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 some examples of familiar faces returning to familiar places, and the games where we see those stints.
In an ongoing Wayback Wednesday series, I’ve been taking a look back at familiar faces in strange places; in other words, well-known players and their stints with teams that are less talked about and usually weird to see, and the video games where those stints were represented. This week, I’m inverting the idea and taking a look back at familiar faces back in familiar places; in other words, well-known players who made a return to a team they’re most closely associated with, after leaving to play elsewhere in the NBA.
On the surface, this may not seem as interesting as seeing familiar faces in strange places. However, these return stints are interesting in their own right, as they have their own stories. Some of them were brief and essentially retirement tours, while others lasted longer and saw more success. Oddly enough, it can also feel strange to see a player back in an old uniform after we get used to seeing them in a new one. As I like to say, basketball games act as interactive almanacs for these stints of note, so let’s use them to take a look back…way back…
Scottie Pippen: Bulls (2003-2004)
Put your hand up if you remember Scottie Pippen’s return to the Chicago Bulls for the 2004 season. Liar! Alright, alright, I believe you, but there are probably a lot of NBA fans who forget that Pip had a second stint in the Windy City after leaving the Bulls on somewhat bitter terms following The Last Dance. It’s understandable too, as it wasn’t anywhere near as impressive as the first. Appearing in just 23 games (starting in six of them), Pip posted the worst numbers of his career in a forgettable retirement tour that was meant to be two seasons, but barely lasted one. You’ll find him back on the Bulls in NBA Live 2004 and ESPN NBA Basketball, with rather low ratings.
Horace Grant: Magic, Lakers (2001-2003, 2003-2004)
Speaking of former Bulls, Pippen’s good friend and fellow Class of 1987 alum Horace Grant has also been one of the familiar faces back in familiar places; twice, in fact! Although Grant never returned to Chicago after leaving for the Orlando Magic as a free agent in 1994, he did have a second stint with the Magic from 2001 to 2003, following a year in Seattle and then one with the Lakers, where he won his fourth championship. After his second run with the Magic, he returned to the Lakers seeking a fifth ring alongside Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. Those appearances can be seen in the 2002-2004 editions of NBA Live and NBA 2K.
Will Perdue: Bulls (1999-2000)
He’s not in the same class as the other players on this list of familiar faces who found themselves back in familiar places, but Will Perdue was a long-tenured role player who won three championships with the Chicago Bulls, and later scored them Dennis Rodman in a trade with the Spurs. As Scottie Pippen would do a few years later, he signed on with the rebuilding Bulls in 1999, assuming a much smaller role than he had as a regular starter for them in the final season of his first stint. Not only is this second Bulls run seen in NBA Live 2000, but Perdue is also one of the players whose 3D model will randomly appear in the background of the PC version’s menus!
Kevin Garnett: Timberwolves (2015-2016)
It was with some hesitation that Kevin Garnett left the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007, but it turned out to be a great move for his career. His tenure in Boston led to a championship in 2008, and he was a quarter away from making it two rings in 2010. The less said about his stint in Brooklyn, the better, but fortunately KG would get to enjoy a homecoming with the Timberwolves when the Nets traded him there in 2015. Official roster updates reflected the move in NBA Live 15 and NBA 2K15, and his final season back in Minnesota is represented in NBA Live 16 and NBA 2K16. Due to his late retirement announcement, he’s also still on Minnesota’s roster in NBA 2K17.
LeBron James: Cavaliers (2014-2018)
When LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014, it became easily one of the most successful – if not the most successful – examples of familiar faces who went back to familiar places. LeBron’s streak of NBA Finals appearances extended to five after leaving South Beach to team up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on his hometown Cavaliers. In 2016, they broke a championship drought for the city after coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, and faced off against the Warriors in two more Finals before LeBron left for Los Angeles. NBA Live 15 and NBA 2K15, along with their successors, represent LeBron’s second Cavaliers stint.
Alton Lister: Bucks (1994-1995)
Thanks to Shawn Kemp and the “Lister Blister“, most fans probably associate Alton Lister with the Warriors. He was originally a first round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks however, where he spent five seasons. After playing in Italy in 1994, Lister returned to the NBA, signing with the Bucks some eight years after they’d traded him to Seattle (they’d dealt him a year before Kemp arrived, for the pick that turned out to be Gary Payton). His second stint lasted a little over a season, as seen in NBA Live 95 and 96. Notably, his “Acquired” info in NBA Live 96 PC is erroneously listed as “Drafted” when it should be “Signed as Free Agent”; an oversight likely due to his Draft info.
Allen Iverson: 76ers (2009-2010)
After an acrimonious exit following a trade demand in 2006, Allen Iverson’s return to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2009 was a feel-good moment, even for those of us who aren’t fans of the team. It was clear that his days in the NBA were numbered, and so a homecoming for what seemed to be (and ultimately was) a farewell tour only felt appropriate. It was also a welcome sight after the oddity of seeing The Answer in a Memphis Grizzlies uniform at the beginning of the year! Roster updates for NBA Live 10 and NBA 2K10 reflect Iverson’s brief second run in Philly, which ended in February 2010 when he left the team by mutual agreement, for family reasons.
Antonio McDyess: Nuggets, (1999-2002)
Fun fact: out of the top ten picks in the 1995 Draft, Bryant Reeves is the only one who wasn’t traded by the end of the 1998 season. Antonio McDyess was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the Phoenix Suns in October 1997, and most of us figured he’d be in Arizona for the long haul. As it happened, McDyess returned to the Mile High City shortly after the lockout ended, resuming his career with the team that traded for him on Draft Day 1995. His appearance in a familiar uniform can be seen in NBA Live 99 PC with the official roster updates, and in the following games up to 2002. He later had a second brief stint with the Suns, and almost a third in Denver before being cut.
Sean Elliott: Spurs (1994-2001)
Another player on both the familiar faces in strange places and familiar faces back in familiar places lists, it didn’t take too long for Sean Elliott to return to the San Antonio Spurs. After a single season with the Pistons, he was traded back to the Spurs where he remained for the rest of his career. As such, all video games representing the 1995 season through to the 2001 campaign feature Elliott wearing his familiar uniform. Thanks to the console version of NBA Live 95 featuring final 1994 season rosters while the PC release included updated 1995 season rosters, both his familiar and unfamiliar stints ended up being represented by the same game on different platforms.
Steve Nash: Suns (2004-2012)
Yet another player who’s been a familiar face in both strange and familiar places, Steve Nash spent his first couple of years backing up Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd in Phoenix. He was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 1998, in a Draft Day deal that included the pick that became his future teammate, Shawn Marion. Nash became an All-Star in Dallas, which translated to big bucks in the 2004 offseason. That deal came from the Suns, and Nash went on to spend most of his career in Phoenix on some successful and exciting teams, netting two MVP awards. In this case, it’s his second stint that’s more famous, and it can be seen in the 2005-2012 season titles.
While successful second stints like LeBron’s return to Cleveland and Nash’s return to Phoenix are well-known, a noteworthy homecoming such as Pippen’s retirement tour with the Bulls ironically often flies under the radar. It’s funny how it’s easy to forget these returns to familiar places, overlooking them as we often will an unremarkable stint with an unfamiliar team. As I said, it can be just as strange to see these players back in their old uniforms with unfamiliar teammates, after we’ve grown used to seeing them in their new jersey. Whether these homecomings are long-tenured or short-lived, successful or not, basketball video games are there to remind us of them.