This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at another collection of players that ended being familiar faces back in familiar places.
Just as I’m continuing my series on familiar faces in strange places, I have another instalment of its counterpart today. As the name would imply, the familiar faces back in familiar places series takes a look at players that returned to the team that they’re often closely associated with, after leaving to play elsewhere. In some ways, it’s an even more interesting phenomenon, particularly with star players as many of them have only moved on to new teams after leaving their original club. Over the years, we’ve seen more players return to their old teams for second runs and farewell tours.
As always, I’m looking at these familiar faces back in familiar places through the lens of basketball video games. I do that in part because it ties in to our coverage of the virtual hardwood, and because I enjoy the “interactive almanac” aspect of revisiting older titles. With that being said, let’s take a look back…way back…
Moses Malone: Philadelphia 76ers (1993-1994)
We might as well begin with one of the most nomadic Hall of Fame players in NBA history. Moses Malone is often associated with the Philadelphia 76ers, because of his accomplishments while playing in the City of Brotherly Love. That’s why it may be surprising to look back and realise that he only spent four seasons with the 76ers back in the early to mid 80s. Big Mo returned for a fifth season in Philadelphia over half a decade later, playing 55 games after signing with the 76ers for the 1994 campaign. This stint can be seen in the 16-bit versions of NBA Live 95. Incidentally, for as much as he moved around, it was the only time that Moses Malone returned to an old team.
Tayshaun Prince: Detroit Pistons (2015)
An integral part of the Pistons teams that were champions in 2004 and mainstays in the Conference Finals throughout most of the 2000s, Tayshaun Prince never made an All-Star team like Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, and Rasheed Wallace. However, Prince had a longer tenure in Detroit than any of them, and was also the last one standing in the Motor City; twice. His first stint ended when he was traded in 2013, by which point they had all moved on or retired. Billups returned for a farewell tour the following year. Prince himself had one last run in Detroit in 2015 – as seen in NBA Live 15 and NBA 2K15 – before finishing his career in Minnesota.
Thurl Bailey: Utah Jazz (1999)
Whether starting or coming off the bench, Thurl Bailey was a reliable scorer for the Utah Jazz throughout the 80s and into the early 90s. He was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves early on in the 1992 season, and due to the timing, he became one of a handful of players to play more than 82 games in a single season (specifically 84). After a couple of seasons with the Timberwolves, Bailey left the NBA to play in Greece and Italy for the next four years. He signed on with the Jazz for one final year in 1999, and as such, was added to NBA Live 99 PC by the official update. It’s one of the longest absences between NBA stints, on top of being a return to a familiar team.
Kevin Willis: Atlanta Hawks (2004-2005)
It took a while for Kevin Willis to become a familiar face back in a familiar place, but like Moses Malone before him, he finally returned to the team where he’d been a star. Willis didn’t have a particularly noteworthy second run, as by then he was the league’s oldest player, and the only player from the famous 1984 Draft who was still active. He would go on to set new records for longevity when he came out of retirement for the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, but his return to the Hawks actually marks his final official appearance as an active player in video games. As you might expect, Willis can be found on the Atlanta Hawks’ roster in NBA Live 2005 and ESPN NBA 2K5.
Spud Webb: Atlanta Hawks (1995-1996)
Kevin Willis’ former Atlanta teammate and 1986 Slam Dunk Champion Spud Webb also returned to the Hawks after moving on. Most accounts of Webb’s career tend to focus on his first run, primarily due to the aforementioned Dunk Championship. It’s ironic, as the four years he spent as a starter in Sacramento were the best of his career, yet they aren’t really talked about. For that matter, his return to the Hawks in 1996, where he was once again relegated to the bench, tends to fly under the radar. It did happen though, and it’s included in 1996 season titles such as NBA Live 96 PC. The homecoming would be short-lived, as Webb was traded to Minnesota in February.
Derrick Coleman: Philadelphia 76ers (2001-2004)
Many long-time NBA fans would probably associate Derrick Coleman with the old New Jersey Nets, as that’s where he began his career and was an All-Star. However, it may surprise you to learn that while most of Coleman’s career games were played for the Nets, he actually spent six seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers compared to five campaigns in New Jersey. This is due to a second run where he returned to play three additional years for the 76ers after spending three seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. I personally recall his second Philadelphia run thanks to NBA Live titles from the early 2000s, but the stint is also obviously reflected in other games of that vintage.
Kirk Hinrich: Chicago Bulls (2012-2016), Atlanta Hawks (2016)
Putting aside half a season in Washington, Kirk Hinrich‘s career essentially saw him go back and forth between the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks. Hinrich played seven years for the Bulls from 2003-2010, playing a large role in their resurgence known as the Baby Bulls era. He later re-signed with the Bulls for a second stint, providing veteran leadership during an era that was marred by Derrick Rose’s injuries. The Bulls traded him to the Hawks halfway through his final season in 2016, making him a familiar face in two familiar places over the course of his career. Those two returns can be seen in NBA 2K13, and in NBA Live 16 and NBA 2K16, respectively.
John Starks: Golden State Warriors (1999)
It’s admittedly not as exciting as a return to New York would have been, but John Starks did experience a homecoming in his departure from the Knicks. Originally undrafted in 1988, Starks spent most of his early professional career in the old CBA, but did play 36 games for the Golden State Warriors in 1989. Ten years later, he’d find himself back in the Bay Area after he was included in the trade that brought Latrell Sprewell to New York. The deal is reflected in the official roster updates for NBA Live 99 PC. It wasn’t a celebrated homecoming such as that of Chris Mullin, but it nevertheless puts Starks among other familiar faces that returned to familiar places.
Matt Carroll: Charlotte Bobcats (2010-2012)
Granted, he may not be as familiar as some of these other faces that found their way back to familiar places, I believe that Matt Carroll deserves a mention. On top of sticking around as a serviceable role player for ten years, believe it or not, Carroll has one of the longest tenures with Charlotte in club history – in fact, it’s the longest of the Bobcats era – thanks to his return in 2010. As I alluded to before, compared to star players, it’s not uncommon for journeymen to have second or even third stints with a team. Carroll’s longevity with the Bobcats does make him unique among such players though, with his return stint beginning in NBA 2K11 and ending in NBA 2K13.
Aaron Brooks: Houston Rockets (2013-2014)
Looking back, Aaron Brooks‘ career was something of a rollercoaster. He was a first round pick of the Rockets in 2007, playing around 12 minutes per game in his rookie season. His playing time increased over the next couple of years, to the point where he started all 82 games in his third season, averaging around 20 points and five assists in 36 minutes. After that, he returned to being a spark plug off the bench, and was traded to Phoenix. Brooks played in China during the lockout, returned to the NBA with the Kings, and then finally found his way back to Houston. This stint ran from March 2013 to February 2014, as seen in NBA 2K13, NBA 2K14, and NBA Live 14.
Although it’s hardly unprecedented to see familiar faces back in familiar places, it’s often still surprising when it happens. When a player is traded or leaves via free agency, there’s an expectation that the split will be permanent. After all, players and teams have often parted ways acrimoniously, or at the very least, because they’ve decided it would be mutually beneficial. It’s particularly interesting when big names return, even if they’re at the end of their career and undertaking a nostalgic farewell tour. And of course, as with familiar faces in unfamiliar places, sometimes these stints are forgotten. Thankfully, remembering them is as easy as firing up an old game.