6 Great Athletes Who Got the Yips

LeBron’s meltdown at the foul line yesterday is part of a long, rich history of athletes being suddenly unable to do their job. 

LeBron James was the only reason the Cleveland Cavaliers had a chance to win yesterday…. he’s also the sole reason they lost. James mysteriously lost his ability to shoot free throws in yesterday’s game against the Rockets, only making three of eleven at the charity stripe. His disastrous day at the line included missing two free throws in overtime that would have sealed the game for Cleveland. 

Here’s LeBron‘s meltdown: 

This type of behavior isn’t without precedent. Several athletes at the peak of their form have suddenly found themselves unable to do the most basic task, from not being able to throw to first or hitting a golf ball a mile when it needs to go an inch. It’s called the “Yips” and it’s a very real thing indeed. 

Here are the five worst cases of all time. Think of them as five reasons to worry about the Cavs….

Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel famously melted down in a single inning in the 2000 playoffs, derailing a promising career. After throwing wild pitch after wild pitch, Ankiel was never able to find the strike zone again. Ankiel eventually switched positions and became a power-hitting outfielder, saving his career. 

One of the most famous cases of the Yips was suffered by 1980s Mets catcher Mackey Sasser, who, after a home plate collision, was unable to throw the ball back to the pitcher without pumping his fist into his glove. After runner after runner stole bases while he was pumping, Sasser eventually had to quit the game. After a long struggle, Sasser eventually traced his case of the Yips to childhood trauma. His ordeal is beautifully captured in the short film, “Fields of Fear.” 

A more recent example of the Yips, struck Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in the Spring of 2013. After admitting that the problem was both physical (he had arthritis in his throwing shoulder) and mental (he was freaking out), Zimmerman moved to left field, and has now found a home at first base, far as can be from the hot corner. 

The most humorous case of the Yips happened back in the late nineties, when Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch lost the ability to throw to first base. Knoblauch went from Gold Glover to out of the lineup, all because he could no longer throw a baseball forty feet. (Memorably, one of his errant throws ended up hitting Keith Olbermann’s mother in the head).  

Most recently, we have the case of Tiger Woods, whose career implosion has included, among other things, a very bad case of the Yips. 

Photos by Associated Press