All-Time Great Athletes Who Proved the Doubters Wrong
Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to introduce a young basketball player named Stephen Curry. His “explosiveness and athleticism are below standard,” he “needs to considerably improve as a ball-handler,” and he “will have limited success in the NBA.”
If that gave you whiplash from shaking your head, consider this: These observations come from Curry’s early NBA scouting reports, long before he was the lights-out point guard and 2015 NBA MVP who led the Golden State Warriors to the 2015 NBA title. In a new ad for CoachUp, the Curry of today recites those digs from his early scouting reports, airing out the supposedly sage advice that turned out to be so wrong.
What changed between “limited success” and pinnacle of the profession? Simply put, Curry transformed criticism into a championship. Here are five more athletes who defied the doubters and carved out their own success.
Brady was a relatively successful if not earth-shatteringly dynamic quarterback at the University of Michigan. But his performance at the 2000 NFL Combine was laughably unathletic, and he got low marks from scouts and coaches because he seemed to take forever to throw and run.
The Patriots’ new coach, however, thought differently. Bill Belichick thought Brady might have the mental makeup of a winning quarterback, and pulled some strings to draft him in the sixth round. The rest, in short, is a supermodel and Super Bowls.
Before his named was attached to the legendary Adidas shoe, Stan Smith was one of the most accomplished American tennis stars of all time, with two Grand Slams and a world no. 1 ranking to his name.
But Smith’s tennis career didn’t start out so successfully. As a young player, he applied for a job as a ball boy, but was reportedly rejected because officials thought he was too clumsy, and the other players at the Los Angeles Tennis Club avoided him, according to a 1971 profile in Sports Illustrated.
Contrary to popular belief, Jordan was never cut from the basketball team at Laney High in Wilmingon, North Carolina. Jordan was simply “placed” on the junior varsity team, according to a profile of his then-coach in Sports Illustrated—but he hardly showed signs of becoming a game-changing talent.
“There was no doubt that Mike Jordan could handle the ball, but his shooting was merely good and his defense mediocre,” his coaches said. But 15-year-old Mike Jordan (he was “Mike” then) was still far from the incandescent superstar he later became. Jordan drew motivation from the slight to out-work, out-hustle, and out-practice the competition until he became, well, Michael Jordan.
Copeland electrified audiences as the first African-American woman to be named principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theater in the spring of 2015—but her path to stardom was not nearly as graceful as her on-stage performances.
Copeland, who is curvier, older, and slightly shorter than the prototypical ballerina, earned Internet stardom with an Under Armour ad titled “I WILL WHAT I WANT.” “You have the wrong body for ballet,” says young girl reading a rejection letter—presumably one Copeland received, before her ultimate rise to prima status as one of the most heralded ballerinas in the world.
A heralded running back out of Notre Dame, Bleier joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968—only to get drafted into the Vietnam War after his rookie season. Bleier’s unit was ambushed while on patrol. A bullet hit him in the left leg, and then grenade shrapnel tore into his right leg and part of his right foot. “Rocky, you won't be able to play again. It's impossible,” his Army doctor told him after the injury, according to a Sports Illustrated article.
But Bleier fought to regain a spot on the Steelers roster, even after he was waived from the team twice. Thanks to a grueling offseason training regimen, Bleier made it back to his playing weight of 210 lbs.—and not only reclaimed a spot on the roster, but played seven seasons and earned four Super Bowl rings.