“It’s a business,” is a phrase used time and again by athletes, agents, front office personnel, coaches, and journalists. Sometimes it is used as a validation and sometimes it is used as an excuse for a trade, trade rumors, or a free agent signing. The implication is that loyalty is fine and well and has a place in the NBA… until it doesn’t. Sticking with one team for an entire playing career is a quaint idea, but for a myriad of reasons, it is a very rare exception rather than a rule.
With that in mind, we present 15 players in a uniform you might never have known about or forgotten about. It’s a strange phenomenon; seeing players in a jersey that we don’t expect. There are several players that are often associated with just one or two teams during their career, and it is jarring to see that player in a uniform that subverts our mental image of him. Maybe they seemed like a lifer, maybe they made news (good or bad) as a member of that team, maybe they were elected an All-Star or won a playoff series… whatever the reason, some players just seem like a fit mentally with the club that you associate them with.
The players in this article wound up with these teams in different ways. Some began their career with the team in question before becoming noteworthy somewhere else. Some signed or were traded to this team and the honeymoon was a short one (either the player or the team had second thoughts). Some were cast off by their previous team as they ran on fumes toward the end (or maybe they attempted a comeback with another team). In any case, here are 15 players in jerseys that just look weird on them.
15 Kevin Garnett - Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Garnett made a name for himself with the Minnesota Timberwolves fresh out of high school. The lanky power forward seemed inexorably tied to the franchise until Boston GM Danny Ainge found the right package to trade for Garnett (technically, packages… since they had to acquire Ray Allen first in order to get KG to verbally commit to staying in Boston if he were traded there). Kevin Garnett featured on a Celtics team with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo that produced six trips to the playoffs, two trips to the Finals, and one championship.
As it became clearer that the “Big 3” were nearing the end of their careers, Ainge seized the opportunity to trade Garnett and Pierce (Allen had previously gone to Miami in free agency) to the Brooklyn Nets, who were under a ‘win now’ mandate from ownership (not to mention being stocked by the frightfully incompetent Billy King). Brooklyn was a bust, despite making it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, and Garnett was dealt from the Nets after a season and a half back to the Timberwolves for Thaddeus Young. In all, The Big Ticket played in 108 games for the Nets out of 1,605 (and counting).
14 Joe Johnson - Boston Celtics
Joe Johnson is a 15 year vet and 7-time All-Star. Most casual and semi-casual fans of the game could point to one or two of four teams, Johnson has been on as the team they picture him being on in their head. This summer, Johnson signed on to be a veteran presence on a young and up-and-coming Utah Jazz team. Most recently, he spent half a season in Miami. Prior to that, he spent three years and change on the same Brooklyn Nets team that featured Kevin Garnett (those Nets were going for a sort of ‘The Expendables’-style roster). Before Brooklyn, Johnson was on one of history’s richest contracts with the Atlanta Hawks… having parlayed his success as a featured player on Mike D’Antoni’s 7-Seconds-Or-Less Phoenix teams.
What few people remember, however, is that Joe Johnson began his professional career with the Boston Celtics. Johnson, selected by that shrewd evaluator of talent Danny Ainge, was the centerpiece of a trade with the Suns… just 48 games into his career. The haul for this likely future Hall-of-Famer (plus a 1st round pick and two other young players)? A combined 116 games from Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.
13 Scottie Pippen - Houston Rockets
Pippen is the greatest 2nd option in history. Having played for the Bulls during their 6 championships (and 11 seasons in a row to begin his career), Pippen carved himself out a legacy as a Chicago player and cemented his Hall of Fame resume. Pippen could have been a New York Knick, however, as he was originally their pick to be had. The pick got traded to Seattle however, who consequently actually drafted Pippen… and traded him before he ever played a single game in Sonics Yellow & Green. When the Bulls dynasty was coming to a close, Chicago GM held a fire sale.
The 7-time All-Star was traded from the Bulls to the Houston Rockets for Roy Rogers (no relation to Rodney) who was waived 10 days later and a 2nd Round pick that wound up becoming Jake Voskuhl; in other words, next to nothing. As for Pippen, he only spent one season in Houston, playing 54 games including 4 in the playoffs because of the lockout. He actually averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2 steals a game for the Rockets. Scottie then went on to play in Portland (via trade for significantly more than Jake Voskuhl) for 4 more seasons, before signing with the Bulls again for a final year.
12 Dave Cowens - Milwaukee Bucks
“Big Red” Dave Cowens is a Celtics legend. Cowens played the first 10 years of his Hall of Fame career with Boston after having been picked fourth overall. A super scrappy undersized center, he took both ends of the court equally as seriously; ingratiating himself to the Boston home crowd and to blue collar fans around the world.
Cowens, a Rookie of the Year, an 8-time All-Star, and a league MVP, retired in 1980 as a 2-time champion. His jersey number was retired in Boston the year following. A year after that, however, former teammate Don Nelson convinced Cowens to return to the court… for the Milwaukee Bucks. Nelson was coaching the team at the time and must have been very persuasive to his friend Cowens to get him to lace ‘em up once more. Cowens averaged 8 and 7 for the season in 25 minutes a game, and he only played in 40 contests before once more retiring.
11 Jason Kidd - New York Knicks (Christmas Uniform)
You may remember him as a Net (when he went to the Finals in back-to-back years). You may remember him as a Maverick, either in his first stint as part of the Three Js or his second stint when his veteran savvy helped win Dallas their only trophy. Or you may remember him as a Phoenix Sun, in all his bizarro bleached curly hair glory. But unless you are a diehard New York or Kidd fan, or have a steeltrap memory, you likely don’t remember the 6% of his 1,461 games that he spent with the New York Knicks at the very end of his career. Even less likely do you remember Kidd in this amazingly hideous all-orange getup that the NBA foisted on the Knickerbockers for their Christmas TV game.
The scrappy point guard who developed a three point game late in his NBA career, was a Knick for just one season. To make things stranger, then-coach Mike Woodson played Kidd in tandem with other point guard Raymond Felton in the starting line-up; forcing Kidd to make severe adjustments to his style of play after 17 seasons of something entirely different. Kidd signed on in New York to team with Carmelo and Tyson Chandler for a deep playoff run after the Mavericks failed to defend their title, but instead Kidd and the Knicks faltered in the 2nd round with putting up very little fight. Kidd quickly went from starting for the Knicks to coaching for the Nets, and it was because of how sudden his first head coaching gig came combined with how inconsequential his last playing season was, that causes fans worldwide to forget Kidd the Knick.
10 Dave Bing - Boston Celtics
Dave Bing, 7-time All-Star, Hall of Famer, and part of the NBA’s silver anniversary “50 at 50” team, is Detroit through and through. So famous and so beloved in the Motor City, Dave Bing swooped in to try (try being the operative term) to save the day as mayor of Detroit following the ouster of corrupt mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2009, winning re-election after serving out the remainder of Kilpatrick’s term.
After 9 seasons as a Piston, he was traded with a 1st round pick (that became Tree Rollins) for Kevin Porter of the Washington Bullets. Bing played in 161 games with the Bullets over two seasons, making an All-Star team (where he was All-Star MVP) and going to the playoffs twice in the process. Bing was then waived by the Bullets and caught on for one final year with the Celtics… averaging 13.6 points in 28 minutes.
9 Karl Malone - Los Angeles Lakers
Karl Malone is the 2nd all-time leading scorer in NBA history with 36,928. Of those points, all but 796 were scored in a Utah Jazz uniform. Malone was a wrecking ball of a power forward, nicknamed “The Mailman”. For Malone to reach his points mark, he held a very admirable scoring average for a long period of time, while also missing less than 20 games due to injury in his first 18 years.
In 2004, Malone knew his career was coming to a close. He badly desired the one thing that eluded him during his time with the Jazz; a ring. Desperate for hardware, Malone decided to forego far more guaranteed salary elsewhere in order to join the Los Angeles Lakers and their formidable trio of coach Phil Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. For added measure, the Lakers also signed on Bryon Russell, Horace Grant, and Gary Payton. Of course, the wheels fell off both the Lakers and Malone that season (Malone only played in 42 games during the season, missing more than double what he’d missed the previous 18 years total). Malone retired ringless, but with one season in purple and gold to his name.
8 Vince Carter - Phoenix Suns
Vinsanity was no stranger to moving around by the time he put on a Suns jersey. Carter was drafted by the Warriors, but immediately traded to Toronto for Antawn Jamison. Carter was a high-flying superstar for the Raptors for 6 seasons and change before he was sent to the New Jersey Nets. Carter teamed with Jason Kidd in Jersey for four and a half reasonably successful seasons before being sent to his hometown Orlando Magic.
The Magic sensed that a change was needed to take their Dwight Howard-led team to the Finals. Just one season and a quarter after joining the Magic, he headlined an Orlando package to the Suns. In Phoenix, Carter teamed with Steve Nash and averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in his 51 games for the franchise. Phoenix missed the playoffs (having made the Conference Finals the year previously), and the Suns subsequently did not pick up Carter’s team option. He was sent packing and signed on with Dallas for 3 years, starting a new phase of his career as grizzled role player and defensive presence… before continuing that act the previous 2 years in Memphis.
7 Rick Barry - Oakland Oaks
Rick Barry only played for two NBA teams during his Hall of Fame career, the Warriors (he helped them win a title) and the Houston Rockets (for his final two seasons). The famously disagreeable forward had a contract dispute with the Warriors that helped to alter the idea of free agency in basketball forever. What it also did was it forced Barry to sit out a year before joining rival league, the American Basketball Association or ABA.
Barry took his underhanded free throws to three different teams in the ABA: the Oakland Oaks, the Washington Capitols, and the New York Nets. What was most unusual, however, was seeing him just across the bay from the then-San Francisco Warriors as a member of the Oakland Oaks. The team, owned by wholesome crooner Pat Boone and coached by Barry’s father-in-law, shared their team colors with fellow Oakland franchise the Athletics. That the Warriors and Oaks both had yellow in their pallette doesn’t diminish the jarring nature of seeing Barry in gold and green. When Barry left the ABA, he went back to the Warriors before joining the Rockets (also an interesting jersey to see him in).
6 Dominique Wilkins - Orlando Magic
The Human Highlight Film was a Hall of Fame-level spectacle that delighted fans worldwide wearing a Hawks jersey through most of 12 seasons and 9 All-Star games. Just after the 1994 All-Star break, ‘Nique was traded to the Clippers for Danny Manning. His stay with Los Angeles lasted less than 30 games. He then bounced from the Boston Celtics to a team in Greece to the San Antonio Spurs to a team in Italy for a season each before making his final stop, as a member of the Orlando Magic.
Wilkins only played 27 games for the Magic. He came off the bench and only averaged 9.3 minutes per game. Certainly, Dominique Wilkins had a bizarre, tumultuous, exhausting and, ultimately, innocuous end to what had been such an amazing career. To make matters more interesting, this was one of the couple years where Orlando’s road jersey was a shiny mess of blue stars.
5 Dennis Rodman - Los Angeles Lakers
Speaking of random guest spots with the Lakers, Dennis “The Worm” Rodman played less than eleven hours (over 23 games) with Los Angeles. Already a five-time champion (with the Pistons and Bulls) with a Hall of Fame resume, Rodman had not much to prove and not much game left in him. Half a season after a threepeat (™) with the Bulls, Rodman’s antics and age proved to be too much for Chicago, and they let him go. He was signed by former coach Phil Jackson and the Lakers in February, but his drug and alcohol problems were so bad that he was released before the playoffs just two months later.
Rodman would go on just 12 more games in the league after his stint with Los Angeles. The Worm signed on with the Dallas Mavericks mid-season in 2000. Just one month and five days later he’d worn out his welcome, and the Mavs cut Rodman as well.
4 Allen Iverson - Memphis Grizzlies
Allen Iverson, a 1st overall pick of the 76ers in 1996, is considered one of the greatest players of his generation… and perhaps the greatest small player of all-time. His fierceness, competitive nature, and ability to go one-on-one are the stuff of legend. Conversely, he is still remembered just as much for his infamous “Practice?!” rant at a Philly press conference. Iverson is best remembered as a Sixer, where he went to the Finals in 2001 (handing the Lakers their only loss of the entire playoffs). He is also remembered as a Denver Nugget, playing alongside Carmelo Anthony for parts of three seasons.
Right after the 2008-2009 season began, Denver shipped Iverson to the Detroit Pistons for a package highlighted by Chauncey Billups (Iverson had only played in 3 games for Denver that season before the trade). Iverson put up very Iverson-esque numbers over 54 games with the Pistons (17.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists with 1.6 steals)... but it was clear that his alcohol problem was becoming more unmanageable by the day. Detroit elected not to re-sign “The Answer”, and so Iverson caught on with the Memphis Grizzlies for a whopping three games over the course of just 15 days. As a courtesy, Philadelphia signed him up for a final 25 games… and with that, Iverson was out of the NBA.
3 Patrick Ewing - Seattle Supersonics
Most of Patrick Ewing’s professional career was spent with the New York Knicks; largely working as a jobber for Michael Jordan and his Bulls teams. A Hall of Famer and Dream Team member, Ewing stands as the greatest Knick ever. After a total of 15 seasons, 11 All-Star selections, and 2 appearances in the Finals, Patrick Ewing was sent to Seattle in a massive 4-team trade that also featured Horace Grant, Glen Rice, Chuck Person, Vernon Maxwell, and others.
Ewing spent just one season in the Emerald City, starting 79 games and averaging 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in 27 minutes of play. After the 2001 season, Ewing signed to the Orlando Magic for 65 games and retired thereafter. Ewing’s jersey was retired by the Knicks in 2003, and he is often considered one of the ten greatest centers of all-time.
2 Hakeem Olajuwon - Toronto Raptors
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon also is an all-time great center from the 1980s and 1990s that was inexorably associated with one franchise. In The Dream’s case, it was the Houston Rockets. Drafted 1st overall in 1984 by the Rockets, He actually starred locally in college as a part of the famed “Phi Slama Jama” for the University of Houston. The all-time leader in blocks, Olajuwon was a Rocket for 17 seasons. In Houston, he was an All-Star 12 times, won a league MVP, and won 2 championships.
Olajuwon then very stunningly joined the Toronto Raptors, having been traded for a 1st- and 2nd- Round Pick after refusing a $13 million contract with the Rockets. In Toronto, the 39-year-old Olajuwon looked every bit the part. He wound up playing only 61 games for the club, and averaging just over 7 points and 6 rebounds per game in 22 ½ minutes.
1 Rasheed Wallace - Atlanta Hawks
Sheed was a stretch big well before they were in vogue. Wallace played just one season for the Bullets (the team that drafted him) before moving on to a distinguished-but-controversial seven and a half seasons in Portland as part of the still-infamous “Jail Blazer” era. Having been the most decorated player on the team, Rasheed and his antics became the poster boy for the team. In an effort to clean up the image of the Blazers (which included technical fouls galore, several drug infractions, actual physical in-fighting, and more) general manager John Nash shipped Wallace and teammate Wesley Person to the Atlanta Hawks for a trio of players, most notably Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
Rasheed amazingly played only one game for the Hawks, on February 9, 2004. 10 days later he was traded yet again, in a three-team swap that landed him on the Pistons just in time for their playoff run. Sheed’s move to Detroit is the stuff of legend, as he helped the Pistons win a championship the season he joined the team. He continued on with the Pistons for a total of five more full seasons. After his time in Detroit, he played one season in Boston, retired for two years, and attempted a comeback with the Knicks. Nothing, however, compares to potential Hall of Famer playing just one game for an NBA team.