By Rob Ficiur
As I drove to my appointment the sports “experts” on the radio were sure, positively sure, absolutely positively convinced, that Lebron James would re-sign again with Miami Heat. An hour later, when I left the appointment the same experts were astonished, Lebron James had signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The top player in the NBA was moving from the team he had led to four finals and two championships to a small market team…why? Answer was simple: Lebron’s home town of Cleveland has never had an NBA championship.
Has a superstar ever returned to “His” team and won a championship?
1. Lebron James returning to Cleveland in the prime of his career (age 29) is rare in team sports. Superstars are rarely traded until they are on the down-hill side of their career. Wayne Gretzky was a younger than Lebron when he was traded to the LA Kings. The difference is that Gretzky was traded; Lebron was a free agent who chose to sign with another team. In this case Lebron chose to return to his home town of Cleveland where he began his NBA career.
2. Michael Jordan is the only elite athlete that I could think of who came back to his former team and win a championship. After winning three NBA titles in a row, Jordan retired in 1993. His brief, and unspectacular, baseball career may have been what brought Jordan out of basketball retirement two years later. Michael won three consecutive NBA titles when he returned to the Bulls.
3. Marion Lemieux returned the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup after three years in retirement. Having led the Penguins to two Stanley Cup championships could he lead them to another one? Mario’s return to Penguins lasted parts of five NHL seasons, and the Penguins only made the playoffs once. However, Mario was the Captain of Team Canada as he led Canada to its first gold medal in half a decade. His six points in five games show he was a leader on and off the ice.
4. Roy Halladay, In 2014 the Blue Jays Cy Young Award pitcher, retired as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays after four seasons with Philadelphia. The only problem with Halladay’s return to Toronto was that he signed a one day contract. Officially he retired as a Toronto Blue Jay the team who will always claim him as their own. These types of retirement home comings are the most successful because fans and media ponder how great it would be to have this player back on the team (in his prime). This year as the Blue Jays suffer through a July losing streak, they could use just a few of those Roy Halladay strong starts… but that is dreaming again.
5. Ryan Smyth – In July 2011, I was in Edmonton the week the Oilers reacquired Ryan Smith. Smyth led the Oilers to within one win of the 2006 Stanley Cup. Late the next year he was traded. After four years away from Edmonton he was coming back to Oil country to provide veteran leadership to the Oilers young stars. Smyth’s return was what one would have logically expected. His first year back he scored a respectable nineteen goals, only two in the lockout year and this past year the former 36 goal scorer netted only ten goals. (Fact: Players in their mid 30’s aren’t as good as they were ten years earlier) Smyth’s leadership did not translate into a single playoff game. Like many others before him, the expectations when coming home exceeded the results.
While players rarely succeed when they come home, can coaches regain the magic the previously had with a team?
6. Billy Martin was the manager of the New York Yankees when they won the 1977 World Series. He was fired and re-hired by the Yankees four different times. None of those returns ended up with any type of championship – in fact most of the returns lasted less than a year before he was fired again.
7. Al Arbour led the New York Islanders to four Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. After Arbour retired in 1986 the Islanders floundered. (Looking at the numbers, after losing the 1984 final to Edmonton the Islanders slipped a notch in Arbour’s last two years as head coach). The Islanders missed the playoffs in three of the six years after Arbour’s return. In 1993 the Islanders got into the semi finals – only three wins away from the chance for another Stanley Cup. But, after winning four in a row, coming close was not what was expected. Al Arbour’s home coming was a failure because of the (unrealistic) high expectations.
8. Jerome Iginla (2017) Three years from now the Calgary Flames on the verge of their best season ever will trade for veteran Jerome Ignila. Iggie will return to Calgary and lead the team to a miraculous 2017 Stanley Cup championship – the one Iggie and the team had thought would never come.
Comebacks are greater in what they could be / might be – even should have been than what they usually become.