10 Biggest Chokers in Sports History - Rolling Stone
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10 Biggest Chokers in Sports History

James Harden and Alexander Ovechkin added their names to a dubious list of great athletes who couldn’t get the job done

James Harden choke,

James Harden and Alex Ovechkin join a very dubious list of athletes who couldn't seal the deal.

Eric Christian Smith/AP, Nick Wass/AP

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.

Alexander Ovechkin

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Alexander Ovechkin

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. 

John Stockton

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John Stockton

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. 

Barry Bonds

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Barry Bonds

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. 

Tony Romo

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Tony Romo

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. 

Buffalo Jim Kelly

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Jim Kelly

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.

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