They say the problem with fame is that it is fleeting. When it comes time to retire, sports heroes have a hard time accepting that for the first time in their lives they no longer have the ability to perform on the court like they did as a kid. They often try to wring out a few more years in the spotlight from those already tired bones (Brett Favre, I’m looking at you). As fans we often forget some of the embarrassing last years that some of our icons forced us to endure. Here are the top five basketball players that played too long.
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon spent sixteen years as the Houston legend who finally brought a championship (actually two, back to back!) to a city with horrendous luck in playoff finals. In 2001 The Dream’s contract ran out and a struggle with management ensued; Hakeem wanted the big bucks he felt he deserved after being underpaid for years, and owner Les Alexander felt it was time to rebuild. Hakeem forced a trade to Toronto, who had been after him for years, in exchange for a few draft picks. Hakeem started off the 2001-2002 with a few impressive games, a nine block effort against Golden State and a 20 rebound game against Detroit that showed he still had something left in the tank. Eventually Dream’s old knees got the best of him and he spent the latter half of the year either on the injured reserve or backing up career journeyman Eric Montross. Hakeem wisely chose to retire in the summer of 2002 after only one year in Tortonto. Houston fans to this day try to block out this memory with copious amounts of alcohol.
Scottie Pippen ended his career where it started, in Chicago, so how could that be embarrassing? To the child inside of us Scottie ended his career in 1998 after winning a sixth championship with Michael Jordan. The Rockets landed Pippen right after Jordan retired and the Bulls rebuilding effort, in what Houston thought was a coup d’etat for Olajuwon and a chance for Barkley to finally win his ring. Pippen managed to piss off the entire organization in 50 games and GM Carrol Dawson convinced Portland to take him off their hands for a few spare parts. For the low, low price of $70 million Pippen mustered ten points and six assists per game. “Pip” chose to return home to Chicago in 2003, after being run out of Portland and Houston, for the meager sum of $10 million. 23 games into the season Pippen declared medical retirement, or $500,000 a game for the honor to watch Pippen limp around the court.
Magic Johnson surprised the basketball world by announcing his return to the Lakers during the second half of the 1995-1996 season after battling HIV for several years (and possibly to get the last few assists he needed for 10,000). Magic put up 14.5 points and 7 assists per game in 32 games for the Lakers that year, impressive considering a five year absence from professional basketball. However, Magic had lost a few steps and put on a few pounds, this new “physique” often required him to play power forward more than his natural point guard position. The once dominant leader of the Showtime Lakers was trounced by Houston three games to one in the playoffs and Magic quietly disappeared to host his own talk show.
Mitch Richmond might have been the best pure shooter during most of the 90s with the Sacramento Kings. Washington traded the up and coming Chris Webber for the aging Richmond, probably because they thought Juwon Howard could hold down the power forward spot (how wrong they were!) and a veteran shooter could put them at the top of the Eastern Conference after Jordan’s retirement. Mitch spent the next three years on a Washington team that showed signs of greatness, but ultimately could not add enough talent after Juwon Howard’s gargantuan contract ate most of the cap space. In 2001 Richmond signed with the Lakers for pennies on the dollar in hopes of chasing that elusive ring. The Lakers would win the Finals that year on the backs of Kobe and Shaq, depending very little on Richmond’s total of four minutes the entire playoffs and a paltry 1.5 points per game in two games.
Glen Rice was another sharpshooter who stuck around just one year too many. Most casual basketball fans forget that he snagged an All Star MVP in 1997 during the reign of Jordan and the Bulls. Rice may have been the best three point shooter during the 90s, an era with dead eye shooters such as Reggie Miller and John Starks. Back injuries would hamper Glen’s on court performance and after bouncing around New York and Houston he would finally land in the NBA’s graveyard, the Clippers. It took only 18 games into the 2003-2004 season before Glen would hang up the shorts and retire as…a Clipper, about as low as you can get for a former superstar.
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