Skip to Content

Best NBA Players Who Passed Away

Best NBA Players Who Passed Away

Best NBA Players Who Passed Away

While we tend to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of NBA players, both current and former ones, there are, unfortunately, a number of NBA players who have passed away too soon.

These players made huge impacts to both the game and the league, dedicating their lives to the sport and to their teams. And while they may have passed too soon, their legacies continue to live on and we remember their impacts on the game.

Below, we are going to look at the best NBA players who passed away and celebrate their lives and accomplishments in a way that honors and remembers their contributions to both the game and their community.

Bill Russell

Having passed on July 31, 2022, William Felton Russell was one of the all time greatest basketball and NBA players. Having played the center position for the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969, Bill Russell was a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a 12-time NBA All-Star.

A centerpiece of the Celtics dynasty, Russell would win a record 11 NBA championships during his 13-year career. And although Russell was never known for his offensive dominance, having never averaged more than 19 points per game, his dominating defensive style were main reasons for the Celtics success.

Similarly, Bill Russell was known for his rebounding abilities, having led the league in rebounds four times and having a consecutive 12 seasons with more then 1,000 rebounds. He is currently second all time in both total rebounds and rebounds per game. He is also the one of just two NBA players to have grabbed more than 50 rebounds in a single NBA game.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant was the epitome of basketball greatness for a generation of basketball fans.  With an internal fire and drive unlike any other athlete, Bryant strove to greatness through sheer will and determination, quipping, “everything negative – pressure, challenges – are all an opportunity for me to rise.”

And although Bryant, the so called ‘Black Mamba‘, was taken from us too early, his style of play, determination, and mamba mentality continue to have a profound effect on both the NBA and basketball players across the globe to this day. 

An inspiration and role model for so many, Bryant in our books is one of the best NBA players of all time.

However, on January 26, 2020, at just the age of 41, Kobe Bryant was the victim of a helicopter crash, taking his life and the lives of 8 others, including his daughter Gianna.

Due to light rain and fog that morning, the Los Angeles Police Department helicopters and most other air traffic were grounded.  The flight tracker showed that the helicopter Bryant was in circled above the L.A. Zoo due to heavy air traffic in the area.

At 9:30 a.m., the pilot contacted the Burbank Airport’s control tower, notifying the tower of the situation, and was told he was “flying too low” to be tracked by radar.

At that time, the helicopter experienced extreme fog and turned south towards the mountains. At 9:40 a.m., the helicopter climbed rapidly from 1,200 to 2,000 feet (370 to 610 m), flying at 161 knots (298 km/h; 185 mph).

At 9:45 a.m., the helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain in Calabasas, about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and began burning.

Bryant, his daughter, and the other seven occupants were all killed on impact. Initial reports indicated that the helicopter crashed in the hills above Calabasas in heavy fog. In addition, witnesses reported hearing a helicopter struggling before crashing.

Pete Maravich

Pete Maravich, known by his nickname Pistol Pete, was a former professional basketball player. Better known by many for his religiosity and wavy, curly hair, Maravich was a basketball superstar in his time.

Born near the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and raised in the Carolinas, Maravich played college basketball at Louisiana State University and is the all-time leading NCAA Division I scorer with 3,667 points scored with an average of 44.2 points per game.

What’s more impressive, these records were done prior to the adoption of the three-point line and the shot clock.

One of the youngest players to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Maravich would become a recluse following his time in the league, stating that he was, “searching for life”.

During his time away, Maravich would explore  yoga and Hinduism, would read Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and took an interest in the field of ufology, the study of unidentified flying objects.

In addition, he also explored vegetarianism and macrobiotics, adopting a vegetarian diet in 1982. 

Eventually, he became a born-again Christian, embracing evangelical Christianity.

A few years before his death, Maravich said, “I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person that serves Him [Jesus] to the utmost, not as a basketball player.”

On January 5, 1988, Maravich collapsed and died of heart failure at age 40 while playing in a pickup basketball game in the gym at First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California.

It has been reported that Maravich’s last words, less than a minute before he died, were “I feel great.”

However, an autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a rare congenital defect; he had been born with a missing left coronary artery, a vessel that supplies blood to the muscle fibers of the heart. His right coronary artery was grossly enlarged and had been compensating for the defect.

Wilt Chamberlain

One of the best players of all time, Wilt Chamberlain has one of the most impressive basketball resumes. The only player to score 100-points in an NBA game, Wilt Chamberlain stood in at 7’1″ and played the center position.

Playing in the NBA for 14-years, Wilt Chamberlain holds numerous NBA regular season scoring, rebounding, and durability records. In his 14-years in the league, Chamberlain averaged at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game for seven seasons and is the only player in the history of the league to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game over the course of his career.

A 2-time NBA champion, Chamberlain would also earn four NBA Most Valuable Player awards, the NBA Rookie of the Year award, one NBA Finals MVP award, and one NBA AAll-Star Game MVP.

However, Chamberlain also had a history of cardiovascular disease, being briefly hospitalized in 1992 for an irregular heartbeat. In 1999, his condition rapidly decreased, during which time he lost 50 pounds.

After undergoing dental surgery, he was in great pain and seemed unable to recover. On October 12, 1999, Wilt Chamberlain passed away in Bel Air, Los Angeles at the age of 63.

Dražen Petrović

Dražen Petrović was a Yugoslav and Croatian basketball player and shooting guard who played both in Europe and in the NBA. During his playing career, he earned two silver medals and one bronze medal at the Summer Olympic Games, a gold and bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup, and a gold and a bronze medal at the FIBA EuroBasket.

However, Petrović, looking to play on a more national stage, would join the NBA in 1989, initially as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. After seeing little playing time, he would join the New Jersey Nets, where he would find greater success.

While playing for New Jersey, Petrović would become one of the league’s best shooting guards and was named FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1991. However, on June 7, 1993, Petrović’s life was tragically cut short after he passed away in a car accident at the age of 28.

Eddie Griffin

Eddie Griffin was a professional basketball player from Philadelphia and last played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was waived by the team in March of 2007 and passed away months later due to a car crash.

Griffin had a standout career in high school and was named Parade’s National Player of the Year, leading to him competing in the McDonald’s All-American Game. After high school, Griffin attended Seton Hall University, averaging 17.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks per game.

Although Griffin had a great freshman season, he would fall to the seventh overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft due to attitude and a tendency to fight with teammates. In his rookie year, he averaged 8.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.84 blocks per game.

However, due to issues with alcohol and fights with his teammates, he would be traded from team-to-team. After signing a three-year contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he would be dropped by the team due to driving under the influence.

A mere five months after being dropped by the Timberwolves, Griffin would die on August 17, 2007, as a result of a car crash. Houston police said in a report that Griffin ignored a railroad warning and went through a barrier before striking a moving train. The resulting fire burned Griffin’s SUV and the side of a railcar carrying plastic granules.