Why Do Basketball Players Die Young? Our Top 3 Reasons

Substance abuse, suicide, accidents, and existing health conditions are among the top reasons why some basketball players die young.

Death is a natural phenomenon shared by all humans, including those in the professional basketball scene. NBA players live their lives on and off the court, and, hopefully, pass away at reasonable ages. However, some athletes tend to leave this earth for the spiritual plane at earlier ages than others.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the reasons for early death in the NBA. Also, continue reading to know the NBA players that died too young.

basketball players die young


As per a 2017 report, the average lifespan of a professional basketball player is 72.4 years for players born in 1921 to 1930. The investigation also found that the highest average lifespan of professional basketball players is 80.6 years for individuals born in 1920 or earlier.

What are the Reasons for Early Death in the NBA?


Despite some basketball players living over 70 years old, some people don’t get to see the beauty of life past the age of 30. The reasons for these deaths tend to vary for each person. However, it’s important to understand these causes to significantly reduce these tragic events.

Some of the reasons for early death in the NBA are:

death in NBA

1. Substance Abuse

substance abuse


Excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol can destroy the lives of any human being, including NBA players. Consuming these substances produces addictive tendencies in people, causing them to spiral downward if they don’t get out of those pitfalls soon.

Consuming drugs and alcohol can help the mind escape from worrying about life’s trials and tribulations, albeit temporarily. Some basketball athletes yearn for this escape, which causes them to depend on these harmful substances.

However, these compounds tend to do more harm than good for both the mind and body. Some of these potential adverse effects include:


According to the results of a statistics report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) 2018 survey, it revealed that about 20.3 million people over 12 years old had an experience of substance abuse in 2017.

Drug and alcohol abuse is poisoning the lives of people, including those vying to be top players in the NBA. As it stands, some players in the professional basketball league tend to rely on these substances, hoping for quick relief. But, consuming too much of these harmful products may eventually make them pay the ultimate price of life.

2. Wrong Place at the Wrong Time


Sometimes Lady Luck isn’t on the side of some NBA players as no one would assume their deaths would come at early ages. These unforeseen events can happen to relatively anyone, especially when walking down the bad side of town.

One excellent case is Haris Brkić, a Yugoslavian basketball player that was part of the Yugoslav Basketball Association (YUBA) League. According to a 2000 report from the Associated Press News, the basketball player died because of a gunshot to the head after leaving practice. The investigation indicated that the motive for the incident was unclear and the suspect fled the scene before the police arrived. The court ruled the case to be a homicide with the lack of evidence.

As for some basketball players, they lost their lives because of incidents like car crashes or accidental falls. Certain athletes, like the late Nick Vanos of the Phoenix Suns, died because of a plane crash in 1987.

3. Existing Health Conditions

In a perfect world, everybody living on this planet would be at peak health. But, that’s not the case as some humans arrive into this world with pre-existing or developing health conditions. Some NBA players would succumb to the pain and suffering brought by pneumonia or brain cancer. Others would have a sudden heart attack in the middle of practice. These health concerns cement the dire importance of having a certified medical professional during basketball training sessions and official matches. The few precious seconds experienced by an ailing basketball athlete might mean life or death for that individual. With a medical expert nearby, that player might have a better chance of having a second chance in life.

Who are the NBA Players That Died Too Young?


As it stands, the list of NBA players dying before their expected time continues to grow. The reason for their deaths generally varies between each individual.

Still, some of the notable early deaths in NBA history are:

1. Bryce Dejean-Jones


Born with the name Bryce Alexander Dejean-Jones, this NBA player only played for one season throughout his career. He was a shooting guard for the New Orleans Pelicans, to which he scored an average of 5.6 points throughout the 2015-2016 season. But, fate had other plans for Dejean-Jones.

In 2016, this 6’6’’ basketball player died after receiving a gunshot to the abdomen. An ESPN post reports that Dejean-Jones went to the wrong apartment and the owner of the abode shot the unsuspecting athlete.

The story began when Dejean-Jones was visiting his girlfriend in Dallas to visit his daughter’s birthday. The couple went for a walk after going out, but the girlfriend returned to the apartment first. Upon returning, Dejean-Jones mistook an apartment for his girlfriend’s, thinking that his partner locked him out. Perhaps it was because of sudden anger that the player started kicking the door.

The owner of the apartment thought that he was about to be on the receiving end of a criminal attack. No charges were reportedly filed against the apartment resident. It’s because, under Texas state law, an individual can use deadly force to defend themselves while in their homes. This grievous mistake made Dejean-Jones lose his life at the early age of 23.

2. Len Bias


Leonard “Len” Kevin Bias is a great “what if” story. Bias was a draft pick for the Boston Celtics in 1986. His college basketball career was quite impressive, leading the Celtics to select this up-and-coming professional athlete.

On the court, it would seem that Bias looked like a very healthy individual. But, a dark story loomed over the shadows of this hopeful NBA player.

If Bias was alone, he would succumb to consuming cocaine. According to an LA Times report, the autopsy of the player revealed that he didn’t consume excessive amounts of alcohol or took other harmful drugs besides cocaine.

The findings of the investigation lead to the conclusion that Bias acquired an unusually pure dose of the drug. Upon consumption, the player’s heart stopped, leading to his untimely demise.

3. Bill Robinzine


Bill Robinzine entered the professional basketball league at the reasonably young age of 23. He excelled in being Kansas City Kings’ power forward, providing moves like quick turnovers for his team. The 1978-1979 season was his best performance with 82 played games and scoring an average of 13.4 points. The 6’7” continued to love and play professional basketball as he played across four teams in total, which are the Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and, of course, the Kansas City Kings.

Unbeknownst to many, Robinzine had been carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders. Despite being an excellent performer on the court, particularly as a rebounder and defender, he committed suicide in 1982. The cause of death was asphyxiation due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The incident happened at a storage in Kansas, Missouri, where the athlete closed his vehicle’s windows, significantly restricting his body from breathing clean air.

4. Reggie Lewis


It was supposed to be a relatively ordinary day in 1993 as the Boston Celtics had a playoffs match against the Charlotte Hornets. But, it was only about 13 minutes into the game when Lewis collapsed. The athlete had to take a forced break for the remainder of the series.

On July 27, the team was practicing at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Here, Lewis collapsed a second time, but he didn’t get up this time. It was on that day when the Celtics lost a valuable team member.

The reason for this incident is because of Lewis’s existing health issue. He had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart defect that causes the organ to become larger than normal. Further, the cause behind this health condition is unknown. Some assume that the player already had this health concern since his birth.

Some reports also indicate that the damages to Lewis’s heart increased because of substance abuse. Doctors found that the athlete consumed this harmful drug, but stopped after acknowledging its use. Perhaps the damage to his heart was irreparable, leading to the early death of this 27-year-old basketball player.

Final Words – Reasons Basketball Players Die Young


Consuming excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol, car accidents, and existing health conditions can take anyone’s life, including professional basketball players. Unfortunately, NBA players aren’t impervious to certain things, such as gunshots and health issues that have existed since birth. However, these athletes may still take back their healthy lifestyles by stopping substance abuse.

Nonetheless, the professional basketball league is doing what it can to prevent these early deaths. As for those who passed, their old teammates and fans honor their lives to this day.

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