20 NBA Legends Who Finished Careers with a Different Team
It's nice to envision your favorite NBA player being drafted by your favorite team, having a fantastic career filled with personal awards, and team success, and then retiring in that same uniform. Sort of walking off into the sunset like a hero in a movie.
Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, David Robinson, all three men did that in their own unique ways.
It doesn't happen very often, though.
Due to free agency, team chemistry, money, or just a visceral difference of opinion on when an individual's time to retire is upon them, many great NBA players don't end their careers with the team they established themselves as superstars on.
If you're an Oklahoma City Thunder fan it's probably best to come to terms with the fact that yes, the Thunder look poised to go on a run in which they dominate the league.
That probably won't prevent one or even two out of Durant, Westbrook and Harden from eventually departing the team for another organization.
That's just how things tend to work out in the NBA. Don't be upset, though, there's a long list of players who became legends in one uniform but ended their careers in another. Here are 20 of them.
There's a statue outside the United Center in Chicago of Michael Jordan. He's in midair, arms extended, ball out front, and tongue wagging. It's signature Jordan, and it's a worthy testament to the legacy he built in Chicago.
The five MVP awards, six rings, and what was arguably the greatest career in NBA history all were accomplished while wearing a Bulls uniform from 1984 to 1998.
The career didn't end there, though. Jordan returned in 2001 and spent his final two years wearing a Washington Wizards' uniform. He was pretty good as a Wizard, he was a legend as a Bull.
It was such a quick stay that most people probably don't even remember it.
Hakeem Olajuwon was selected by the Houston Rockets as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft.
He played for the Rockets for 17 seasons; his career, however, spanned 18 seasons.
For Olajuwon, the Rockets were where the Hakeem became "The Dream." One league MVP award, two championships, two Defensive Player of the Year awards.
When the 2000-2001 NBA season concluded, the Rockets felt that Olajuwon was done as a player. Olajuwon felt differently. He spent his final season in Toronto where he played for legendary head coach Lenny Wilkens and alongside Vince Carter.
The Raptors were pretty good that season; they made the playoffs, but Olajuwon knew when it was all over, his career was as well.
Patrick Ewing spent 17 seasons in the NBA. Fifteen of them were as the center, and centerpiece of the New York Knicks.
While Ewing never won a title in New York, he did win over the fans of the Knicks. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft, Ewing's Knicks teams were always very good, and never quite good enough.
That didn't stop him from playing in 11 All-Star games or making 13 trips to the NBA playoffs.
It also didn't stop him from continuing his career after his time with the Knicks. In fact, Ewing spent his final two seasons on two different teams. First he journeyed out west for a season with the Seattle SuperSonics. Then he came back east, to the Orlando Magic.
Ewing finished his playing career in 2002 with the Orlando Magic. He's currently an assistant coach for the Magic, awaiting the right opening to become a head coach somewhere in the NBA.
Karl Malone, "The Mailman," he was one of the greatest scorers in NBA history. He was also an MVP winner and a man who guided the Utah Jazz to two memorable NBA Finals trips.
Even though both trips resulted in losses to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Malone is and probably will be remembered as the best player to ever don a Jazz uniform.
That wasn't the only uniform Malone wore over the course of his 19-year career. For one season, his final season, he was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Malone would retire after the season, and would go down in NBA history as one of the greatest players to never win a ring.
It's almost odd to think that Gary Payton played in the NBA for 17 seasons, and wore five different uniforms.
That's because he spent over 12 of those seasons with one team, the Seattle Sonics. The same Seattle Sonics he led to the 1996 NBA Finals where they would eventually lose to the Michael Jordan 70+ win Chicago Bulls.
Payton spent his final few years in the league as only a shadow of the defensively dominant player he was for much of his career in Seattle. Instead, he was on the hunt for the elusive championship. Payton got to the Finals with the Lakers in 2004, but lost to the Pistons.
Finally, in Miami alongside Shaquille O'Neal, Antoine Walker and Dwyane Wade, Payton was able to win an NBA title.
His legend was built in Seattle; his ring was won in Miami.
Dave Cowens was the Celtics for much of the 1970s.
When the decade of the 1970s started, the Celtics were the dominant team in the NBA. They had won nine of 10 titles in the 1960s, with a roster that seemed to replace one Hall of Fame player with another.
In the 1970s, the franchise won just one title, in 1976. That's because the Celtics of the 1970s didn't have nearly as many Hall of Fame players as their 1960s counterparts did.
They had Dave Cowens, though. Cowens averaged over 20 points and 15 rebounds a game for much of the decade. In 1976, he was pivotal in leading the Celtics to their only title of the decade.
Cowens retired following the 1979-1980 season as a Celtic, but then returned to play in 40 games as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1982-1983 season.
Robert Parish was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1976.
He became a legend as part of Boston's "Big Three" of the 1980s and he finished his career wearing a Chicago Bulls uniform in 1997.
Parish made six trips to the NBA Finals and won four times, three in Boston and one in his final season as a member of the Jordan-led 1997 Bulls.
His legend was unquestionably built in Boston, but his career ended as a Bull.
In 1960, Oscar Robertson was the top pick in the NBA draft; he was selected by the Cincinnati Royals.
Two seasons later, Robertson became the first, and still the only player to ever average a triple-double for an entire season.
Robertson would spend the whole decade in Cincinnati before being dealt to Milwaukee in April 1970.
It was in Milwaukee where Robertson would win his only NBA title. He retired as a member of the Bucks following the 1973-1974 season.
Bill Walton's legend was established before he ever even wore an NBA uniform.
Walton was one of several key pieces to the John Wooden-coached UCLA College Basketball dynasty of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
That didn't prevent the big redhead from leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a title in 1977, or from winning the league MVP in 1978. Walton's team was the inspiration for one of the greatest basketball books ever penned, David Halberstam's "The Breaks of The Game."
His legend also didn't prevent Walton from a series of crippling foot injuries.
Walton moved from the Blazers, to the Clippers and eventually to the Boston Celtics.
Walton played a key role in leading the Celtics to a 1986 NBA Title, he also helped lead them back to the finals in 1987, where they would lose to the Los Angeles Lakers. He retired after that season.
Bernard King has always made his mark in the city of New York.
First as a Brooklyn playground legend, and then as a prolific scorer for the New York Knicks.
King spent just four years out of 14 as a member of the Knicks, but it was there that he played his best ball.
King led the NBA in scoring in 1984-1985 when he averaged 32.9 points per game. He was also responsible for a number of memorable playoff performances in a Knicks' uniform.
The Knicks were one of five teams King played for over the course of his career. When he retired in 1993, he was a member of the New Jersey Nets, but he will be best remembered as a New York Knick.
Maybe you best remember Shaquille O'Neal as a member of the Orlando Magic, who selected him with the number one pick in the 1992 NBA draft.
More likely, Shaq is best imagined wearing purple-and-gold, as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
After all, it was as a Laker that he won three NBA titles, and one league MVP award, while playing alongside Kobe Bryant, for head coach Phil Jackson.
Shaq finished his 19-year career as a little-used, injury-plagued member of the Boston Celtics.
Oddly enough, Clyde Drexler finished his NBA career in the same city where his legend was born. It was a different uniform though.
Drexler became a household name as a member of the Houston Cougars while in college. He was a big reason the team was referred to as "Phi Slamma Jamma."
He was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, selected No. 14 overall in the 1983 draft.
As a member of the Blazers, he scored tons of points and led Portland to two NBA Finals appearances in 1990 and 1992. Both times the Blazers would lose, to the Pistons in 1990 and to the Bulls in 1992.
Drexler would leave Portland when he was dealt to the Houston Rockets in the middle of the 1995 season.
In Houston, he would team with Hakeem Olajuwon to win his first NBA title in June 1995. He stayed in Houston until he retired following the 1997-1998 season.
Shawn Kemp was one of the NBA's great dunkers. A dazzling combination of power and athleticism, Kemp was instrumental in leading the Sonics to the 1996 NBA Finals.
After spending the first eight of his 14-year career building a legend in Seattle, Kemp spent the final six bouncing around the league.
Kemp wore three different uniforms in his final six seasons, and the size of those uniforms increased every year. Kemp gained weight, and his production dropped off.
It wasn't a great ending to Kemp's career, but in his days playing for Seattle, he was a legendary player.
Dominique Wilkins was the guy that finished second a lot in the 1980's. Second in a dunk contest to Michael Jordan, second in one of the greatest individual playoff duels ever with Larry Bird.
He was first in Atlanta, though.
The Hawks were always very competitive in the 1980s, and Dominique was always the main reason why. He averaged over 25 points per game during the decade, and his spectacular dunks were a staple of nearly every highlight reel.
Wilkins got older, though, and with that age came a decline in his ability to dunk and score.
Atlanta traded him to the Clippers in 1994 and from there he spent his final seasons in the league playing for the Clippers, Celtics, Spurs and Magic.
Regardless of whether you best remember George Gervin as a high scoring, lanky and athletic forward for the Virginia Squires of the ABA, or the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, the odds are you don't envision him wearing a Chicago Bulls uniform.
Yet that's where George "Iceman" Gervin ended his 14-year professional basketball career. In Chicago, playing alongside some young, high-flying guard from North Carolina named "Jordan."
Before that, it was George Gervin who was a scoring legend. A four-time NBA scoring champ who averaged over 30 points per game twice. Gervin was a legend in San Antonio. Not in Chicago, though.
Alex English was in the NBA for 15 seasons. He played on four different teams. Over 10 of those seasons were spent in Denver, and that's where English really became a star.
English led the NBA in scoring in 1982-1983 and is ranked 13th all-time in NBA scoring history.
His final season, and final games were spent as a member of the Dallas Mavericks in the 1990-1991 season. He only averaged 9.7 points per game, the first time he averaged under 10 points per game since his second season in the league.
Charles Barkley played for three teams over the course of his 16-year NBA career.
He was a legend on two of them, but he didn't retire wearing the uniform of either of those franchises.
Barkley was drafted by the 76ers in 1984, he spent eight seasons in Philadelphia playing alongside legends like Dr. J and Moses Malone. Barkley crashed the boards, scored tons of points, and got into some memorable brawls with other Eastern Conference teams.
Then he was dealt to the Phoenix Suns, where he promptly led them to the 1993 NBA Finals.
The Suns lost those Finals to the Bulls, but Barkley was fantastic. He scored 42 points in one game and had a triple double in another. That established Barkley's legend in Phoenix.
Then in the summer of 1996, Barkley was dealt to the Houston Rockets. Houston hoped to pair Barkley with other aging stars on the roster and win another title.
It didn't work out that way, though. Barkley had averaged over 20 points per game for his entire career but in Houston he never cracked the 20-point per game mark.
Barkley was solid for four years in Houston, but not the legend he was in Phoenix or Philadelphia.
Moses Malone is a top ten all-time scorer and rebounder.
He won three MVP awards and won the Finals as a member of the 76ers in 1983. Malone was probably the greatest offensive rebounder in NBA history, and yet at times his legend seems passed over by other names.
Maybe that has something to do with his somewhat transient career. Malone played for seven different NBA teams.
His greatest seasons came as a member of the Rockets and the 76ers in the late 1970s and into the mid-1980s.
Yet from there, he played in Washington, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and back to Philadelphia, before winding down his career in 1995 as a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
Many people hear the name "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar" and immediately envision Abdul-Jabbar on the court winning titles alongside Magic and Worthy, while Pat Riley patrols the sidelines.
Abdul-Jabbar's best seasons may very well have come while wearing the uniform of the Milwaukee Bucks.
His only two seasons leading the NBA in scoring? They both came as a member of the Bucks. The four times he averaged 30 more points per game, those came as a Buck as well.
In fact, amazingly enough, Abdul-Jabbar had three seasons in a row in Milwaukee when he averaged over 30 points and 16 rebounds per game.
He spent more time as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he certainly won more titles in L.A. as well.
He was already a legend when he got there, though.
Regardless of whether you envision Wilt Chamberlain as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors, San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers or Los Angeles Lakers, you probably imagine a dominant scorer and a larger-than-life persona and physical stature.
You're right either way, and it doesn't matter which uniform he was wearing.
It was while he was wearing the uniform of his very first NBA team, the Philadelphia Warriors, that Chamberlain produced his most impressive accomplishments.
The 100-point game, as well as the season he averaged 50 points per game. Both of those feats came while wearing the Philadelphia Warriors uniform.
Chamberlain would eventually win his only ring, and then retire as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, but the legend was born and established back in Philadelphia.