open, where he'll be gunning for his 10th overall and fifth straight title this year.
4) '60s MLB star pitcher Tommy John breaks his throwing arm's elbow
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John was one of the most reliable pitchers in Major League Baseball in the '60s and '70s, suiting up for the Cleveland Indians, L.A. Dodgers, and New York Yankees. In '74, a ligament in his pitching elbow snapped, requiring him to undergo a repair operation that has never been done before at that point—thus leading many to conclude that he would never be able throw like he used to
After two therapeutic years, however, he was back launching scorching pitches like nothing happened. He played for 14 more seasons, garnering accolades such as the '76 Comeback Player of the Year and being named an All-Star three more times. His full recovery was so successful that the reconstructive incision that saved his career is now known as the Tommy John surgery—now widely and commonly practiced in baseball.
5) NFL demigod Tom Brady snaps his ACL and MCL
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Not even the New England Patriots superstar quarterback (and his good looks and awesomeness) could stave off the injury bug.
In 2008, Brady tore his ACL and MCL and suffered an infection during surgery, costing his team and its insane fans a postseason run. The setback would be short-lived, though, as Mr. Gisele Bündchen showed that his mettle was just as impressive as physical prowess. In his reemergence, he added these feathers in his helmet: 2009 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, a second NFL MVP trophy, six Pro Bowl selections, his fourth Super Bowl trophy and a third Super Bowl MVP plum.
6) Sugar Ray Leonard comes back from a detached retina and two bouts with retirement
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In 1982, one of the best prizefighters boxing has ever seen, Sugar Ray Leonard, retired from fighting because of a detached retina. Testing the waters two years later, he stepped back into the ring only to realize he still lacks what it takes to be on top again—resulting in a second retirement in 1984.
Yet nothing could keep the five-division titlist out completely. In 1986, he challenged undisputed middleweight champ Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who at that time was consider by many as The Man in boxing.
Although he was the bigger star, Sugar Ray was the underdog coming in, having been sidelined for 24 months and Hagler being an absolute beast. In the end, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist’s shiftiness and speed proved to be his trump cards as he walked away with the split decision victory, cementing his reputation as the best fighter of the star-studded '80s.
7) Vitali Klitschko breaks knee, but comes back to break more faces
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The older Klitschko assumed the mantle of being the best heavyweight boxer in the planet in the post-Lennox Lewis years. In 2004, he blew out his knee while training for a fight, thus keeping Vitali and his vicious power on the sideline for four years.
In 2008, he claimed back his WBC crown by stopping the Nigerian Nightmare Samuel Peter. Since then, he’s had nine successful title defenses, six via stoppage. He would never relinquish his belt until his retirement in 2012. Vitali is currently following our Pambansang Kamao’s footsteps. He’s now a politician in Ukraine, serving as the mayor of his hometown, Kiev.
8) Kevin Ware aka The Dude With The Scariest Basketball Injury In YouTube returns to become MVP
How could anyone forget the sight of the then Louisville guard's leg protruding out of his shin, his leg bone saying hello to the world in the 2013 NCAA tourney? Ware returned later the same year and then transferred to Georgia State University in April 2014. His transfer culminated in winning the 2015 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament where he was named MVP.
With the championship, the 6’ 2” guard had practically stirred his squad to a slot in the 2015 NCAA tournament. Now there's a feel-good comeback story!
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9) F1 legend Niki Lauda steers himself back to pole position
You may have heard of Lauda through the exciting 2013 film, Rush. The main reason why he became one of the lead subjects of that movie is his stirring narrative.
In 1976, fresh off winning the World Championship, the Austrian F1 icon’s car crashed, almost ending his career and his life. Momentarily trapped inside the burning automobile, Lauda suffered severe burns all over his head and face, causing him to lose most of his right ear. And as he was being taken away from the site of the accident, he fell into a brief coma.
Video via Julio Alvaro
Now, if something similar to that happened to us we’d probably be too traumatized to ever drive again. Yet Niki got back on the race track just six weeks later. In the next seven years, combining indomitable perseverance with his trademark precision driving, Lauda won his second and third World Championships with Ferrari and McLaren, respectively, making him the only driver in F1 history to win titles with different race teams.
10) Willie Pep survives a plane crash and pummels more featherweights
In a career that spanned from the '40s up to the '60s, the superbly skilled featherweight displayed unprecedented athleticism and finesse in more than 200 bouts. Pep was so good at evading punches he reportedly once was able to win a round without landing a blow of his own. There was one thing he wasn't able to evade though: a plane crash in January 1947 that should have left him with career-ending injuries.
Unbelievably, Willie healed like the Wolverine and was able to fight 10 times later the same year, going undefeated and defending the world title he won a year ago one time. (Because how could you knock out a man that a plane crash couldn't?)
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11) Not even cancer could stop NHL superstar Mario Lemieux
Lemieux was undeniably special. And not even cancer could hold back the Montreal-born legend.
After his first surgery to repair a herniated disc, Lemieux led his Pittsburgh Penguins to two straight Stanley Cups (’91 and ’92). In 1993, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Undergoing energy-sapping radiation treatment, Mario continued to play and remained one of the league’s most prolific scorers.
In 2002, coming out of his first retirement, he captained Canada to Olympic gold. We know all of us would pick basketball over hockey any time of day but watching this guy’s wizardry on the ice despite his debilitating condition, makes us super fans.
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12) Adrian Peterson shakes off ACL and MCL tears like he outran NFL defenders
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Peterson was the game’s best running back when his ACL and MCL gave out in 2011, and his future in the NFL looked as bleak as the prospect of U.P. winning the UAAP basketball crown. But after just 10 months, the Minnesota Vikings superstar roared back into the field, eventually leading the NFL in rushing and nabbing league MVP honors. Hey, maybe Derrick Rose could use some words of encouragement from this guy.
13) Star quarterback Peyton Manning broke his neck, then proceeded to win an MVP award
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The four-time NFL MVP's playing days looked to be over when he went through multiple neck surgeries in 2011, prompting the Indianapolis Colts to release their most prized player. In 2012, the Denver Broncos made an excellent choice in gambling on him. Manning returned to top form as he led the Broncos to the playoffs, earning for himself the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award and an All-Pro selection.
In 2013, he guided the Broncos to a Super Bowl appearance and was voted NFL MVP for the fifth time. To all of Peyton’s critics who had written him off, he should say to them, “neck-neck ninyo!” #witty
14) St. Louis Cardinals star pitcher Chris Carpenter rebuilds halted career