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5 NBA superstars who came out of retirement 

Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE Getty Images
Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE Getty Images
Modified 16 Dec 2020, 18:06 IST

NBA players would like to retire, knowing that they gave their all before doing so. Like what Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan did more than once, a return to the basketball court is not always about winning a championship.

Sometimes, coming back to play basketball at the highest level is merely all about the love for the sport. For some, they return out of necessity and hunger to compete. Whatever the reason, the league welcomes these NBA superstars back with open arms.

NBA superstars return to the hardcourt older and wiser, but not better

Most NBA players remain retired after saying goodbye to the sport, having experienced competition at the highest level. In the case of these five individuals, it didn’t take long for them to return, as the urge to play basketball was more than they could handle.

Though they believed they were wiser after watching the game as retired players, it became increasingly clear that their bodies didn't respond like they used to.

#5. Richie Guerin

The New York Knicks drafted Richie Guerin in the second round of the 1954 NBA Draft. Guerin was a high-scoring guard who averaged more than 20 points per game for the Knicks during his best years in the league.

Guerin was later traded to the St. Louis Hawks during the 1963-64 season. In 1964-65, he became the Hawks' player-coach. Although he retired as a player following the 1966-67 season, Guerin continued to coach the Hawks.


After an unusual set of circumstances, Guerin returned as player-coach during the 1968–69 campaign. However, he could only stave off retirement for one more season but would continue to coach the Atlanta Hawks for two more years.

#4. George Mikan

Considered the NBA’s first great big man, the 6-foot-10 George Mikan was a towering presence on the court during the league’s formative years. In six seasons, he averaged 24.3 points and 14.1 rebounds per game.

He retired after winning the 1953-54 NBA championship with the Lakers but returned in the middle of the 1955-56 season to play 37 games and a seventh season. Unfortunately, George Mikan was a shell of his former self, averaging a pedestrian 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

The Minneapolis Lakers were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, and Mikan retired for good soon after. George Mikan was the first player to record 10,000 points in an NBA career and was inducted into the inaugural Basketball Hall of Fame class of 1959.

#3. Dave Cowens

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics, Game 6
Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics, Game 6

Dave Cowens was the face of the Boston Celtics franchise during the decade of the 70s. Though he only stood 6-foot-9, Cowens played center at a time when big men like the 7-foot-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar patrolled the paint.

Cowens was the epitome of hard work, heart, and tenacity, leading the Celtics to two NBA titles in 1974 and 1976. He won co-Rookie of the Year honors in 1970-71, MVP in 1972-73, and was an eight-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA team member, and three-time All-Defensive team selection.

After a successful 10-year career, Cowens called it quits after the 1979-80 season, Larry Bird’s rookie year.

"I have sprained my ankle at least 30 times over the duration of my career, broken both legs and fractured a foot," Cowens said at the time of his retirement "Two years ago, a team of foot and bone specialists said they were amazed that I could play up to that point without sustaining serious injuries."

Two years later, Cowens wanted to play again, but this time for another team. Since the Boston Celtics still held Cowens’ rights, they had to engineer a trade to accommodate his request.

Cowens was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he averaged 8.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. He suffered a leg injury in the final game of the regular season that kept him out of the playoffs, and Cowens retired a second time after the 1982-83 season ended.

#2. Magic Johnson

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers

Arguably the greatest point guard ever to play in the NBA, Magic Johnson led the LA Lakers to five championships during his illustrious career. From the moment he stepped on an NBA court, Johnson would take charge of the Lakers’ attack, orchestrating their showtime offense with a flair for the dramatic.

He was a 12-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection, three-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP, and five-time NBA champion before retiring abruptly in 1991, a few months after playing in his ninth NBA Finals.

In his retirement ceremony, Magic Johnson explained why he had to retire, even though he was still at the top of his game.

“Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today,” Johnson said in his speech on Nov. 7, 1991.

Johnson was allowed to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game and won All-Star MVP honors. He played with the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics that summer and tried to stage a comeback in the NBA.

After Johnson played during the 1992-93 preseason for the LA Lakers, several players expressed concern for their own well-being playing against Johnson. Although he desperately wanted to play, Johnson retired once again in light of the controversy.

Years later, the 6-foot-9 guard decided to make a second comeback with the LA Lakers. He officially returned to the NBA on Jan. 29, 1996, during the 1995-96 regular season.


After a successful season in which he averaged 14.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game, Johnson sought to return the following season but decided against it eventually.

"I am going out on my terms, something I couldn't say when I aborted a comeback in 1992," Johnson said.

#1. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is considered by many as the greatest player ever. He had an unbelievable career playing for the Chicago Bulls, transforming the franchise from a laughing stock into one of the most storied franchises in sports.

In his first nine seasons, Jordan captivated audiences with his breathtaking style. He led the league in scoring and steals on multiple occasions and was named MVP and Finals MVP three times each, as the Bulls won the title from 1991 to 1993.

He retired on Oct. 6, 1993, after losing the desire to play basketball. He went on to play Minor League Baseball a few months later, but he quit baseball months later because of a strike in the major leagues.

On Mar. 18, 1995, Michael Jordan announced his NBA comeback with a simple two-word statement:

“I’m back.”

In his return, Michael Jordan played from 1995 to 1998 and proceeded to bring three more titles to the Windy City franchise, adding to his lofty accomplishments with more scoring titles, MVPs, and All-Star selections.

When the Chicago Bulls decided not to bring back coach Phil Jackson, Jordan said his farewell to the sport once again.

But three years later, Michael Jordan decided to give the NBA one more go, citing a desire to scratch an itch he had to play professional basketball once more.

"I constantly said that and my family understands,” Jordan said at the time. “It's an itch that still needs to be scratched. I want to make sure the scratch doesn't bother me for the rest of my life. I didn't realize the scratch was still there until I became involved with the Wizards and got close to the players and the competition. I started to itch for the challenge."

Jordan played two seasons for the Washington Wizards (2001-02 to 2002-03) and was named an All-Star both times. As a 38- to 40-year old, he averaged 21.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.5 steals per game as a Wizard.

The Wizards missed the playoffs both seasons, and Jordan retired a final time at the end of the 2002-03 season.

Published 16 Dec 2020, 18:06 IST
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