Top 10 Rejected Athletes That Became Successful

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Top 10 Rejected Athletes That Became Successful

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Whitney Wilson
You'll be surprised by some of the famous athletes who were cut from teams, faced adversity, or told they wouldn't amount to much. For this list, we'll be looking at athletes who overcame the odds despite being doubted. Our countdown includes Tom Brady, Dennis Rodman, Muhammad Ali, and more!
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Top 10 Rejected Athletes That Became Successful


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Rejected Athletes That Became Successful.

For this list, we’ll be looking at athletes who overcame the odds despite being doubted. You’ll be surprised by some of the famous athletes who were cut from teams, faced adversity, or told they wouldn’t amount to much.

Which famous athlete is the most inspirational to you? Be sure to share with us in the comments below.

#10: Stan Smith

This tennis superstar was such a powerhouse in the game that he inspired an iconic line of shoes that is still popular decades after his retirement. However, it wasn’t love at first sight for Smith and the sport of tennis. When he was a young player, the future number one player in the world applied for a job as a ball boy. Officials rejected Smith because he was too clumsy for the job. Smith outgrew his klutziness in spades and went on to be both a singles and doubles champion as well as a legend among sneakerheads.

#9: Dennis Rodman

One of the most eccentric players to ever step on the court, Rodman was a defensive behemoth. However, the five-time NBA champion did not start out as a promising prospect. In high school, Rodman could not even make a layup, and he was ultimately benched or cut every year. He also tried his hand at football and was also rejected there. Rodman had a late growth spurt after high school and gave basketball one more shot. This time, the sport stuck. Rodman went from not even playing in high school to being a back-to-back NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Sometimes being a late bloomer can work in your favor!

#8: Orel Hershiser

This three-time All-Star and World Series champion was such a formidable pitcher that he pitched a record-setting 59 straight innings without allowing a run. However, Hershiser was not always a superstar. In fact, when he was younger, the future Cy Young Award winner was cut from teams in both high school and college. His scouting report for the 1979 MLB draft stated that he had a weak fastball and poor control, but the Los Angeles Dodgers still drafted him in the 17th round. Less than a decade later, Hershiser proved those scouting reports wrong by winning the World Series MVP in 1988.

#7: Johnny Unitas

The Golden Arm is best-known for setting records and winning championships, but his professional career didn’t look very promising early on. Before what was supposed to be his rookie season even began, he was cut from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unitas worked in construction in order to support his family and played semi-professional football for six dollars a game on the weekends. After borrowing gas money to carpool to a tryout, Unitas joined the Baltimore Colts in 1956. Unitas went from being cut to being a three-time MVP and winning the 1958 NFL Championship Game, which many consider the greatest game ever played.

#6: Kurt Warner

This Super Bowl Champion MVP had a rocky start to his NFL career. Despite earning accolades when playing in college, Warner went undrafted in the 1994 draft. He was invited to the Green Bay Packers’ training camp but was ultimately cut. Warner made ends’ meet by stocking shelves at a local grocery store. He played in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe before landing with the St. Louis Rams. Warner hit the ground running in the NFL and led the Rams to a Super Bowl championship in 2000. Warner was named the league’s MVP twice and is considered the NFL’s greatest undrafted player of all time.

#5: Carmelo Anthony


He’s one of the most prolific basketball players in history, but he wasn’t a shoo-in for his high school varsity team, where he was cut as a freshman. Melo hit a growth spurt over the summer, solidifying his place on the varsity team. Despite being cut as a freshman, Melo was considered one of the nation’s best high school players and even won the Sprite Slam Jam dunk contest. Anthony only played one season in college, leading Syracuse to its first NCAA Championship, before being drafted third in the NBA Draft. Melo went from being cut to being a ten-time All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist. Now that was one impressive growth spurt!

#4: Muhammad Ali

He’s called The Greatest for a reason, but, believe it or not, many believed he wouldn’t stand a chance in the ring. This is in part due to The Tale of the Tape, a system used to compare several traits of combattants who were set to face each other, including weight, height and age among others. At the time, it was also used as a test to see which athletes were deemed “natural” boxers. Reportedly, Ali failed across the board. But he went on to prove that it didn’t mean a single thing. He went on to become one of the most revered and transcendent athletes in all of sport, leaving behind a legacy that will never be forgotten.

#3: Tom Brady

Sure, he is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, but did you know Brady is also regarded as the biggest draft steal in NFL history? Because of his poor NFL Scouting Combine performance, the three-time MVP was picked by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft at number 199. Despite being drafted so late, Brady has gone on to be a record-setting powerhouse in the NFL. With more than 200 career wins, ten Super Bowl appearances, seven Super Bowl wins, and five Super Bowl MVP accolades, Brady is the winningest quarterback in NFL history. Not bad for number 199!

#2: Lionel Messi

“La Pulga” is known as one of the greatest current players in the world, if not one of the best footballers of all time. However, his career was almost over before it even began. When he was just 11 years old, Messi was cut from his junior team due to his short stature. His small frame was caused by a hormone deficiency that was not fully treated. When the club decided not to cover expenses for the medication required to treat it, Messi was out. Despite this setback. Messi climbed the ranks in the football world to secure a senior team contract with FC Barcelona on his 18th birthday. Today, Messi stands proud at 5’7” and has won the European Golden Boot a record six times.

#1: Michael Jordan

Widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, His Airness led the NBA in scoring for ten seasons during his career. Like other great players, however, Jordan had to wait for his chance to shine. As a freshman in high school, Air Jordan tried out for the varsity team, but his 5’11” frame kept him from making the team. After being a star on the junior varsity team and hitting a growth spurt, Jordan finally made the varsity team. After high school, Jordan won the NCAA championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels. He was picked third in the 1984 NBA Draft and went on to win six championships, six Finals MVP awards, and five league MVP accolades. Even GOATs have difficult starts sometimes.
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