In Sports Illustrated late last week, LeBron James announced he was going home. What success LeBron will have going back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers remains to be seen, but there are comparable precedents. So here I am to help examine previous, notable examples of star players going home… or at least back to the team that first drafted them. And you’ll notice, LeBron is one of the few to have won a title in his pit stop before returning home.
Old and Beat Up – Returning to Your First NBA Team as an Old Man
Bob Dandridge – Won a Title Before Going Back!
Drafted 45th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 Draft, Bob Dandridge went on to become a 3x All-Star with the Bucks from 1969-70 to 1976-77. During this period he averaged 18.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 48.8% FG and 77.1% FT for the Bucks. The superb small forward was hailed as a defensive stopper and efficient offensive scorer helping Milwaukee to a title in 1971 and another Finals appearance in 1974. In 1977, Dandridge became one of the first star players to change teams via free agency signing with the Washington Bullets. During his first season there, the Greyhound led Washington to an NBA title and helped push them back to the Finals the next season in 1979. At age 34, Dandridge returned to the Bucks in November 1981 but played a mere 11 games before being waived.
Elvin Hayes – Won a Title Before Going Back!
Drafted by the San Diego Rockets first overall in 1968, Elvin Hayes was a 4x All-Star with the Rockets franchise from 1968-69 through 1971-72. The Rockets moved to Houston for that final season, but had always struggled to build a successful team despite Hayes averaging 27.4 PPG and 16.3 RPG. The disgruntled Big E was traded to the Baltimore Bullets in June 1972. While with the Bullets, who subsequently moved to Washington, Hayes made another 8 All-Star Games. Along with the aforementioned Bob Dandridge, he led the Bullets to an NBA title in 1978 and another Finals appearance in 1979. In June 1981, the Big E was traded back to the Houston Rockets. Over the next three seasons, Hayes averaged a mere 11 points and 7 rebounds a game for Houston. But being in his late 30s, that’s understandable. His geriatric presence also helped Houston sink to the bottom of the NBA and draft Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Scottie Pippen – Did Not Win a Title Before Going Back 😦
On draft night 1987, the Chicago Bulls swindled the Seattle SuperSonics by trading the rights to Olden Polynice for Scottie Pippen’s rights. After a rookie season on the bench, Pippen soon blossomed into the NBA’s best defensive, play-making, and ball-handling small forward. From 1988-89 to 1997-98, Pippen averaged 19 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 5.7 APG along with 2.2 SPG and 0.9 BPG. Along the way he appeared in 7 All-Star Games and of course was half of Chicago’s one-two punch with Michael Jordan that delivered 6 NBA championships. The duo broke up in 1998 with Jordan’s retirement and Pippen’s trade to the Houston Rockets. After a lone rocky season with the Rockets, Pippen spent four years with the Portland Trail Blazers nearly taking them to the NBA Finals in 2000. In the 2003-04 season, Pippen returned to Chicago for a final 23 games before retirement.
Jason Kidd – Did Not Win a Title Before Going Back 😦
The only geezer who spent more time with his “home” team in his second stint than his first, Jason Kidd also took forever to get back home. The Dallas Mavericks selected Kidd with the 2nd overall pick in 1994. Kidd was an All-Star in his second season, but just 22 games into his third campaign, Dallas traded the unhappy point guard. Kidd would spend the next 12 years with the Phoenix Suns and New Jersey Nets. While with the Nets, he appeared in back-to-back NBA Finals but lost each affair. In typical fashion, Kidd sulked his way out of Phoenix to get to New Jersey, and sulked his way out of New Jersey to get back to Dallas midway through the 2007-08 season. By now nowhere near the triple-double machine of the past, Kidd did play a key role in Dallas’s NBA title run in 2011. His second Dallas stint lasted 4.5 seasons before he ditched the team for a final season with the New York Knicks in 2012-13.
Freed From the ABA
Billy Cunningham – Did Not Win a Title Before Going Back 😦
Known as the Kangaroo Kid, Billy Cunningham was one of the best offensive and rebounding small forwards to ever grace the NBA. As a Sixth Man with the Philadelphia 76ers (who drafted him 5th overall in 1965), Cunningham played a virtuoso role in capturing the 1967 NBA title for Philly. His absence next year in the playoffs cost Philly a chance to repeat as champs. Trading away centerpiece Wilt Chamberlain (more on him below), the 76ers made Cunningham their go-to force for the 1968-69 season. Over the next four years, he rose to the challenge averaging 24.3 PPG, 12.6 RPG, and 4.6 APG. He also made the All-NBA 1st Team three times in this span. However, following the 1971-72 season, Cunningham bolted for the ABA’s Carolina Cougars. In his his first season with the Cougars, 1972-73, Cunningham was named the ABA’s MVP and led Carolina to the ABA’s best regular season record. The following year Cunningham’s career took a downturn as he battled a kidney ailment appearing in just 32 games. He rejoined the 76ers in the NBA for the 1974-75 season, where he had one final fantastic season (20/9/5.5). But the high-jumping Kangaroo Kid blew out his knee early in the 1975-76 campaign ending his career.
Rick Barry – Did Win a Title Before Going Back… kinda…
The 2nd overall pick in the 1965 Draft by the San Francisco Warriors, Rick Barry is one of basketball’s best scorers from any position in any era. By his second season he averaged 35.6 PPG and led the Warriors to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Cunningham’s 76ers. Despite the rapid success, Barry bolted the Warriors for the Oakland Oaks of the ABA for the 1967-68 season. Unfortunately for Barry, a lawsuit from San Francisco kept him on the sideline for an entire season. Finally joining the Oaks for the 1968-69 season, Barry promptly injured his knee and missed the majority of that campaign. Despite his absence, the Oaks won the 1969 ABA title. Even with on-court success, the Oaks nonetheless moved cross-country to Washington for the 1969-70 season. Incensed at the move, Barry became downright pissed when Washington moved to Virginia for the 1970-71 season. He successfully forced a trade to the New York Nets so he wouldn’t have to suit up for the Virginia club. In New York, Barry calmly averaged 30.6 PPG for two seasons and led them to the 1972 ABA Finals, which they lost to the Indiana Pacers. After four seasons in the ABA and one lost to legal battles, Barry re-signed with the Warriors (now known as Golden State) for the 1972-73 season. He would go on to lead the Warriors to the 1974-75 NBA title upsetting the Bullets of Elvin Hayes. At the end of his career, Barry could chalk up 12 All-Star Games to his credit and averages of 24.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.9 APG and 2 SPG.
They Actually Did Go Home… “Home” as in their Home Town
Wilt Chamberlain – Did Not Win a Title Before Going Back 😦
Hailing from Philadelphia, Wilt Chamberlain was drafted straight out of high school by the hometown Warriors in 1955 – who had yet to move to San Francisco. However, Wilt still had to wait four years before joining the Warriors. Entering the NBA for the 1959-60 season, Wilt set NBA records for points per game (37.6) and rebounds per game (27.0). In 1961, he again set new records for PPG with 38.4 and RPG with 27.2. In 1962, he set yet another new record for PPG with 50.4 that obviously still stands. He narrowly failed leading the Warriors to the NBA Finals with a 2-point Game 6 loss in the 1960 Eastern Finals and a 2-point Game 7 loss in the 1962 Eastern Finals. For the 1962-63 season, the Warriors moved to California’s Bay Area. Finally, in 1964, the Warriors reached the NBA Finals but were blitzed by the Celtics in 5 games. Ornery, Chamberlain and Warriors management had a falling out. He was traded to Philadelphia 76ers midway through the 1964-65 season. From 1966 to 1968, Wilt would be named NBA MVP while leading the Sixers to the NBA’s best record every season. The 76ers won the NBA title in 1967, and as mentioned above, likely would have captured a second title in 1968 were it not for Cunningham’s injury. After the 1968 loss, the Big Dipper was sent packing to Los Angeles where got himself another championship in 1972.
Gail Goodrich – Did Not Win a Title Before Going Back 😦
Helping Chamberlain get his 1972 title was Gail Goodrich. Born in Los Angeles and attending UCLA, Goodrich was a territorial selection of the Lakers in 1965. Unfortunately for Goodrich, the Lakers had two great guards in Jerry West and Archie Clark, so he had a hard time getting any playing time. Left unprotected in the 1968 expansion draft, Goodrich was taken by the Phoenix Suns. After averaging a mere 11.6 PPG so far in his career, Goodrich exploded with Phoenix averaging 24 PPG and making the All-Star team in 1969. Humbled, the LA Lakers traded for Goodrich in the offseason of 1970, thus reacquiring the hot-shot guard. Over the next six seasons, Goodrich scored 22.5 points and dished 5 assists per game for the Lakers. At age 33, Goodrich left the Lakers as a free agent to join the New Orleans Jazz. However, at the time, teams had to compensate each other for signed free agents. So, the Jazz sent a first round pick to LA. The Lakers used the selection in 1979 to snag Magic Johnson.
Ed Macauley – Did Not Win a Title Before Going Back 😦
The original star player who got to go back home. Ed Macauley was born in St. Louis. Went to college in St. Louis. And he started his NBA career in St. Louis with the Bombers. Easy Ed’s rookie year proved to be the Bombers’ last, though. Folding after that 1949-50 season, Macauley was taken by the Boston Celtics in the dispersal draft. Through 1956, Macauley was a perennial All-Star with Boston and was a three-time member of the All-NBA 1st Team. The slender center averaged 19 PPG, 8 RPG, and 4 APG playing alongside the great Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman. Boston never could reach the NBA Finals during this span, so they traded Macauley along with Cliff Hagan during the 1956 draft back to St. Louis where he joined the Hawks. For their part, Boston got the rights to Bill Russell. Macauley would help his hometown Hawks reach the 1957 Finals, which they lost in 7 games to the Celtics and the 1958 Finals which they beat the Celtics in 6 games. Retiring early in the 1958-59 season, Easy Ed coached St. Louis for a couple of seasons where he again endured a 7-game loss to the Celtics in the Finals in 1960.
And there you have it. The big name NBA players who returned home… or “home” to their original NBA club after stints elsewhere. As you can see, these big names all had huge success at home and away from home. They all captured an NBA title at some point in their career, but only Rick Barry… well kind of since he was hurt during those playoffs… won a title during his exodus and during his return home.
If anyone can pull off the trick again, LeBron James is definitely the caliber of player to do so.