NBA Superstars Who Ended Their Careers On Random Teams

Basketball | 3/22/21

For every NBA legend who plays their entire career for one team, there are even more who retire in obscurity. Can you remember which team Michael Jordan played for last? Maybe these stars played past their primes. Or maybe they just wanted a change of scenery. Whatever the reason, they didn’t end their careers in the jersey they grew their legends wearing. These are the NBA superstars with surprising final teams!

Karl Malone Chased A Ring In Los Angeles

Karl Malone
JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images
JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images

During his time with the Utah Jazz, Karl Malone was named an NBA MVP and led the team to the NBA Finals twice. Both times Malone and his teammates came up short, which must have left a sour taste in his mouth.

For his 19th and final NBA season, Malone played with the Los Angeles Lakers, teaming up with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. He was chasing the ring he could never win in Utah. The Lakers did make the Finals that season, but lost to the Detroit Pistons.

Michael Jordan Went From Bull To Wizard

michael jordan
Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images
Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images

Not only is Michael Jordan one of the greatest NBA players to ever hit the court, he is also one of the greatest athletes in history. The legend made his name as a Chicago Bull, winning six NBA Championships.

In 1999, Jordan left the Bulls and took a few years building his brand. In 2000, he bought an ownership stake in the Washington Wizards, where he was given the final say in all personnel matters. One of the decisions he made was to return to playing, and in 2001 he suited up for the Wizards. Two years later, he finally retired for good.

Gary Payton Got His Ring In Miami

gary payton
Chris Hatfield/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
Chris Hatfield/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Gary Payton was known for over a decade as one of the best defenders in the NBA, playing for the Seattle SuperSonics. Things weren’t so nice for Payton when he left, spending the next five years jumping around the league.

Still, Payton did manage to go out on top. He played his final year in Miami playing alongside Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, and Antoine Walker. The team won the NBA Finals, allowing Payton to call it a career at the proverbial peak of his profession.

Bill Walton Finished His Career In Boston

bill walton
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Bill Walton was a legend at UCLA before entered the NBA. With sky-high expectations on his shoulders after being drafted, the young player had a lot to live up to. For the most part, he delivered, helping Portland win an NBA title in 1977 and winning the league MVP in 1978.

By the end of his run with the Trail Blazers, Walton started having foot injury issues. He moved to the Clippers before ending his career in 1986 with the Boston Celtics.

Dave Cowens Returned For 40 Games After Retiring

dave cowens
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Dave Cowens was a staple of the Boston Celtics in the ’70s. In 1976 he won an NBA title with the team and averaged around 20 points and 15 rebounds per game for most of that time.

At the end of the decade, Cowens retired. He couldn’t stay off the court though, and just three years later he returned, signing with the Milwaukee Bucks and playing 40 games. They were the last 40 games of his career.

Robert Parish Retired With The Bulls

robert parish
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Robert Parish is one of the most accomplished NBA stars of his era. Drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1976, he made his name with the Boston Celtics. As a member of Boston’s “Big Three,” Parish won three NBA Finals.

Not satisfied with only three, Parish finished his career in 1997 as a member of the Chicago Bulls. He may have been older, but he was still a valuable member of the team, helping them win the championship, and getting his fourth ring in his final year.

Clyde Drexler Caught On With The Houston Rockets

clyde drexler
PAUL BUCK/AFP via Getty Images
PAUL BUCK/AFP via Getty Images

In 1983, Clyde Drexler was taken by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 14th overall pick in the NBA Draft. He made two NBA Finals appearances with Portland, losing both times to the Detroit Pistons.

In the middle of the 1995 season, Drexler was traded to the Houston Rockets, where he would play the last few seasons of his career. That first year, the team won the NBA Title. Drexler retired as a Rocket three seasons later.

Patrick Ewing Said Goodbye In Orlando

patrick ewing
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

For the first 15 seasons of his career, Patrick Ewing played for the New York Knicks. He was the franchise player for the perennial contender but never was able to win an NBA title while there.

After he left New York, Ewing played with the Seattle SuperSonics for one season before playing his final season with the Orlando Magic. After he retired, Ewing rejoined the Rockets’ family as an assistant coach, working his way through the league before getting his first head coaching opportunity at the college level in 2017.

Bernard King Said Goodbye As A New Jersey Net

bernard king
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Bernard King was a New York Knick for 14 years. His best season came in 1984 when he averaged 32.9 points per game. One of the most prolific scorers to ever put on a Knicks jersey, he didn’t have to move very far at the end of his career.

King played his final season in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets. It was an unremarkable season for a player who spent his prime wowing fans with his scoring prowess.

Shawn Kemp Fizzled Out With The Orlando Magic

shawn kemp
G Fiume/Getty Images
G Fiume/Getty Images

One of the best Seattle SuperSonics to ever wear the jersey, Shawn Kemp played for a decade with the team that made him a household name. And if his career only lasted a decade, he might not be on this list.

Kemp played seven seasons after being traded from Seattle to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Personal problems cause him to bounce around the league before playing one final season with the Orlando Magic.

Hakeem Olajuwon Called It Quits With Toronto

hakeem olajuwon
Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Houston Rockets knew that Hakeem Olajuwon’s career was over before he did. The Rockets’ legend played 17 seasons for the franchise and 18 seasons overall. Who did he play for last? The Toronto Raptors.

In his final year, Olajuwon may have been over the hill, but the team he played for was pretty good. The Toronto Raptors made the playoffs that year, giving the NBA icon one last chance to win a title.

Shaquille O’Neal Was A… Celtic

shaquille oneal
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Can you name all the teams Shaquille O’Neal has played for? He was drafted first overall in 1992 by the Orlando Magic and is best remembered for his time as a Los Angeles Laker. But did you know his final season in the NBA was spent with the Boston Celtics?

Unhappy with him in LA, he was traded to Boston where he was a member of the second unit. Shaq missed several games because of injuries, which may have also forced the big man to retire.

Oscar Robertson Went Out With The Bucks

oscar robertson
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Oscar Robertson entered the NBA in 1960 as the first overall pick in the draft by the Cincinnati Royals. Two years later he made league history becoming the first player to ever record a triple-double for an entire season.

Robertson spent ten years playing for Cincinnati before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. The last few seasons of the former star’s career were mostly quiet, until the last. The 1973-74 season saw him help the Bucks reach the NBA Finals and win.

Dominique Wilkins Took His Last Shot In Orlando

dominique wilkins
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

With so much talent in the NBA in the ’80s and ’90s, Dominique Wilkins found himself coming in second. A lot. As an Atlanta Hawk, though, he was loved as the city’s number one.

Once he got too old for his style of playing, the Hawks traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers. The end of his career also saw him play for the Celtics, Spurs, and finally the Orlando Magic.

Grant Hill Made Zero Impact As A Clipper

grant hill one the clippers
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Grant Hill was a seven-time NBA all-star and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1994, he was everything the team could ask for and more. That’s what makes his final season with the Los Angeles Clippers so forgettable.

As a free agent in 2012, Hill wanted to play for a contending team and chose to sign with the Clippers. In the preseason he was injured and missed three months. When he was healthy, he barely played.

Rasheed Wallace Came Out Of Retirement For The Knicks

rasheed wallace
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In one of the stranger stories on this list, Rasheed Wallace retired from the NBA twice. After playing the 2009-10 season with the Boston Celtics, he announced his plans to retire. He spent two years off the court before returning to the league and signing with the New York Knicks.

Wallace’s year in New York was not memorable. He broke his left foot and was forced to miss eight weeks early in the season. When he returned, he barely registered minutes off the bench.

George Gervin Called It Quits As Michael Jordan’s Teammate

San Antonio Spurs v Washington Bullets
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Before ending his career as a role player for the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, George Gervin was one of the NBA’s elite scorers. Playing in San Antonio, he was the NBA scoring champion four times, averaging over 30 points per game twice.

Gervin was a lanky and athletic scoring machine in his prime. He got the attention of the NBA playing for the Virginia Squires of the ABA. By the end of his career, he was the perfect mentor for the man who would be crowned the greatest of all time.

Charles Barkley Faded With The Rockets

charles barkley
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Charles Barkley is arguably the greatest player in NBA history to never win a title. He tried mightily, leading the Phoenix Suns to the big show but losing to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

In 1996, Barkley was traded to the Houston Rockets. The team’s plan was to pair him with other older stars and let them ride their careers into the sunset with an NBA Title. By that point, Barkley was a shell of his old self and never averaged more than 20 points per game.

Alex English Hung Up His Shoes With Dallas

alex english
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Alex English led the NBA in scoring during the 1982-83 season and retired as one of the league’s all-time top scorers. In his last season, his skillset massively diminished, and he averaged less than 10 points per game.

It was clear playing for the Dallas Mavericks that year that it would be his last. It was the first time since his second season his scoring numbers were so low. The writing was on the wall.

Moses Malone Made No Splashes In San Antonio

moses malone
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Moses Malone accomplished many things during the peak of his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets. He was named the NBA MVP three times and won an NBA Title in 1983.

As tends to happen with athletes, as he got older, his skillset weakened. He bounced around the league, playing for Atlanta and Washington before briefly returning to Philadelphia. His career came to a close after his final, unspectacular season as a San Antonio Spur.