How famous athletes fared returning to the city where they made their fame

Michael Jordan

After being selected third overall by Chicago in the 1984 NBA draft, Jordan became arguably the NBA's greatest all-time player while wearing the Bulls uniform. Despite a bizarre two-year retirement when he tried his hand at baseball, Jordan was in Chicago from 1984 to 1998 and led the Bulls to six NBA titles. After the 1997-98 season, Jordan retired again, coach Phil Jackson resigned, and an era came to an end. Jordan went on to become co-owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. But in September 2001, Jordan, inspired by the comeback of hockey star Mario Lemieux, announced he was coming out of retirement for the second time, with the Wizards. The following February, Jordan returned to the Windy City. He was given a two-minute standing ovation from the 23,534 at the United Center, nearly bringing him to tears. "You didn't see any tears,'' Jordan said after the game. "I was getting close, though.'' Jordan shot 7-for-21 on the night and finished with 16 points as the Wizards beat the Bulls 77-69.

Wayne Gretzky

In nine NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, the Great One won eight MVP awards and led the Oilers to four Stanley Cups. But in one of the saddest and most dramatic days in Canada's history, Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988. Two months later, Gretzky returned to Edmonton with the Kings and was given a hero's welcome in a game that was televised across Canada.

A then-record crowd of 17,503 crammed into Northlands Coliseum and greeted Gretzky with a four-minute standing ovation. The crowd went crazy every time he touched the puck, and when he picked up two assists. But it grew even louder for each Oilers goal as Edmonton went on to win a wild one 8-6.

After the game, Gretzky said, "I'm still proud to be a Canadian. I didn't desert my country. I moved because I was traded, and that's where my job is. But I'm Canadian to the core. I hope Canadians understand that."

Oilers fans weren't so welcoming the following spring when Gretzky led the upstart Kings to an upset of the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs.

To this day, Gretzky remains a legend in Edmonton.

Emmitt Smith

The former Gators great spent 13 seasons with the Cowboys, during which time he became the NFL's all-time leading rusher and helped Dallas to three Super Bowl titles. But at age 33 and not guaranteed a starting job, Smith asked to be released before the 2003 season. Smith signed with the Arizona Cardinals and returned to Dallas Stadium with his new team in October.

It was a nightmare return. Smith, received warmly by the crowd, had the least productive day of his career. He had six carries for minus-1 yard and two receptions for 2 yards. Worse, Smith was forced to leave the game with a sprained shoulder in the first half.

Roger Clemens

Has any player had a more triumphant return than Roger Clemens? Clemens spent 13 seasons pitching for the Red Sox, winning 192 games and three Cy Young Awards. But he went 40-39 over his final four seasons in Boston and believed that then-general manager Dan Duquette didn't want to bring him back for a 14th season. So Clemens left for north of the border, signing with the Toronto Blue Jays for the 1997 season.

In July of that year, Clemens made his first start at Fenway Park in an opposing uniform and received a warm ovation. Then he stuck it to the Red Sox in a brilliant performance. Clemens pitched eight innings and allowed four hits and one run. More impressive, he struck out 16 to set a Blue Jays record. When Clemens fanned Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn for No. 16, the Fenway crowd greeted him with a standing ovation.

The Blue Jays won 3-1, giving Clemens his 14th victory of the season on his way to winning 21. A year later, he won 20 and his second consecutive Cy Young Award. He went on to pitch nine seasons with the Yankees and Astros, winning another 121 games and two more Cy Youngs

Patrick Ewing

The big man is so associated with the New York Knicks that it's hard to remember he finished his career with the Seattle SuperSonics and Orlando Magic. The first 15 years of his career were on Broadway, where Ewing became one of the most dominant players in the NBA and an 11-time All-Star. Before the 2000-01 season, Ewing was shipped to Seattle as part of a trade that included eight players and four draft picks. Some mark that as a turning point for the Knicks franchise. In Ewing's final 13 seasons in New York, the Knicks had 12 winning ones and made the playoffs every time. In the nine seasons since, the Knicks have made the postseason twice and haven't won a playoff series.

When Ewing returned with the Sonics for his first game back at Madison Square Garden in February 2001, the fans began chanting his name seven minutes before the player introductions. When his name was announced, he received a three-minute standing ovation. Ewing played 32 minutes, scored 12 points and had five rebounds as the Knicks won 101-92.

Brad Richards

He spent only seven seasons in Tampa Bay, but they were highlighted by his playoff-MVP performance when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. Richards remains one of the greatest players in Lightning history. But in February 2008, he was traded to the Dallas Stars.

It was nearly a year before he played again inside the St. Pete Times Forum, and his is probably the most significant return in Tampa Bay sports history. Richards scored a goal 1:53 into the game and later added an assist. He received a loud ovation after a scoreboard video tribute that ended with "Thanks for the memories, Brad."

The Lightning pulled out a 4-2 victory behind goalie Mike Smith, the key player acquired in the trade for Richards.

"I had fun out there until five minutes left in the third,'' Richards said. "It was a fun time to come back. But the bigger picture is that we really wanted to win the game, not just because it's them, but we need the points right now, and we threw them away."

Will he be booed? Will he be cheered? Will he, as one TV analyst joked, get the "Duracell treatment,'' meaning be pelted with batteries? Will he win or lose? Play great or horribly? Today, Brett Favre plays in Green Bay, where he built a Hall of Fame career and won a Super Bowl in 16 seasons. But this time Favre won't be wearing the familiar green and gold of the Packers, but the purple and gold of the archrival Minnesota Vikings. To get you ready for the game, here's a look at some memorable occasions when a player returned to his old city to play his old team.

How famous athletes fared returning to the city where they made their fame 10/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 31, 2009 10:06pm]

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