The trajectory of a player’s career doesn’t always include the storybook ending of playing in the location that meant most to them. Often times, you’ll find veterans bouncing from franchise to franchise, what you might call ring chasing. As you’ll see in the case of the veterans on this list, the traditional colors they wore throughout their career were sometimes traded in for the colors of a team they rode the bench with.
There’s nothing wrong with that. You paid your dues for years and were unfortunate enough to never win a title. It happens for a variety of reasons, whether it’s because of injuries or Michael Jordan greedily hording all the titles to himself.
The only factor that’s affected is how a player’s legacy looks when it’s all said and done. It’s always off-putting to see a player spend nearly two decades with the same team they poured their heart into only to move on to a team that has a better chance of winning. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it is strange to see the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon wear anything that isn’t the Houston Rockets jersey or Dominique Wilkins not in an Atlanta Hawks uniform.
A few years down the road, we may end up saying the same thing about Steve Nash in his time with the L.A. Lakers or Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce with the Brooklyn Nets.
We took the time to point out these oddities by finding ten memorable retired players and the journey it took to find them in the most unexpected places.
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10. Moses Malone finishes with…the San Antonio Spurs
And here you thought Shaquille O’Neal played for too many teams near the end of his career.
Moses Malone, three-time NBA MVP and one-time Finals MVP, played for seven NBA teams and two ABA teams. He wasn’t ring-chasing, either. He was trying on a bunch of different hats and seeing which one fit.
Malone is mostly known for his time with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, but little recall the time he spent afterwards with the Washington Bullets for two years, the Atlanta Hawks for three years, the Milwaukee Bucks for two years and then the 76ers once more.
His final destination? Two decades after starting out his career as a member of the ABA’s Utah Stars, Moses Malone found himself on a championship-contending San Antonio Spurs team. Although the Spurs went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed out West, they were upended by Hakeem Olajuwon’s famed destruction of David Robinson.
Malone, however, didn’t play in any of those contests. In fact, he barely played in any of the Spurs’ games. He didn’t play a game after facing off with the Charlotte Hornets on December 27, a game in which he hit one of the eight three-pointers he hit over his 20-year career.
That three-pointer was impressive, to say the least:
9. Robert Parish finishes with…the Chicago Bulls
As we’ll later see with another elite center, Robert Parish just never wanted to call it quits, even at the age of 43 as a member of the Chicago Bulls.
Parish, most remembered for his days as the Boston Celtics starting center, spent the final three years of his 21-year career in a pair of locations it was difficult to picture him in. After 14 years with the Celtics, Parish, a 40-year-old at the time, decided to sign as a free agent with one of the NBA’s newest franchises in the Charlotte Hornets. He’d only miss nine games in the two seasons he’d spend with the Hornets, but would fail to average more than five points and five rebounds in either season.
He’d get released shortly after the 1995-96 season, which turned out to be one of the greatest events in his career as he’d wind up a part of a Chicago Bulls team that would go on to win 69 games.
At the age of 43, Parish would become the second-oldest (now third after Kevin Willis suited up for Dallas) player in NBA history to play in an NBA game. In 43 games with the Bulls, three of which he actually started, Parish averaged 3.7 points in less than 10 minutes per game. He’d even get some playing time in one of the most storied runs in NBA history.
Parish finished his career playing more games than any other player in the history of the game with 1,611 contests under his belt. By comparison, the player with the second-most games, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, finished with 1,560. The active player with the most games played in Kevin Garnett with 1,372 games. Jason Kidd also had 1,391 before retiring.
For Garnett to beat Parish, he’d have to play every single regular-season game over the next three years. He’s struggling just to play now at the age of 37.
Before playing in only 43 games with Chicago, Parish went 20 seasons playing in at least 72 games per season.
8. Shaquille O’Neal finishes with…the Boston Celtics
Shaquille O’Neal really wanted that fifth title. So much so that he ended up ring chasing like few have ever seen before from someone who had already won four titles.
Shaq would spend the final four years of his career on four different teams. He was traded by the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns halfway through the 2007-08 season after the team straight-up decided to embrace the tank. The Suns, meanwhile, resurrected Shaq’s career, leading to O’Neal averaging 17.8 points and shooting a league-best 61 percent.
It was after that lone full season with the Suns when O’Neal would begin his adamant, undeniable ring chasing. He’d get traded from Phoenix to the LeBron James-led, championship-contending Cleveland Cavaliers, start 53 games, win 61, and ultimately bow out in the second round.
With LeBron moving on to Miami the next season, O’Neal moved to one of the next best things the NBA had to offer: the Boston Celtics, Shaq’s last stop. Injuries, however, would play a prominent role as he’d play in only 37 regular season games and two postseason contests.
Even in his final season, Shaq still mustered together a 25-point, 11-rebound game, and a 23-point outing on 10-for-12 shooting. Had injuries not played a factor, I think it’s safe to say Shaq would still be in the league, lumbering around for 15 minutes and clogging lanes.
7. Gary Payton finishes with…the Miami Heat
A rare instance of success for a player ring-chasing in this list, Gary Payton made a few stops before he finally reached the promised land with the Miami Heat.
Payton spent 13 years with the Seattle Sonics and never came as close to a championship as he did in 1996, when his team was upended by, you guessed it, Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls in six games.
At the age of 34 in the 2002-03 season, Payton was sent to Milwaukee in the deal where Seattle acquired Ray Allen. Rather than wallow in Milwaukee after finishing out the season with them, Payton turned his sights to the super-team that was forming in L.A. He’d become the Lakers starting point guard, but would be unsuccessful in his championship-chasing endeavor, falling in five games to the Detroit Pistons. Prior to the start of the 2004-05 season, he’d get traded to the Boston Celtics. A few months later and he was sent to Atlanta, who promptly waived him.
Finally, in the 2005 offseason, a shining beacon of hope glimmered on the beaches of Miami, beckoning for Payton to don the red, white and black, and win the championship that had eluded him for so long. Sure enough, Payton, who started in 25 of 81 games in his first year with Miami, would help lead the Heat to their first ring in franchise history. His veteran savvy came up big in the Finals, as Payton hit the game-winning jumper in Miami’s Game 3 comeback victory.
It took 17 seasons, but finally Gary Payton was a champion. He’d spend one more year in Miami, before eventually retiring at the age of 38.
6. Rasheed Wallace finishes with…the New York Knicks
I thought seeing Rasheed Wallace put on the green and white of the Boston Celtics was odd. Even seeing him in the red, black and yellow of the Atlanta Hawks was a tad off. But then he topped himself with one of the stranger sights we’ve seen in the NBA two years later.
After two years of retirement, Wallace came back to the league as a 38-year-old with the New York Knicks. The fans were excited, as was Wallace, but it was short-lived as ‘Sheed would play only 21 games, shoot 39 percent from the field, and 32 percent from beyond the arc.
Still, he put together some solid showings, scoring as much as 15 points in a game against his former team in Detroit, and finished the year averaging seven points and four boards per contest.
What’s even more off-putting than Rasheed in the uniform of the Knicks, Celtics or Hawks? Rasheed in a suit, which he now dons on a nightly basis as an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons, the team he won the 2004 NBA title with as their starting power forward.
5. Dominique Wilkins finishes with…the Orlando Magic
Once Dominique Wilkins was traded from Atlanta to the Los Angeles Clippers for Danny Manning, his career started to take a few unexpected turns. For one, nobody, especially the Hawks, expected a 34-year-old Wilkins to put up 29.1 points and seven rebounds per game in 25 contests with the Clippers. It would be the last time he’d make the All-Star Game.
Despite having a huge half-season with the Clippers, Wilkins decided to move on to the Boston Celtics in 1994. He’d play 77 games, start in 64, and would still put up impressive numbers at 17.8 points per game, while shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc.
Not wanting to return to Boston the next year, Wilkins would take his talents overseas and play for Panathinaikos of the Greek League. He’d lead the team all the way to the Finals where they were ultimately defeated, but would still earn MVP honors along the way.
After one year overseas, Wilkins returned to bolster the bench of the San Antonio Spurs, where he’d average over 18 points and play 30 minutes per contest for a 20-win team. Had he stayed one more year, he’d have ended up teammate to Tim Duncan and David Robinson, but instead chose to head back overseas for a second and final time, joining the Italian League’s Teamsystem Bologna.
Like his stint in Greece, this, too, was short-lived, and Wilkins was back in the NBA by the start of the 1998-99 season. At the age of 39, ‘Nique played in 27 games with the Orlando Magic and would average below 17 points for the first time in his career.
After getting waived in June, Wilkins hung it up for good, ending a career that featured 12 consecutive seasons with the Hawks being followed up by playing for six different teams, including those overseas, in six years.
4. Karl Malone finishes with…the Los Angeles Lakers
Karl Malone’s last gasp attempt at a ring was a valiant one, but one that was all for naught once he ran into the buzzsaw that was the Detroit Pistons historic defense.
The conclusion of the 2004 Finals, one Malone’s Los Angeles Lakers lost in only five games, marked the end of an era for Malone. Despite earning recognition as one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history, making 14 All-Star teams and earning MVP honors in 1997, Malone never won an NBA title. Twice he made it to the Finals, but both times ran into Michael Jordan, a buzzsaw on his own.
After 18 years with the Utah Jazz, Malone decided to spend the final year of his career with a Laker team that had won three titles in four years. He’d form one of the NBA’s early looks at a super-team as he’d joining forces with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, as well as another ring-chasing veteran in Gary Payton.
Injury problems would hold Malone to only 42 games, but he’d start all of those 42 and would finish the season averaging a strong 13.7 points, 8.7 boards and 3.9 assists. Not bad for a 40-year-old with 50,000 minutes logged.
When it came down to the Finals, however, Malone’s influence was shrunk by the Pistons and he succumbed to injury. He played in four of the five games, failed to score over ten points and scored five or less points in three of the four games he played.
3. Patrick Ewing finishes with…the Orlando Magic
Think it was strange seeing Patrick Ewing end his career in an Orlando Magic uniform? How about when he donned a Seattle Sonics the year after leaving the New York Knicks? Either way, it was odd seeing Ewing, who was a member of the Knicks from 1985 to 2000, suit up for any other team that wasn’t in the blue and orange. Patrick was actually traded by the Knicks to Seattle prior to the start of the 2000-01 season in a deal that sent Glen Rice and a bunch of other aged veterans, as well as a pair of first and second-rounders, to New York.
Despite being 38 years old at the time, Ewing started and played in 79 games for a Sonics team that ended the season with a reasonable 44-38 record. He averaged 9.6 points, 7.4 boards and 1.2 blocks. However, he failed to make the playoffs after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Knicks the year before.
Ewing would give it one more shot, this time with the Magic, whom he’d sign with over the offseason. He’d play in 65 games, start in four, and finish the final year of his career with averages of six points and four boards per contest.
2. Hakeem Olajuwon finishes with…the Toronto Raptors
It’s odd to look at, isn’t it? After 17 seasons as the league’s most offensively-talented center and relishing in the life of an elite big man on an elite team, Hakeem Olajuwon would spend the final year of his career with a Toronto Raptors team that would win 42 games.
In 61 games, 37 of which he started, Olajuwon would average 7.1 points, the only time in his career he’d average less than 10 points, six rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
So, how’d this happen? Well, Houston wanted to rebuild and didn’t want to invest tens of millions of dollars into a 39-year-old that was playing less than 27 minutes per night. Hakeem, however, thought he was deserving of a solid return, leading to the Rockets inevitably trading their future Hall-of-Famer. The Rockets traded Olajuwon to Toronto for a first-rounder and a second-rounder. Those selections turned into Bostjan Nachbar, who averaged 2.9 points in three seasons with Houston, and Tito Maddox, who played nine games with the Rockets.
Was it all worth it for both sides? I’d say no, but Hakeem did end up getting paid over $15 million until 2004, two years after he retired.
1. Michael Jordan finishes with…the Washington Wizards
To this day, it still seems blasphemous that Michael Jordan wore a uniform that didn’t say either North Carolina, Chicago or USA on it. And yet, Jordan couldn’t stay away from the game for a second time.
After seemingly ending his career on top after an NBA championship, Finals MVP and league MVP, Jordan couldn’t contain himself, inevitably making his return with the Washington Wizards team he was a part of the front office with.
Two seasons after retiring with the Bulls, Jordan returned with the Wizards in the 2001-02 season. He’d play in 60 games, would come off the bench for the first time since 1986, and average 22.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists as a 38-year-old.
Just a few months away from turning 39, Jordan put together one of the most impressive feats in sports history, scoring 51 points in a win over Charlotte.
The next season, Jordan would keep his streak of averaging at least 20 points per game alive, averaging exactly 20 points in the 2002-03 season. It was the 15th consecutive season Jordan had done so.
Although he’d make the All-Star game both years, he’d fail to lead the Wizards, heralded by Kwame Brown, to the postseason. He’d hang it up for good after his second season in Washington, although the rumors of a potential return, even at the age of 50, linger.
What do you think?
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