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December 7, 2012

Injuries have robbed NBA of a generation of gifted big men

NBA reeling from premature loss of generation of super-sized centers

It’s gotten so bad, it almost doesn’t seem terribly surprising that Andrew Bynum’s NBA career could be ended by an injury.

A bowling injury!

With his series of knee injuries and several other freak injuries to highly-touted prospects, elite NBA big men are a dying breed.

These are the giants who define the sport: George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan.

The League has to be sweating this fact like Ewing in overtime.

Great big men come along maybe once every 5-10 years. Perennial All-Stars maybe every couple years. But every “Next Great Big Man” seems to be hobbled or just finished due to a freakish run of bad luck and bad injuries.

Shaq, all 7-foot-1, 325-plus pounds of him, had his last 20 points, 10 rebounds season in 2004-05. The great Duncan is wrapping up his Hall of Fame career.

The Lakers’ Dwight Howard is the throwback big man. Big and strong and agile, he puts the fear of God in you. After him? Nobody.

The Rockets’ 7-6, 310-pound giant Yao Ming would have gone down with the legends. But foot and ankle injuries had the modern-day Walton playing just five games after age 28.

So big, so gifted with the Chinese roots, the premature demise of the Ming Dynasty undoubtedly cost the NBA billions of dollars worldwide.

At least Greg Oden was on the way. High school experts ranked him perhaps just an eyelash behind LeBron James as the top schoolboy player since Shaq in the late ‘80s.

But a series of knee injuries may have ended the career of the 7-foot, 285-pounder, who at the age of 19 was taken No. 1 ahead of Kevin Durant in 2007. He’s played 82 games (the equivalent of one full season). Chances are he’ll never play in the league again.

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