The list of NBA players to have spent their entire careers with a single franchise is as short as it is impressive.
Given the host of factors that drive player movement from season to season, it truly is a remarkable accomplishment for both the club and the individual to sustain this exclusive working relationship.
For some players who couldn’t or wouldn’t stay, there can be a desire, in the twilight of their playing days, to return to where it all started.
With regard to active players, Kevin Garnett is a prime example. Following stints in Boston and Brooklyn, The Kid, at age 38, orchestrated a return “home” to the organisation that shared his journey to NBA superstardom.
When Garnett eventually decides enough is enough, he will join the list of retired players who experienced a neat and nostalgic close to their NBA playing days.
Here is The Locker Room’s roster of great names who, after some time away, came home to finish their careers in the uniform they started in.
1. Elvin Hayes
Before Dwight, before Yao, before Hakeem, before Ralph and before Moses. The first dominant big man to play for the Rockets was Elvin Hayes, who was drafted first overall by the then San Diego Rockets.
The Big E was a problem from the outset—he led the league in scoring as a rookie (!) and guided the expansion franchise to its first-ever playoff appearance.
After visiting Washington for a championship and two more Sports Illustrated cover appearances (he had one in college), Hayes finished up his Hall of Fame career at the relocated Rockets.
2. Scottie PippenJerry Krause traded for the little-known Pippen after he was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1987. This move proved to be a masterstroke, with Pippen developing into not only the perfect complement to Michael Jordan, but a superstar in his own right.
After a brief stop in Houston, Pippen ran around with the cult Blazer squads of the early 2000s, throwing ridiculous lobs to Sheed now and again.
He returned to the Windy City in 2003 for what would be his final season.
Bonus points and a chance to play for the car if you can name Pippen’s championship teammate who did the same thing a few seasons earlier.
The City of Brotherly Love warmly welcomed the return of its favourite son in 2009.
Unfortunately, The Answer only managed a handful of games for his beloved Sixers due to personal reasons.
4. Chris Webber
Of all the homecoming kings, Webber’s story has a “circle of life” feel to it, albeit minus the rush you get from Rafiki lofting lion cubs into the heavens.
Drafted first overall by the Magic in ’93 and traded to the Warriors on draft night, Webber left after one season following a falling out with coach Don Nelson over a few issues, including being played at centre.
Fourteen years later he would return to Golden State…
to play centre…
under Coach Nelson.
There’s beauty in the symmetry.
5. Chris Mullin
Another Warrior to return to the Bay Area was two-time Olympic gold medalist Chris Mullin. The New York City legend suited up for one final season with the then-lowly Dubs following his run with the Pacers in the late ’90s.The famed gym rat doesn’t look right in anything but a Warriors jersey.
6. Sean Elliott
Elliott was in Detroit long enough to be on the wrong side of a quadruple-double from ex-teammate David Robinson, before returning to the Spurs to win a ring in ’99.
7. Dan Majerle
Dan Majerle is the only player on this list to return to the city that booed him on draft day.After a slow start, Thunder Dan gradually earned the respect of the people of Phoenix, the rest of the league and Celine Dion.Majerle returned to the Valley of the Sun in 2001 after spending time in Cleveland and Miami. You can hear directly from the man on his east coast stints here (26:50 mark).
8. Steve Smith
Smitty played his best years in Atlanta before just missing out on a Finals appearance with Pippen and the 2000 Blazers.
He would eventually get a ring with the ’03 Spurs before taking his talents back to South Beach for three games in ’05.
As good a man off the court as he was on it, Smith will forever be remembered for the best play ever:
9. Eric “Sleepy” Floyd
Sleepy dropped 29 in the fourth quarter of a playoff game for Golden State against the Lakers in ’87, a postseason record that still stands.
Anyway, Eric’s NBA journey commenced and concluded with the New Jersey Nets.
NB: Another former Net guard to give the Lakers more than they could handle was Chris Childs. Like Sleepy, he too began and concluded his days in the league sporting a Nets jersey.
10. Vlade Divac
Serbian sensation Vlade Divac arrived in Los Angeles an unshaven and wide-eyed 19-year-old kid.
There he would enjoy the tail end of the Showtime era before being dealt to the Hornets in one of the most significant trades in league history.
He returned to Hollywood 15 years after his debut there, clean shaven.
11. Steve Francis
For a split second in 2007, Steve Francis had us feeling like he’d never left.
12. Greg Ostertag
It’s true. Greg Ostertag, the man who bears a striking resemblance to animated henchman Bebop, spent a year in exile (Sactown) before triumphantly returning to Utah in 2005.
His single-season number 39 jersey remains a Grail for most collectors of “NBA jerseys for music festivals.”
Here he is with future teammate Brad Miller, having a good time.
A photo posted by Downtown (@downtownball) on
Greg rounds out our roster of returnees, but this list is by no means exhaustive.
We weren’t able to manipulate Basketball-Reference.com to spit out all players who fit this criteria, so it is certain that we have missed a number of candidates.
If there are some glaring omissions (e.g. David Benoit), please unleash with both barrels in the comments section.
And for any Orlando fans, hopefully Dwight Howard isn’t aspiring to join this list of NBA elites.