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10 Players Who Returned To The NBA After Being Away For Years: Magic Johnson Returned After A 5-Year Retirement

10 Players Who Returned To The NBA After Being Away For Years: Magic Johnson Returned After A 5-Year Retirement

With all of the 10-day contracts being handed out these days, we have had a blast from the past with some of the top players coming back to the NBA. Throughout history, we have seen players like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson come back from retirement and play well even they were old. Watching Joe Johnson come out of retirement helped him crack the top-10 for longest absence before playing in an NBA game. As COVID-19 surges through the NBA world right now, it’s helped some careers get revived.

The COVID spread wasn’t the only variable that has led to players returning to the NBA after a long layoff. Playing overseas, coaching careers, and a tragic family loss has led to other players being gone for a significant period. These 10 NBA players own the largest gap between NBA games.

Honorable Mention

Michael Jordan - 1,291 Days

Michael Jordan

Reason: Retirement Due To Death Of His Father

Last Game Played: 29 Years Old, 6/20/93 (778th Game)

Return: 31 Years Old, 3/19/95 (779th Game)

Jordan’s story is well-remembered. After being drafted by the Chicago Bulls, Jordan helped raise the team out of mediocrity and set championship expectations for the team. After battling the Pistons for years, the Bulls were able to win their first three-peat from 1991 to 1993. The stretch was a grueling physical and mental expedition. What led to Jordan finally calling it quits from basketball was when his father was tragically murdered.

Jordan’s father loved baseball, so he pursued a baseball career. He spent the entire 1993-1994 season playing minor league baseball in the Chicago White Sox affiliate. After that, Jordan joined the Bulls midway through the 1994-1995 season. The team was booted from the playoffs by a young Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic, which led to another championship run with Jordan leading the way.

Joey Dorsey - 1,298 Days

Joey Dorsey

Reason: Playing Overseas

Last Game Played: 27 Years Old, 4/13/11 (51st Game)

Return: 30 Years Old, 11/1/14 (52nd Game)

After an abbreviated NBA career, Dorsey signed a one-year deal with the Spanish League Caja Laboral. He parted ways with the team five months later. The next day, he signed with the Greek League Club Olympiacos for the rest of the season. There, Dorsey won the 2011-2012 EuroLeague championship, which led to him resigning from the team on a two-year deal. During a preseason game the following year, Dorsey got a lot of attention after he shattered a backboard with two minutes left in the fourth quarter

In November 2012, Dorsey was released by the Olympiacos two weeks after he criticized the organization, which led to him not playing with the team. He later signed with the Turkish club Royal Hall Gaziantep. The following year, he played with the Spanish club FC Barcelona. After three and a half year detour from the NBA, Dorsey returned and played 67 games for the Rockets, where he averaged 2.7 points. It was his last full year in the NBA.

10. Joe Johnson - 1,351 Days

Breaking: Joe Johnson Returning To The NBA After Signing A 10-Day Contract With Celtics

Reason: Not Being Signed

Last Game Played: 36 Years Old, 5/28/18 (1,276th Game)

Return: 40 Years Old, 12/21/21 (1,277th Game)

“Iso Joe” made a name for himself in the league being able to create his shot. On September 19, 2019, Johnson attempted to come back to the league. He signed with the Pistons but was waived by the team one month later after final cuts loomed. What led to Johnson even being signed was that he participated in the BIG3 Tournament and won his first championships with the Triplets, where he was named MVP. Johnson won his second BIG3 MVP title on September 4, 2021.

On December 22, 2021, Johnson signed a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics to return to the franchise that drafted him. His appearance came on the same night against the Cavaliers. His return to Boston capped 19-year, 305 gaps between stints, which is the longest gap in NBA history. He also made his lone basket in that appearance, making him the second player along with Dirk Nowitzki to score a basket with the same team at the age of 20 and 40.

9. Greg Oden - 1,502 Days

Greg Oden

Reason: Knee Injuries

Last Game Played: 21 Years Old, 12/05/09 (82nd Game)

Return: 25 Years Old, 1/15/14 (83rd Game)

When Oden entered the draft, there were back and forth conversations about who to draft. Oden or Kevin Durant? The Trail Blazers would probably like to have that pick back after they drafted Oden with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007. Since that time, Oden suffered multiple knee injuries, including two microfracture surgeries, chipped knee caps, and a fractured left patella. On December 5, 2009, Oden injured his knee so badly that he was taken off the court on two connected stretchers.

After that injury, Odenmissed the entire 2010-2011 season with microfracture surgery. It was the third time his NBA season was cut short due to knee injuries. After that, he suffered an unspecified setback that cut his playing time in 2011-2012. Oden would battle back to the league and make his debut with the Miami Heat in 2014.

8. Damien Wilkins - 1,645 Days

Damien Wilkins

Reason: Played Overseas/D-League

Last Game Played: 33 Years Old, 4/17/13 (563rd Game)

Return: 37 Years Old, 10/18/17 (564th Game)

Wilkins played with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012-2013. After his brief stint, he joined the Atlanta Hawks in September 2013 but was waived. He then embarked on an international basketball career that kept him playing for a long time. Wilkins would play one season with the Beijing Ducks of China and then finish the year with the Indios de Mayaguez.

In the 2014 NBA Developmental League Draft, Wilkins was taken No. 16 overall by the Iowa Energy. He was named to the Futures All-Star Team for the 2015 D-League All-Star Game but would return to the Indios de Mayaguez. For the 2015-2016 season, Wilkins signed with a Venezuelan team but was swayed into rejoining the NBA after an injury to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Wilkins would sign with the Hornets but be waived two weeks later. Two days later, he joined the Guaros de Lara of the Venezuelan League and then made his return to the NBA with the Pacers one year later.

7. Magic Johnson - 1,693 Days

Magic Johnson Reveals He Had Sex With Six Women At One Time: “Some Women Have Different Fantasies”

Reason: Retirement Due To HIV

Last Game Played: 31 Years Old, 6/12/91 (874th Game)

Return: 36 Years Old, 1/30/96 (875th Game)

Johnson played well during the season, where he averaged 19.4 points, 12.5 assists, and 7.0 rebounds. The Lakers made the NBA Finals and played the Chicago Bulls. Despite two triple-doubles from Johnson, Michael Jordan won Finals MVP and led the Bulls to a 4-1 series win. Johnson was heavily defended by Scottie Pippen, which was a game-changer.

After a physical before the start of the 1991-1992 season, Johnson discovered that he had tested positive for HIV. He stated that his wife Cookie and their unborn child did not test positive for HIV, but he needed to step away from the game to fight the disease. Johnson never was “cured,” but was healthy enough to wear; he had upped his weight and regained most of his strength nearly five years later. He would enjoy one last season with the Lakers before officially retiring in 1996.

6. Emeka Okafor - 1,757 Days


Reason: Neck Injury

Last Game Played: 30 Years Old, 4/15/13 (590th Game)

Return: 35 Years Old, 2/5/18 (591st Game)

On June 20, 2012, Okafor was traded with Trevor Ariza to the Washington Wizards for Rashard Lewis and the No. 46 overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. Okafor finished the year as a finalist for the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award for his on and off the court actions. Before the start of the 2013-2014 year, Okaford was traded with a 2014 protected first-round draft pick to the Suns for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall, and Malcolm Lee.

Unfortunately, Okaford missed the entire season due to a herniated disc in his neck that was discovered. He remained unsigned the next three full seasons. On May 30, 2017, Okafor was cleared to play and then signed with the 76ers in September. However, he was waived after five preseason games. He would sign with the Pelicans in 2018 on a 10-day contract and make his debut two days later, accumulating three points and two rebounds in nine minutes.

5. PJ Tucker - 2,069 Days

PJ Tucker

Reason: Waived By Raptors, Played Overseas

Last Game Played: 21 Years Old, 3/3/07 (17th Game)

Return: 27 Years Old, 10/31/12 (18th Game)

On March 24, 2007, Tucker was waived by the Raptors to create room for Luke Jackson. Tucker played a total of 83 minutes in his rookie season. He would then join the 2007 Summer League roster for the Cavaliers, but would not make the team. Instead, Tucker signed with Hapoel Holon from the Israeli Premier League. He won the MVP and led his team to a league title. Holon broke Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 14-year streak as Israeli champions.

The following year, he signed with BC Donetsk that was just promoted to the Ukrainian Basketball Super League. He led the team to a third-place finish. After that Tucker signed with Ariz BC but was released in March 2011. He finished the year with Sutor Basket Montegranaro in Italy. He finished his international career with the Brose Baskets Bamberg of Germany, where he helped the team win the 2012 championship and won Finals MVP. After that, he signed a contract to play for Spartak St. Petersburg of Russia but opted to join the Suns’ Summer League team, where he played well enough to earn a two-year contract.

4. Sergio Rodriguez - 2,387 Days

Sergio Rodriguez

Reason: Played In Spain

Last Game Played: 23 Years Old, 4/14/10 (285th Game)

Return: 30 Years Old, 10/26/16 (286th Game)

After spending four seasons in the NBA, Rodriguez signed a three-year contract with the Spanish team Real Madrid. In July 2012, he signed a two-year contract extension with Real Madrid that kept him under contract through the 2014-2015 season. The 2014 season was one of his best, as he and Rudy Fernandez were named All-EuroLeague First Team, while Rodriguez won EuroLeague MVP after averaging 14.0 points, 4.9 assists, and 2.0 rebounds despite not starting in any game.

On January 9, 2014, he signed an extension with the team that would keep him with the team through 2018. Real Madrid won the EuroLeague title in 2015. Then, the team won the season’s Spanish League championship and then swept Barcelona in the title game to win the triple crown. Despite having his long contract, Rodriguez decided to come back to the NBA, where he joined the 77ers and recorded 12 points and nine assists in his first game back.

3. Bobby Brown - 2,389 Days

Bobby Brown

Reason: Played Overseas

Last Game Played: 25 Years Old, 4/14/10 (113th Game)

Return: 32 Years Old, 10/28/16 (114th Game)

On September 9, 2009, Brown was traded to the Hornets with Darius Songaila for Antonio McDaniels for a second-round pick. Later that season, he was traded to the Clippers for a second-round pick and cash. Brown played his last game in the league in April 2010 after he failed to make the Raptors squad after joining their Summer League team.

Brown then embarked on a successful international career, which began with the Polish League team Asseco Prokom. The following year, he signed with the German League team EWE Baskets Oldenburg. He would then join the Italian League team Montepaschi Siena, where he won the 2012-2013 Alphonso Ford EuroLeague Top Scorer Trophy. On January 4, 2013, he tied the EuroLeague’s single-game scoring record with 41 points. After that, Brown played for the Dongguan Leopards of China, where his 74 points in a 137-135 overtime win were the second-highest number of points in a game in the Chinese Basketball Association’s history. After a year in Japan, Brown made his return to the NBA, where he played two seasons for the Rockets.

2. Bob Cousy - 2,441 Days

Bob Cousy

Reason: Coaching Career

Last Game Played: 34 Years Old, 3/17/63 (917th Game)

Return: 41 Years Old, 11/21/69 (918th Game)

In the 1963 NBA Finals, Cousy finished his career on a high note when the Celtics defeated the Lakers. Unfortunately, Cousy sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 6 and would not score again. After the season, Cousy retired at the age of 34 and took over as Boston College’s head coach for the men’s basketball team. In his six seasons, he compiled a record of 114-38 and was named New England’s Coach of the Year in 1968 and 1969.

Cousy led the Eagles to three NIT appearances, one berth in the NIT Championship, and two National Collegiate Athletic Association tournaments, as well as the 1967 Eastern Regional Finals. Eventually, Cousy grew bored with college basketball and returned to the NBA as the coach of the Cincinnati Royals. He would even make an appearance as a player to break the six-year drought of not playing.

1. Anthony Parker - 2,477 Days

Anthony Parker

Reason: Played Overseas

Last Game Played: 24 Years Old, 1/20/00 (55th Game)

Return: 31 Years Old, 11/1/06 (56th Game)

The story of Anthony Parker is a true Cinderella story. In his first two seasons with the 76ers, Parker was plagued by injuries and played in only 39 regular-season games. He was then traded to the Magic and played only 16 games before being sent to the Quad City Thunder. Disappointed in his failures, Parker turned to Europe. In his first season with the Israeli EuroLeague powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv, Parker led the team to an Israeli domestic championship, the Israeli National Cup, and the FIBA SuproLeague Cup.

The following year, Parker led Maccabi to the domestic title and the EuroLeague Final Four. After a brief stint away from the team, Parker helped Maccabi win two more Triple Crows. He was named the Israeli Basketball Super League MVP and the EuroLeague Final Four MVP while helping Maccabi win the title in 2004 and 2005. In his final season with Maccabi, he led the team to a domestic double, but couldn’t help the team win the EuroLeague championship. For his efforts, he was named the 2005-2006 EuroLeague MVP. It was the 2005-2006 year that framed him to return to the NBA.

In October 2005, Parker led Maccabi against the Raptors in an organized friendly match. It was Parker that hit the game-winning shot. Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo remembered that in 2006-2007 when he signed Parker to a three-year, $12 million contract when Parker decided to return. In that first season back, Parker finished fourth in the league in three-point field goal percentage and averaged 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. 

Credit: NBA Debates 1/Instagram


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