March 19, 2008 â€“ Denver 113, Philadelphia 111
From the moment A.I. entered before the roaring, sell-out crowd at the Wachovia Center and bent down to kiss the 76ers logo, you knew it was going to be a special night. Everything was going his way that night as he went off for 32 points, eight assists and three steals in a game that had playoff intensity and came down to the wire. Though the Answer failed to nail a 20-footer in the final seconds to tie it up, he left his mark on the city and our hearts.
April 15, 2005 â€“ New Jersey 101, Toronto 90
It’s hard to imagine a player once so beloved in Toronto fall out of favor so quickly, but somehow Air Canada managed to do just that. Demanding a trade halfway into a six-year, $94 million contract and admitting that he didn’t always try his best were more than enough reasons for Raptor fans to boo him every time he touched the ball and even heckle him during the national anthem. Good thing the ACC hired extra security around the Nets’ bench to avoid “Brawl at the Palace Part Deux.” Somehow all the jeers seemed to motivate Vinsanity as he put up 39 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals as the Nets rode him to victory.
March 28 1993 â€“ Phoenix 110, Philadelphia 100
As pretty much the only hot ticket in Philadelphia’s schedule that year, Barkley would not disappoint his fans, who seemed to outnumber those of the Sixers. The Round Mound, who demanded a trade the previous year, was greeted with a long ovation at the introductions upon which he treated fans to 37 points and seven rebounds on 59.1 percent shooting from the field. Did I mention he won MVP that year?
January 3, 2000 â€“ Portland 88, Chicago 63
Coming from a championship team with the likes of Jordan, Harper and Kerr to a Trail Blazers or should I say “Jail Blazers” team riddled with misfits named ‘Sheed, Stoudamire and Wells is an obvious downgrade. Nevertheless, Pippen held his own with a modest 11 points, three rebounds, six assists, two steals and one block in 26 minutes in his first game as a visitor at the United Center against a then depleted Bulls team.
February 22, 1998 â€“ Orlando 96, Los Angeles 94
Shaq left Orlando on bitter terms with the organization after not being compensated adequately. In his first trip back to Orlando after signing with the Lakers after the 1995-96 season, Shaq produced 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks but was outshined that night by Nick Anderson who went off for 30 points – including the game-winning three-pointer. To add insult to injury, Anderson mocked Shaq’s celebratory dance after his big shot.
December 25, 2004 â€“ Miami 104, Los Angeles 102
In the Christmas Day matchup, O’Neal was introduced with a video tribute and a standing ovation in the first of many battles between Shaq and Kobe after having won three championships together in L.A. Kobe went off for 42 points, but O’Neal put up 24 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks (before fouling out) had the last laugh, as his Heat escaped with a victory.
*Scottie Pippen was drafted by Seattle in 1987, and then immediately traded to Chicago for Olden Polynice on Draft Day.
**I included Shaq’s return to Orlando and Los Angeles on this list because they were both very memorable games.
Note: Karl Malone didn’t get a chance to play in Utah after signing with the Lakers due to a sprained knee that kept him sidelined on January 24, 2004. The Mailman only missed 11 games his whole career (18+ seasons) prior to his initial injury that year.
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