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NBA AM: When Legends Return Home

Dwyane Wade went back to Miami, but he wasn’t the first legend to return ‘home’ to his franchise.

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Just about every trade that ultimately occurred at this past Thursday’s deadline was fairly predictable. Nobody believed that Cleveland would revamp to the extent that they did, for example, but all the players they ultimately acquired were names that circulated the rumor mill in the days and weeks before the actual transaction.

The same was essentially true of the players Cleveland sent away, with one glaring exception. Nobody saw Dwyane Wade’s trade to Miami coming.

Not that a surprise trade is a bad thing. In a world where we get to know the draft picks NBA teams are making 30 seconds before Adam Silver actually announces them, it’s nice to experience the occasional pleasant surprise, particularly when that surprise sends a Hall of Fame player back to his original team so he can finish out his storied career with the organization that helped make him the legend he is today.

It made for some great journalism over the course of the past few days (Hashtag FlashBack), but it is, of course, not the first time this has ever happened. Superstar players returning to their original teams is nothing new. Here’s a look at some of the most notable examples in recent league history:

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

For all we know, these next few months could be our last opportunity to see LeBron James represent his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, but there’s no denying that his return to the team that drafted him has been among the most inspirational homecomings the NBA has ever seen. After winning two MVP trophies and leading the Cavs to an NBA Finals appearance in 2007, it was a legitimate stomach punch for James to head to South Beach and then win a couple of championships there. However, when given the opportunity to return to Cleveland in 2014, he made the most of it by leading the Cavaliers to a championship in 2016. Already in the conversation for the greatest player of all time, this narrative was too perfect not to play out in a way that solidified his legacy.

Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers

Things fell apart quickly and unexpectedly for Iverson in Philadelphia back in 2006. After winning an MVP award, breaking numerous franchise scoring records, and even leading the team on an NBA Finals appearance, the time had come for a trade, so Iverson was shipped to Denver to pair up with Carmelo Anthony. It wasn’t the resurgence he had hoped for, and after flaming out with the Nuggets after a few seasons, and then again with Detroit and Memphis in 2008-2009, Iverson looked all but cooked. However, in December of 2009 he made his return to Philadelphia to an outpouring of love from the Sixers crowd, scoring 11 points and dishing out six assists in his first game back. Those good vibrations only lasted a few months, though, as Iverson’s daughter was suffering from complications due to Kawasaki Disease and Iverson felt the need to step away from the team in late February of 2010. Still, he got to end his career much more positively than he would have by walking out on the Grizzlies, which is a better final chapter for his heroic NBA career.

Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns

In looking at what Phoenix got for Steve Nash in the 1998 trade that sent him to Dallas, it’s almost humorous how little they were able to return for the former 15th pick in the draft. The Suns did get a first-round pick that eventually turned into Shawn Marion, but the rest? Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp and the draft rights to Pat Garrity hardly are a king’s ransom for a future two-time MVP. Nash saw huge success with the Mavs for six seasons, but he had his best years in his second stint with the Suns, winning those MVP trophies and making it to the Western Conference Finals a handful of times. Wells and Muursepp obviously were long gone by then.

Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks

Don’t feel too bad for Dallas, though, because a few years after losing Nash to his original team, the Mavericks were able to return future Hall of Fame point guard of their own in 2008. Kidd had been a Co-Rookie of the Year in Dallas nearly a decade-and-a-half prior, but his second stint with the team would result in his first and only championship run, which occurred in 2011 when the Mavs toppled LeBron James’ Miami HEAT in their first year together. Kidd had made the Finals a couple of times prior to that, but never had won. His return to Dallas corrected that.

Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves

It was hard for Kevin Garnett to leave the Timberwolves in 2007, and even harder for Minnesota owner Glen Taylor to let him go. The plan always had been for him to retire in the Twin Cities, but with the team tanking and Boston putting together a strong offer for the former MVP, the time finally had come to ship him to greener pastures. They don’t get much greener than Boston, and Garnett would win his first and only title with the Celtics the very next season. He never did win a second ring, though, eventually getting shipped along with Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for a trade that still is having draft ramifications for Brooklyn, but when that stint was over, Garnett found himself traded back to Minnesota at the deadline in 2015. He mostly was ineffective as a player in his return, but the young Wolves on the team that year said his addition was like adding another coach to the practice floor. And, perhaps most importantly, he got to retire in Minnesota after all.

Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls

Obviously Pippen’s best years came as a member of the Chicago Bulls, most of which were alongside the great Michael Jordan, but when Mike retired, Pip looked for ways to branch out on his own, and he did that with limited success in stints with Houston and Portland. His final year before retiring, however, he was talked into returning to Chicago for one last season in the place where it all started, and the fans and other young players on the team were glad to have him there. It was odd seeing him alongside Jalen Rose, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler instead of Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc, but considering he remains a team ambassador to this day, that final year reintroduced him to a franchise from which he had been estranged for a few years. He’s living proof that time heals all.

Chris Mullin, Golden State Warriors

As a member of the 1992 Dream Team, Chris Mullin was one of the great forwards of his day, but as happens with many players, even the really good ones, he found himself traded to another team. In this case, that team was the Indiana Pacers, but with Jalen Rose breaking out Mullin didn’t get the minutes he was accustomed to getting. So, upon being waived by the Pacers following the team’s 2000 NBA Finals appearance, he took the opportunity to sign with the Golden State Warriors. The team had wild new cartoonish uniforms by then, so the aesthetic was radically different, but at least one of the best players in Golden State Warriors history got to retire with the team that helped make him a star.

There are, of course, many other players that have been given the opportunity to return to their original teams to varying degrees of success, but seeing superstars get the opportunity to come back makes for especially good entertainment. Hopefully Wade is given the opportunity to ride into the hot, hot Miami sunset with enough ability left to make an impact, but even if he was entirely broken and useless, HEAT fans would be happy to have him back all the same.

Patrick Ewing retired as a member of the Orlando Magic. Dominique Wilkins retired as a member of the Boston Celtics. Hakeem Olajuwon retired as a member of the Toronto Raptors. That’s not the way to end a Hall of Fame career. What Wade gets to experience now is much more fitting for a player with his impressive resume.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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