Many forget professional sports are no more than a business. In the big leagues, not one player is sacred. Sure, there’s always going to be a few Tim Duncan’s in the bunch. But, generally, even the most loyal team players get traded or leave their beloved home squad for greener pastures or the chance to finally win a championship.
The following represents 14 of the most reknown NBA players to ever hit the court who wrapped up their careers in some quite unlikely spots.
Hakeem Olajuwon, Toronto Raptors (2001-2002)
After delivering back to back championships for H-Town before retiring as the league’s all-time leader in blocked shots, The Dream’s asking price was a bit too high for the rebuilding Rockets in 2001.
Hakeem requested a trade after he turned down Houston’s $13 million deal. The Toronto Raptors eventually became his suitor – giving $18 million over three years to Olajuwon and two draft picks to Houston for their former 12-time All-Star.
Shawn Kemp, Orlando Magic (2002-2003)
Although mostly known for annihilating opponents in the paint as a member of the Seattle Supersonics, the Reign Man actually donned four different NBA uniforms throughout his 14-year career with the last being an Orlando Magic jersey. His last stint found his famed number forty about four sizes wider than most were accustomed to: considering his playing time was limited during troubled stints on the Trail Blazers and Cavaliers.
George Gervin, Chicago Bulls (1985-1986)
Despite his reputation as one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the NBA during his 12-year tenure as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, Gervin and the team’s incoming coach Cotton Fitzsimmons couldn’t see eye to eye in the 1985 offseason and Iceman was surprisingly traded to the Chicago Bulls. During his one year stint, George served in a valuable veteran role alongside second-year phenom Michael Jordan before eventually retiring at season’s end.
Tracy McGrady, San Antonio Spurs (2013)
During a game against the San Antonio Spurs in 2004, Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds: single-handedly rallying his playoff-bound Houston team to a win. Nine years later, the seven-time All-Star who once had arguably the game’s most gifted offensive prodigy could barely get 35 seconds of burn as a little-used reserve for the same Spurs team he once beat.
Even though T-Mac’s seventh team offered him little to no playing time, signing to San Antonio as a veteran free-agent out of China halfway through the 2012-2013 season was the best opportunity he ever had to finally win a title – which says a lot about his bumpy career.
Karl Malone< LA Lakers (2003-2004)
Sick of settling for second as a member of the Utah Jazz, Karl Malone hopped on his Harley and headed from Mormonville to the glitz and glamor of Hollywood in the summer of 2003.
From there, the elbow-throwing old bastard proceeded to form a geriatric super team alongside Shaq, Kobe & Gary Payton, who ended up getting railroaded by the hard-nosed Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. Malone immediately retired afterward and went as one of the league’s most feared low-post threats.
Patrick Ewing, Orlando Magic (2001-2002)
During the ’80s and ’90s, the perennially playoff-bound Knicks had many memorable faces ranging from John Starks, Anthony Mason, Mark Jackson and Charles Oakley. Yet, despite big plays and loud actions from the aforementioned All-Stars, none could compare to their famed teammate Patrick Ewing.
Yet, when Ewing’s Knicks squad ceased to achieve champion status for over a decade, NY executives traded their franchise cornerstone to the Sonics. NY received Glen Rice and Luc Longley. After a poor season in Seattle, Ewing signed with Orlando where he faded into bench oblivion and eventually retired into an executive role.
Walt Frazier, Cleveland Cavaliers, (1997-1980)
Walt “Clyde” Frazier is another guy who bleeds blue and orange yet retired away from the Knicks organization. Despite being drafted by NY in 1967 and winning two titles for Spike Lee’s favorite franchise, the extremely dapper guard was traded to Cleveland as compensation for signing free agent Jim Cleamons in 1977. He retired three years later as a Cavalier, but eventually returned to the Knicks organization as a broadcaster and still serves in this capacity.
Shaquille O’Neal, Boston Celtics, 2010-2011)
The NBA’s original Superman collapsed backboards as a member of the Magic. He hung banners in Los Angeles. Then he brought his interior decorating skills to Miami.
However, after Shaquille O’Neal’s 2008 Heat team fell from grace to 9-36, the biggest big man of our generation was traded to Phoenix, who eventually dealt the NBA legend to Cleveland for role players a year later. When the Shaq & LeBron experiment couldn’t get beyond the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, Shaq wasn’t brought back by Dan Gilbert and was swooped up to play for the Celtics. The Big Aristotle was oft-injured and eventually retired from in 2010 – which really just seems wrong in hindsight.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Miami Heat (2007)
As one of the league’s most exciting players during the ’90s, Penny Hardaway slashed into the lane with fearless explosiveness as a member of the Orlando Magic and fans’ hearts with the best damn Nike promos ever.
Yet, at the peak of his promising career, Penny suffered an unfortunate knee injury. His ailment brought the consistent All-NBA guard back to human form and led to an unstable career path. The four time All-Star played second-tier minutes for teams like the Suns, Knicks and eventually retired from the Miami Heat in 2007 – a team he used to regularly punish as a member of the Magic.
Chris Webber, Golden State Warriors (2008)
After earning Rookie Of The Year honors as a Warrior in 1994 then getting traded immediately afterwards, C-Webb probably had some ill feelings towards the Golden State franchise. However, considering his career was filled with an abundance of talent, missed opportunities and money, Webber’s last, veteran’s minimum deal by the team who originally drafted him only seemed fitting.
Gary Payton, Miami Heat (2005-2007)
Gary Payton might be the one player on this list who actually benefited from his late career shuffle. Once the seemingly lifelong Seattle Supersonic was dealt to Milwaukee for Ray Allen in 2003, the Glove made brief stops in LA and Boston before finalizing his career in Miami. It was there, alongside Dwyane Wade and Shaq, that Payton swiped the elusive championship he chased for 16 years. Still, he only held a bit role, which was a dramatic shift from the intense, floor leader he was during his peak.
Dennis Rodman, Dallas Mavericks (2000)
Before Dennis Rodman was a foreign liaison between in the US and North Korea, he was one of the hardest working son of bitches to ever hit the hardwood and helped both the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls win multiple titles. However, the eclectic personality that made The Worm such an endearing figure off the court ultimately led to his demise on it.
After being released by the Bulls in 1999, he ventured to the Lakers and was released almost immediately. Then Rodman signed with Dallas for the 1999-2000 season where he once sat on the court in the middle of a game and basically exiled himself from the NBA.
Dominique Wilkins, Orlando Magic (2000)
When most people hear the name Dominique Wilkins, they picture light red Atlanta Hawks uniforms flying through the air, dropping buckets like April rain. He was eventually traded by the team he helped put on the map to the Clippers and dipped in and out of the league to thrive in Europe. ‘Nique rounded out his NBA career by playing his final year in the lockout-shorted season of 1998-99 alongside his brother Gerald and Penny Hardaway in Orlando. That’s not a bad way to go out, at all, actually.
Michael Jordan, Washington Wizards (2001-2003)
If it were up to Kanye, Michael Jordan wouldn’t have been allowed to play for anyone but the Bulls. Nevertheless, despite not bringing the same touch of greatness to Washington that he had to Chicago, MJ’s highlights in the Capitol speak for themselves.