When an individual puts their heart, sweat and soul into something for an extended period of time, it can be extremely hard letting go. On the other hand, being stuck in a position where you’re not progressing, may make a task less novel to you and consequently push you to abandon what you have invested so much of your time and energy into and try something new.
After a long tenure with one specific team, usually from Draft Day, NBA players inevitably come to that road where two paths diverge and they have to decide to either remain with their current team until retirement (i.e. John Stockton, Reggie Miller) or carve out a new path with a different team. However, the moment that player who has taken a new path and joins another organization returns to play a game against his original employer, that game takes on a whole new meaning.
With the much anticipated return of LeBron James to Cleveland only a day away, I thought it would only be fitting to look at 10 legendary players from the past 20 years who have had memorable homecomings – for better or for worse – to their original teams.
January 19, 2002 – Washington 77, Chicago 69
It was three and a half years since MJ donned the red and white, but on January 19, 2002, a tearful Jordan finally had the opportunity to play against the team that has a statue of his likeness outside its arena. In one of his poorest performances to date, Air Jordan tallied 16 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and a career-high nine turnovers on 33.3 percent shooting, while the Bulls as a team faired even worse shooting a dismal 24.7 percent from the field in a game that was painful to watch. I’m guessing Jordan wished he would have kept his vow to never to play for a coach other than Phil Jackson.
November 21, 2008 – Boston 95, Minnesota 78
After missing his first rematch at Target Center with an abdominal injury, the former Teen Wolf returned to his old stomping grounds on a new team, with some new hardware. He played with his trademark intensity, putting up 17 points and four rebounds on 66.7 percent shooting from the field in just 29 minutes. As the Celtics cruised to an easy victory against a struggling team, sporting starters such as Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye and Jason Collins, one couldn’t help but wonder if the gaping void that was left in the organization with KG’s departure will ever be replaced, the only real star the franchise ever had.
February 27, 2001 – Seattle 92, Knicks 101
After 15 ring-less seasons with the Knicks, most of which were memorable, he returned to MSG for the first time as a visitor. The 38-year-old, who was in the twilight of his career at that point, was greeted with a long-standing ovation and put up 12 points, five rebounds and one block in a Knicks victory.
March 5, 2002 – Toronto 109, Houston 112
In a game overshadowed by Vince Carter’s 43 points and Steve Francis’ 35 points, one could not help but feel goosebumps when Olajuwon was given the classic “Hake-e-eem the Dre-e-eam” introduction to a long standing ovation at the start of the game. He was able to muster seven points, two assists and seven rebounds in 25 minutes – the worst statistical season of his 17-year career, which can be expected from a 39-year-old.
January 2, 2004 – Los Angeles 109, Seattle 111
In a last ditch effort at a championship ring, Payton and Karl Malone joined forces with Shaq and Kobe in L.A. in hopes of attaining the one thing that eluded them both up to that point. In a stellar 24-point (season high), five-assist, five-rebound performance, it was all for naught for The Glove as Ray Allen hit a layup with 5.8 seconds left to steal his thunder and the game. Even Sonics chairman Howard Schultz, who feuded with Payton the previous season, stood to applaud for him.