NBA / Dec 14, 2009 / 9:30 am

NBA Comebacks Usually End In Failure

Jonathan Bender

The Knicks signing Jonathan Bender over the weekend was surprising on a variety of levels. For starters, Bender hasn’t played in the NBA or any professional basketball leagues for that matter, since the 2005-06 season. A persistent knee injury forced the former lottery pick to retire at just 25 years old.

This signing basically came out of left field. Usually, when players are attempting comebacks with a certain team, the public is aware. For probably a number of months, the Knicks and Bender were able to keep this secret from the team’s several beat writers. Now that Bender has been inked to a non-guaranteed one-year deal, there are several questions people might want to know about him: How’s his knee now? Has he been working out? Where does he fit in with the Knicks? How is he going to look after being away from the game for over three seasons (which is more like five seasons since he played a total of nine games his final two seasons)?

Ever since he hung up his sneakers, Bender has made headlines for his humanitarian efforts – particularly the work he’s done trying to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Aside from his charity work, he reportedly has been working out in Houston rehabbing his knee and trying to get back into playing shape. When he was healthy with the Pacers, Bender was somebody who could do a number of things well on the court. At seven-feet, he had the ability to score both inside and out. His best year came in the 2001-02 season, where he averaged 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds.

“He can put the ball on the floor,” Knicks’ president, Donnie Walsh told the New York Times. “He used to be able to get to the basket on one dribble from halfcourt. There’s not a whole lot of guys who can do that. I don’t know if he can do that now, but he knows how to play.”

Bender is not the first player to want to return to the NBA after a long absence. Magic Johnson did it and so did Michael Jordan (twice). In the past few years alone, guys like Bryon Russell, Isaiah Rider, Allan Houston, Shawn Kemp, Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, Greg Ostertag have all attempted or at least talked about wanted back in the NBA.

How might Bender’s comeback go? Here were the fates of four players who returned to the NBA after being retired or gone from the game for two or more seasons.

Michael Jordan: The first time MJ returned to basketball, he sat out a year-and-a-half while chasing his baseball dream. Jordan was still in his early 30s and was able to win three straight chips with the Bulls. His second comeback came in 2001, when he suited up for the Wizards after he had been retired for three seasons. Jordan had some good moments in Washington. He made the All-Star team twice there and had several 40 point games. But at nearly 40 years old, Jordan was undoubtedly slower and the Wizards missed the playoffs both those seasons.

Allan Houston: Like Bender, a chronic knee injury forced the former Knicks All-Star to call it quits after the 2004-05 season. A few years later, Houston tried to comeback with New York. He joined the Knicks’ training camp in the fall of 2007, but after barely playing in the preseason, he once again announced his retirement before the regular season started.

Magic Johnson: In 1991, Magic Johnson stunned the world when he announced his retirement after contracting the HIV virus. But more than four years later in February 1996, the 36-year-old Johnson returned to the Lakers for their final 32 games and averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Lakers were eliminated by the Houston Rockets in the first round of the ’06 playoffs. After that season, Magic permanently retired from basketball.

Jay Williams: After a promising rookie season with the Chicago Bulls, the former Duke All-American’s promising career was tragically cut short after a motorcycle accident in the summer of 2003. The injuries from the accident were so serious that doctors contemplated amputating one of Williams’ legs. After three years of intense rehab and training, Williams attempted a comeback with the Nets in 2006. Despite a decent preseason showing, the Nets waived Williams. Since then, Jay hasn’t attended any other training camps and has stated that he has no plans to attempt another comeback.

How do you think Bender’s comeback will go?

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  • bobby stew

    Not good. At best he comes back similar to Darius Miles. At worst his comback mirrors Penny Hardaway in Miami. I give him all the credit in the world for attempting this comeback and actually getting on an NBA roster. I hope he becomes an ALL Star but I’m a realist.

  • shaw32

    Well first off isn’t bender one of walshes pacer draft picks? Dime, Bender could have easily been one of your Milk carton where are they now features.

  • shake&bake

    He wasn’t that good before, why would his comeback be any different? The highlight of his career was the McDonalds game, that’s when you know you had a bad career.

  • Guitar Hero

    I hope he succeeds, he seems to be a nice guy and the knicks sure need good karma.

    if his knees hold up and if his conditioning is OK, he could be a nice role player.

    however, those are 2 major “ifs”.

  • http://nerditry.com nerditry

    Most of the guys in the comeback list retired at the right time in regard to their age and the miles they had amassed on the court. Williams was shelved by an injury that had nothing to do with basketball and was lucky that he was walking around at all.

    Not like Magic who was severely out of pro basketball shape in his comeback and Jordan who had too long of a time out and probably aged double the amount of that time.

    I really hope that Bender is able to put together a comeback that keeps him on the roster. If only for the fact that he’s done really great philanthropic work and the Knicks keep turning it around with quality people on the roster.

  • haslem

    all i know is Bender in NBA live 2004 is a straight beast. Dribbled like a guard, shot 3’s like a shooter, and drove to the hoop and finished strong every time. Watching live (real) footage showed this kid had the skill. And he was a legit 7 footer??? that’s too much, it’s almost like the world wasnt ready.

  • Spliff 2 My Lou

    Wow. The Knicks are beyond desperate.

  • joe_flow

    They passed AI for this?

  • DibiaseinK

    Look at the sixers record and the knicks record..yea they really missed out on AI huh?

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla

    He would be lucky to be a Andray Blantche. But he will not look like that, he’ll probably be a scrub.

  • Sweet English

    What happens when Fry needs him back on the ship?

    And being a drunk robot is sure to raise concenrs with David Stern.

  • joe_flow


    Yeah. Well, it’s not AI’s fault that the sixers were a mess when he got there. Go ahead and take Bender, I’ll take AI any day. Thank you.

  • titus

    right.cause the knicks where in tip top shape.bender might be more done for than ai but i bet his ass ain’t goin’ to bitch about starting.