Some athletes were born for greatness. When Tiger Woods was two years old, he was already out-putting Bob Hope on the golf course. When he stepped onto the course as an adult, it was clear that he would make sporting history.
But not everyone is Tiger Woods. Certainly, they were born to play a sport but they took a different trajectory to greatness. For some of the best athletes in history, reaching stardom took thousands of hours of work over years of their life to make it to the big time.
Here are just five athletes who reached greatness late in their career.
In 1973, Ken Norton broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw in an epic fight. But Ken Norton had not spent his entire life preparing for that fight. By all accounts, Norton should have been a football player. He received a football scholarship to Truman State after high school but left after two years because of injuries.
Norton began boxing in 1963 when he enlisted in the Marines. He committed to boxing and forged a 24-2 record for himself, capturing three All-Marine Heavyweight titles.
After the leaving the marines, he became a professional boxer. He had a 14-year-long career as a pro boxer and became the heavyweight champion after his 30th birthday.
Dickey was a first-round pick for the Texas Rangers, but despite his hard work, he was unable to hold on to his starting position on the team. For a decade, he tried to stay afloat as he drifted into Major League Baseball obscurity.
In 2005, Dickey perfected the knuckleball. All of a sudden, he went from a career as a relatively unknown baseball player to becoming a starting pitcher for the Mets at the age of 35. In 2012, he was voted in as an All Star and he was the only pitcher with a knuckleball to receive the NL Cy Young Award.
Davis is one of the hottest players in the NBA right now and likely has a long future as a professional basketball player in front of him. But Anthony was not always the top pick for the court, in fact, he struggled to get on the court at all at the high school level.
Davis stood at 6 feet 2 inches tall until the summer before his junior year of high school. Over those three months, Davis grew a remarkable eight inches and reached 6’10”. By the time he left school, he would be scouted by colleges and the NBA. He committed to play ball for Kentucky. He even joined the American basketball squad for the 2012 Olympic games without having gone pro.
Once upon a time, during the 1994 NFL Draft, every professional football team chose to pass on Kurt Warner. So, Warner gave up on his dream briefly and began working at a supermarket. Later, he began playing arena football and he made a serious impression on those around him. Warner signed to the St. Louis Rams in 1998 and he worked his way up from third string over several seasons.
Then, he had a stroke of luck. The Ram’s starting quarterback was injured in the preseason and Warner was called up from the bench to finally become a starting NFL quarterback. The situation has parallels with the fortunes of Brazilian veteran soccer star Denilson, who also saw a late career resurgence. During that season, Warner threw 41 touchdowns, racked up 4,353 yards, and lead the Rams to victory at Super Bowl XXXIV. He was the Super Bowl MVP that year and the NFL MVP.
All this success came from a man who sat on the bench for the better part of a decade.
Rocky is a storied fighter, probably one of the most famous athletes to come from the sport of boxing. However, Rocky didn’t start training for his first professional fight right out of the gate. In fact, his first pro match didn’t happen until he turned 25.
Rocky was an amateur fighter while he was in the service. When he did go pro, he knocked out his opponents the first 16 times he stepped in the ring. When he retired, he left with 49 wins (43 knockouts) and zero losses. He had the kind of record that inspired major Hollywood films.
A select few athletes walk on the pitch for the first time and awe the crowd. But don’t discount those who don’t shine right away. Some of the greatest sports heroes in modern history were late bloomers.
Featured photo credit: slgckgc via flickr.com