One of the most interesting things about Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA this season is that it is not unprecedented. Michael Jordan played nine seasons between 1984 and 1993, and it seems he has always been a man of his word. In 1993, Michael Jordan announced that he would retire after the 1994 season, but he returned to the NBA the following year. His third comeback, in 1995, was even more surprising—and even more successful. After three more seasons in the NBA, Michael Jordan retired for good for the first time.
NBA player Michael Jordan has retired twice. In baseball, Mike Hampton came out of retirement for one year, but he didn’t do that in basketball. Maybe that’s why there have only been three players who have come out of retirement more than once.
Wouldn’t it be great to never have to work again? For some players, this day came too soon in their NBA careers. Due to injuries, unforeseen health risks or because their mental health was compromised, some of the NBA’s biggest stars ended their careers earlier than they would have liked.
Some players have managed to come back. Whether it’s one season, two seasons or even five, but these players have come back. This raises the question of what they would have accomplished had they not left the game.
Until retirement: 32.2 PG, 6.7 RG, 5.5 APG
If we come back: 29.4 PG, 6.1 RG, 4.1 APG
Retired after the 92-93 season (at age 30); returned to action in the 94-95 season (at age 32).
Jordan had his own reasons for leaving basketball. First, Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their first three-game championship. It was a grueling period of preparation and practice, but it was what Jordan needed after years of losing to the Detroit Pistons.
The main reason for his absence is the murder of his father in 1993. This led Jordan to leave the game and pursue a career in baseball. The Houston Rockets won the championship in 1994 and 1995, the year he returned. If Jordan had stayed, would the Bulls have won eight consecutive championships?
Until retirement: 19.4 PG, 7.0 RG, 12.5 APG
If we come back: 14.6 PG, 5.7 RG, 6.9 APG
Retired after the 90-91 season (at age 31); returned for the 95-96 season (at age 36).
Johnson had no choice but to stay. After Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, he had to undergo treatment, which may have affected his overall performance in the league. Johnson was the maestro of the Showtime Lakers at the time and his team was in the NBA Finals.
Johnson won five NBA championships and three NBA Finals with the Lakers in the 1980s. All before he was 30. When Johnson left, the rise of Michael Jordan was in full swing. Had Johnson not left, the Lakers could have rivaled the Bulls in 1992 and 1993, stopping the famed three-time champion. Either way, Johnson deserves credit for returning despite the circumstances.
Michael Jordan (again)
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Before I retire: 28.7 PG, 5.8 RG, 3.5 APG
If we come back: 21.2 PG, 5.9 RG, 4.4 APG
Retired after 97-98 season (age 35); returned for 01-02 season (age 38).
Jordan retired for the second time and returned for the second time in his NBA career. Jordan quit basketball after leading the Bulls to their second three-game championship and sixth NBA Finals MVP award. Jordan’s last championship in 1998 was called the Last Dance because management was determined to destroy the team.
When his coach Phil Jackson left the team, Jordan felt it was time to leave. Jordan eventually returned to play several seasons with the Washington Wizards, where he continued to play at the All-Star level. If the Bulls had kept the team in 1999, 2000 and 2001, another championship could have been won.
Before I retire: 12.2 PG, 2.6 RG, 2.7 APG
If we come back: 5.8 PG, 2.8 RG, 4.6 APG
Retired after season 10-11 (26 years); returned for season 12-13 (28 years).
The Portland Trail Blazers thought they had found their version of a superstar when Roy played in his first All-Star Game in 2008, just two years after being selected sixth. Roy ended up being an All-Star for three consecutive seasons, but was forced to retire in 2011 due to a series of serious knee injuries.
Roy returned in 2012-13 and spent one season with the Timberwolves. It wasn’t even close to his star years. Although Roy’s professional career did not last as long as he had hoped, he found success after playing basketball. Roy coached Nathan High School, which posted a 29-0 record in 2017 and won the Naismith High School Coach of the Year award.
Until retirement: 13.2 PG, 2.5 RG, 6.8 APG
If we come back: 0.7 PG, 0.7 RG, 1.4 APG
Retired after the 62-63 season (at age 34); returned for the 69-70 season (at age 41).
Cousy was the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, who won six NBA championships from 1957 to 1963. The 1957 MVP was an eight-time All-Star and two-time NBA leader in assists from 1953-1960. At the age of 34, Coasey held his farewell ceremony before a packed Boston Garden. At the time, Cousy said he had had enough of basketball.
After leaving the NBA, Coasey was promoted to coach the Boston College men’s basketball team. He coached the team for six years and led them to an NCAA Elite Eight participation and a second place finish in the NIT. After coaching, he played seven games with the Cincinnati Royals. Considering Bill Russell was only 27 when Cousy retired, there’s plenty of reason to think Cousy could have gotten 10 rings if he had stayed.
Before I retire: 9.0 PG, 4.1 RG, 1.0 APG
If we come back: 7.0 PG, 4.0 RG, 0.3 APG
Retired after 09-10 season (35 years); returned for 12-13 season (38 years).
Wallace was a four-time All-Star and a member of the Detroit Pistons’ championship team in 2004. Wallace is known for his hard play and coarse language and has received four technical penalties on numerous occasions. He has also played successfully for the Trail Blazers and the Celtics in his career.
After the Celtics failed to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals, Wallace decided to retire. After a two-year hiatus, Wallace played 21 games for the New York Knicks before leaving for good. Wallace could provide the Celtics with additional depth while the big three, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, were together. Maybe the Celtics can dominate LeBron in his first year with the Heat and return to the NBA Finals.
Credit: Getty Images
Until retirement: 18.1 PG, 14.3 RG, 2.4 APG
If we come back: 10.5 PG, 8.3 RPG, 1.4 APG
Returned after a 53-54 season (29 years); returned for a 55-56 season (31 years)
Considering what Mikan did before he turned 30… …it’s impressive. He is a five-time NBA champion, two-time NPL champion, NPL MVP honoree and has a connection to Minneapolis basketball. Most players are in their prime when Mikan leaves, but Mikan’s body has suffered too much.
Mikan has only played seven seasons in his career. After his sixth season and another championship, Mikan decides to leave for the sake of his family. It was later revealed that Mikan had suffered 10 bone fractures and 16 stitches during his career. Mikan was forced to play through these injuries at the time. He tried to return a year later, but the time away was bad for his game.
Until retirement: 14.2 PG, 8.1 RG, 3.1 APG
If we come back: 8.1 PG, 6.9 RG, 2.1 APG
Retired after the 79-80 season (31 years); returned for the 82-83 season (34 years).
Cowens was the Celtics’ first center in the 1970s and won two NBA championships with the team. The 1973 MVP was also an eight-time All-Star, All-Star Game MVP and Rookie of the Year. From 1978-79, Cowans served as player-coach after Sutch Sanders was fired for a 2-12 loss. This year’s team finished the season 29-53.
In his final season with the Celtics, Cowens led the team to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the 76ers. Cowans eventually left the players when Boston drafted Kevin McHale and traded Robert Parish. Cowens cited that in his career he has sprained his ankle at least 30 times, broken both legs and fractured a foot. Cowens felt the urge to play again in 1982-83, where he played one more season. Had Cowens not retired, he would have won a ring with the Celtics in 1981.
Before I retire: 12.1 PG, 2.8 RG, 3.0 APG
If we come back: 4.7 PG, 1.8 RG, 1.4 APG
Retired after the 88-89 season (31 years); returned for the 90-91 season (33 years).
Moncrief was a five-time All-Star with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1980s. The team had the third-best winning percentage of the decade, behind the Lakers and the Celtics. Moncrief was known for his defense, winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards, but he was also an excellent shooter. During his four seasons, Moncrief averaged over 20 points per game. He holds the record for most free throws made and attempted.
Moncrief missed one season, then returned to the Atlanta Hawks for one year. Moncrief played in 72 games, starting three and playing in all five first-round playoff games. Moncrief scored 23 points in 22 minutes in Game 4, but the Hawks ultimately lost the series. This time Moncrief retired for good and his jersey was dropped by the Bucks team.
Before I retire: 13.4 PG, 6.6 RG, 4.1 APG
If we come back: 10.8 PG, 3.4 RG, 2.4 APG
Returned after the 81-82 season (age 26); returned for the 83-84 season (age 28) and played until 1991 (age 35).
Reed played 13 seasons in the NBA with the Rockets, Hornets, Trail Blazers and 76ers. He had his best season in 1980-81, when he was the second top scorer for the Rockets, who made it to the NBA Finals and lost to the Celtics. After the Rockets traded current MVP Moses Malone to the 76ers, Reed retired from basketball and moved to Miami.
After a one-year absence, Reed returned to Houston when the team selected Ralph Sampson with the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. The biggest moment of Reed’s career came in Game 5 of the 1986 Western Conference Finals, when he tied the score with one second left to lead the Rockets to victory and an appearance in the NBA Finals.
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