If there’s one descriptor that sends a shudder down any athlete’s spine, something they would never want to be branded with, it’s that of a Choke Artist. Coined as a way to describe those talented folks who are no doubt skilled but always manage to collapse when it counts, a classic Choke Artist lacks the ability to come in clutch and can be readily found throughout the spectrum of pro sports. From baseball aces who could never be relied on, to a British tennis superstar who never quite reached his full potential, and all those NBA All-Stars who lack rings, here are the chokiest Choke Artists of all time… Because there’s nothing worse than an athlete who always comes close, but never manages to grasp that metaphorical cigar.
Ah, good old Patrick Ewing. The New York Knicks’ great hope who failed to win a championship despite 18 years in the NBA is also a part one of the biggest choke moments in basketball history. The year was 1995, and his Knicks are just about to wrap up game seven against the Pacers during the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Instead of coming in clutch, Ewing choked, botching a play and essentially gifting Indiana with that big, fat W. The dude hasn’t lived it down since.
He’s considered one of the best British tennis players of all time and he’s never won a Grand Slam. Throughout Henman’s long career, which kicked off in the early 90s, the skilled player was a top ranked titan. However, Henman could never quite make it happen when it came to winning a Grand Slam, despite getting six different chances to win the big kahuna. After Britain pinned their hopes on the athlete for almost a decade, Henman wound up calling it a day in 2007 without that elusive career-defining triumph.
Regrettably for Harden, there’s one facet people associate with him even more than that bushy beard… his reputation as a bona fide choker. Starting off things in Oklahoma City and continuing with the Rockets, Harden has been awarded a bevy of accolades throughout his distinguished run (including being named MVP by the league’s Player’s Association in 2015, edging out Steph Curry). However successful, Harden has also been part of major collapses as well, most recently earlier this month when his team was destroyed by the Spurs during Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. It was a harsh loss for Harden and another grueling reminder that despite his incredible success on the court, the skilled player has yet to be a part of a championship team. Turning only 28 this summer, Harden fortunately has more time left on the clock to fully prove himself.
The skilled power forward never managed to lift his teams into championship status throughout his incredible 16 year career with everyone from the 76ers, to the Suns and finally the Rockets. An 11-time All-Star who’s considered one of the best players in NBA history, it’s a minor blemish – but a blemish nonetheless.
While he probably would have rather just be known as the greatest, Marino instead has the dubious distinction of being regarded as the greatest… choke artist in NFL playoff history. Throughout 17 seasons with his beloved Miami Dolphins, Marino never won a single ring, earning a 8-10 record in the postseason. For a player who was by all accounts respectable during the regular gameplay, Marino’s a choker in the classic sense.
One of the latest additions in the Hall of Choking Fame comes courtesy of Alex Ovechkin. All eyes were on the NHL ace and his Washington Capitals when it came to their Game 7 matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins during a quest earlier this month to advance to Eastern Conference Finals. Despite being named one of the Greatest NHL Players of All Time, Ovechkin did anything but come up clutch when it counted, falling to the Penguins and dashing any Stanley Cup hopes for 2017. For Ovechkin, the loss was a painful one because of just how close he finally was to hockey glory. There’s always next year, Alex.
Poor John Stockton. His NBA resume is no doubt impeccable, being named to the All-Star team 10 times and a league record for career assists and steals. But for the Jazz legend, Stockton will always be known as someone who could never quite help Utah seal the deal thanks to stellar regular season play which was typically followed by a deer-in-the-headlights routine when it really mattered. Of course, it wasn’t all Stockton’s fault; besides having Karl Malone as a de facto sidekick, a guy named Michael Jordan routinely got in the hapless duo’s way. Regardless, Stockton could never quite manage to rise above being a choker and as a result, failed to score even a single Championship ring.
His stats are simply staggering: seven MVPs, 762 home runs after 22 seasons, a career .298 average and a whopping 14 All-Star selections. Yet despite those impressive digits, the polarizing Bonds never quite rose to the heights he could have thanks to a penchant for choking, and not just up on the bat (a favored technique of the slugger). Unfortunately, much like Tony Romo, Bonds’ fate was sealed early on: to be precise, during Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. That was when the then-Pittsburgh Pirate, playing the Braves, was all but guaranteed a ticket to the World Series but wound up collapsing during a late game play. Aside from a promising career mired in controversy (see: steroids), Bonds never managed to score a World Series ring and despite his incredible career, has so far been passed up four times to join the ranks of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Fumble! Hard to believe, but it was a single moment a full decade ago this year that sealed Romo’s fate as that of a choker. On a cold January day during a pivotal moment in a playoff game between Romo’s Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys were oh so close to reigning supreme – but thanks to a gaffe by Romo, it turns out they didn’t get close enough. The first year starter, then a rising star, wound up botching a snap and Seattle went onto win the whole shebang 21-20. Perhaps even more excruciating, unfairly or not Romo was branded as a choker and as time went on his failings at coming up clutch began to pile up. Romo hung up his uniform last season after an entire career with the Cowboys, never once managing to get his fingers on one of those shiny Super Bowl rings.
There are chokers and then there are Super chokers. Bills legend Jim Kelly falls in the latter category, with the quarterback anything but clutch when it counted, winning a grand total of zero of the four straight Super Bowls he led Buffalo to. For Kelly, the lack of one of those sweet rings is a bummer of a footnote on an otherwise respectable career.