NBA Players Who Beat the Odds

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

In the NBA players come from a variety of backgrounds. For some, basketball is a choice. For others, it’s the only option for success in life. And on the way up, some encounter pitfalls, such as injury or a negative environment. But it’s how they respond in the face of adversity that reveals a great deal about their character. About their perseverance. And about their dedication to beating the odds by overcoming the obstacles blocking their path to greatness.

Derrick Rose is a man who came from nothing. Rose grew up in Englewood, on Chicago’s notorious South Side. He was drafted number one overall by his hometown Chicago Bulls with high hopes for his talent. Raised without a father, Rose’s three brothers played a fatherly role to him. His mission today is to assist teenagers who are similar to how he used to be, growing up in places where there, sadly, isn’t much hope. Rose wants to provide kids with a supportive circle of people who care for one another and will lend a hand when needed.

Rose has had two devastating injuries to both of his knees in his NBA career and has missed serious playing time because of it. He missed the entire 2012–2013 season with a left knee ACL tear and then only played 10 games in the season after that where he tore the meniscus in his right knee. He would go on to miss further playing time in the 2014–15 season as he underwent surgery on the same torn meniscus in his right knee. Before his injuries, Rose was named Rookie of the Year; named to the All-Star team; was selected to the All-NBA team; and was voted Most Valuable Player, the youngest player in NBA history to win the coveted award. From the concrete streets of Chicago’s South Side, Rose’s talents and determination had taken him to the pinnacle of success in professional basketball.

The 2018–19 season was one of the most emotional for Rose. Playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves marked the fourth team he has laced them up for in four years. It was, also, his best season in a few years, despite only getting the starting nod in 13 of 51 games he played. He came up big with 18 points a night on 48.2% shooting from the field (the second-highest mark of his career). Even though he has already reached the peak of his NBA career, Rose reached new heights with a standout game in which he scored a career-high of 50 points. Following that game, an outpouring of support came from his NBA colleagues, expressing appreciation for “D-Rose” and his resilience. Fellow players are all too aware of how devastating injuries can be to someones career. That night cemented Derrick Rose as one of the true inspirations for athletes across all sports. Today, Rose plays for the Detroit Pistons as an integral cog in their system, averaging 18.1 points per game.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Six-time All-Star Paul George, also known as “PG-13”, has had the highest of peaks and the lowest of valleys in his ten-year NBA career. Drafted by the Indiana Pacers, he was a quick fan favorite as he and coach Frank Vogel fought their way to the top of the Eastern Conference in the 2013–2014 season. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2011; Most Improved Player in 2013; has been elected to the All-Defense team four times; All-NBA five times, and was the steals champion in the 2018–19 season. It was in the offseason of 2014 in a U.S. national team scrimmage for the FIBA Basketball World Cup that George suffered the most gruesome of injuries. He was a shoo-in to make the roster of this USA squad, but during a scrimmage in Las Vegas, George awkwardly landed at the base of the stanchion on a high-hustle play and went down in agony. He broke his fibula and tibia and was diagnosed with a compound fracture of both bones in his lower right leg and promptly was put through surgery.

This broken leg was a major blow to George who was 24 years old and beginning to hit his stride. George took the long road to recovery head-on, making phenomenal progress that even the doctors did not anticipate. George even promised he would return better than ever. His anticipated return to the court was during postseason play in 2015. To begin the season, he was taking standing 3-point shots, without fully putting his weight into them. Without much in the way of public updates on his status, he made a miraculous return to the hardwood at the end of the 2014–2015 season, playing six games with limited minutes.

The following season he went on to play 81 of the 82 games in the regular season, averaging 23.1 points a game. The 2018–19 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder was arguably “PG-13's” best, as he was an MVP finalist scoring a career-best at a 28 point per game clip. That type of performance shows how perseverance and hard work pays off if you stay dedicated to your craft when faced with obstacles. Today, Paul George is 30 years old and plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, alongside fellow superstar Kawhi Leonard.

Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Γιάννης Αντετοκούνμπο, better known as Giannis Antetokounmpo, is the prized possession of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. His physical attributes are truly freakish earning him the beloved nickname “The Greek Freak” as he stands nearly seven feet tall with a wingspan of seven feet, three inches. He has the quickness and ball-handling skills of a guard, yet the aggressive physical presence of a center. In his short six-year career, Antetokounmpo has been an MVP, four-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, two-time All-Defensive teamer and Most Improved Player as he has made great strides in polishing his game. As this season resumes in the Orlando Bubble in Disney, Antetokounmpo is the frontrunner for the MVP once again, averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per contest.

It hasn’t always easy for Giannis, as his road to success has been filled with trecherous terrain. While he was gifted with incredible potential, he wasn’t gifted any favors growing up in Athens, Greece with his brothers and Nigerian immigrant parents. Despite being born and living in Greece until age 18, Antetokounmpo never received Greek citizenship papers, making him stateless for his whole life to that point. His parents had a tough time finding work in the struggling economy of Greece and were unable to put food on the table every day for their sons. This is part of the reason “Gianni” entered the league so skinny, going without eating at times in his childhood. Adding to this, there was a constant fear of he and his brothers being deported. His father would take the boys to basketball courts to avoid neighborhood violence, basketball serving as a safe-haven of sorts for the family. Antetokounmpo did what he could for the family by selling merchandise on the streets of Sepolia, Athens similar to a sidewalk vendor in New York City, making a mere $200 a month.

He lacked consistency on the court as his first love growing up was soccer. Spiros Velliniatis, a basketball club coach, saw greatness in him at 13 and knew basketball could be Antetokounmpo’s way out. Antetokounmpo credits Velliniatis for putting him on the right path to playing basketball. It was a community effort to support him as a local café owner provided Giannis with food before practices, so that he wouldn’t go hungry. Velliniatis even offered Giannis’s parents jobs with the team as to entice Antetokounmpo to play for his team.

It wasn’t until 2007 that he began playing basketball. In 2011 at the young age of 16, he joined a senior men’s team in Greece’s third-tier level semi-pro league. In 2013 NBA scouts began to take notice of the rising 18-year-old star in Greece. Even though he had only played in the second-tier pro-league at this juncture, his physical attributes were like nothing anybody had seen before. As Antetokounmpo was about to depart for New York to attend the NBA draft in 2015, Greece finally granted him citizenship. The Greek government was hopeful he would be viewed as an “ambassador” for Greece in the U.S. rather than perceived as Nigerian. This left a bad taste in many people’s mouths as it seemed athletic success was the sole reason he gained citizenship. Nonetheless, Antetokounmpo proudly represents the country in which he grew up. The Milwaukee Bucks were the team willing to take a chance on the scrawny Athens native, drafting him 15th overall.

Basketball was Giannis’s “ticket” to a better life for both him and his family. It allowed his family to move to a better neighborhood in Greece, closer to the club, and eventually opening the door for them to come to the United States.

Living in a neighborhood of poverty is not an easy life, but some make it out, against all odds. Recovering and rehabilitating from a career-threatening injury takes dedication and patience that not many possess. But those that overcome such adversities, not only demonstrate the value of persistence and hard work but, serve as inspirational role models for others to prove that success is achievable despite what seems like insurmountable odds.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and

I can be reached at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Alex Raphael

Alex Raphael

James Madison University Graduate. I can be contacted at