Many athletes have short-lived careers, and when they do throw in the towel, it isn't always on their terms. Injuries, age, and decreased performance are some of the common reasons athletes retire. But every so often, some athletes pull the rug from underneath fans, players, and coaches and surprisingly call it quits. Here are 10 of the most shocking retirements in sports history.
1. BARRY SANDERS
Hall of Famer Barry Sanders surprised everyone when he announced his retirement in 1999. Sanders was in the prime of his career when he called it quits because he had lost the desire to play. The news broke the hearts of football fans around the country, who wanted to see Sanders break the all-time rushing record.
2. YAO MING
Legendary basketball player Yao Ming shocked the world when he announced his retirement in July 2011. The 7-foot-6-inch Chinese athlete had been suffering from foot and ankle injuries and underwent surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot in 2009. His injuries only got worse and Yao decided to retire from the game. The gentle giant was one of the most internationally known athletes, especially to come out of China.
3. MICHAEL JORDAN
Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. After nine incredible seasons, the beloved Chicago Bulls player made a shocking decision to retire. What fans didn't know is that this wouldn't be the last time they'd get to watch "His Airness" score on the court. After a short stint with minor league baseball, Jordan returned to the NBA and would retire two more times before ending his basketball career in 2003.
4. PAT TILLMAN
NFL player Pat Tillman surprised fans when he decided to retire from football at 25 years old and enlist in the U.S. Army with his brother Kevin, who was MLB-bound. Tillman finished out the 15 games of the 2001 season and turned down a $3.6 million contract offer to play for the Cardinals for three years. Sadly, Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004.
5. MAGIC JOHNSON
Magic Johnson took fans, players, and coaches by surprise when he announced that he was HIV positive in 1991. Following this revelation, Johnson decided to leave the NBA, but returned for the 1992 All-Star Game to some players' dismay. Magic retired a second time, but came back in 1996 to play 32 games for the Lakers before bowing out for the last time.
6. BOBBY ORR
Hockey superstar Bobby Orr saddened hockey fans around the world when he announced his retirement in 1978 at the ripe age of 30. Orr was an unbelievable skater and a gifted scorer who revolutionized the defenseman position. The two-time Stanley Cup champion and Norris Trophy holder was plagued by a devastating knee injury that eventually caused him to call it quits after nine incredible seasons.
7. KIRBY PUCKETT
Kirby Puckett was a legendary baseball player and a heavy hitter with an impressive 2,304 hits, 1,085 RBIs, and a .318 batting average. Puckett shook the sports world when he said his goodbyes to baseball after discovering irreversible damage to his retina.
8. BJORN BORG
Bjorn Borg took the tennis world by storm from 1973 to 1983. Borg holds the record of being the only person to win Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year for three years in a row. Despite winning 11 Grand Slams, Borg no longer found tennis fun and surprisingly retired at the age of 26.
9. SANDY KOUFAX
Sandy Koufax was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history with an impressive 2.76 ERA, 2,396 strikeouts, 137 complete games, and 40 shutouts. Unfortunately, Koufax had chronic arthritis in his elbow, which caused the Hall of Famer to call it quits in 1966 at 30 years old.
10. JIM BROWN
Jim Brown was a legendary NFL player who left his record-breaking career with the Cleveland Browns to focus on his acting career. Within nine unbelievable seasons, Brown managed to rake in a total of 15,459 yards and earn Rookie of the Year in 1957. Brown's retirement announcement took everyone by surprise, especially since he was only 30 and was at the peak of his health and performance.
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