Howard Takes a Leaf Out of History Book

Dwight Howard's return to Orlando was one to remember.

Dwight Howard’s return to Orlando was one to remember, for all the right reasons.

Dwight Howard made his much anticipated return to Orlando Tuesday night, leading the Lakers to a 106-97 victory.

With a chorus of boos and a slew of derisive signs being wielded by jilted Magic fans, Howard scored 39 points and pulled down 16 rebounds. The performance – easily his best of the season so far – was salt in the wound to both the Magic organization and the fans that had once cheered the big man so fervently.

Undeniably, Howard’s return to the team that drafted him first overall in 2004 was always going to be big news, regardless of the result. The result, and not the response, however soon became the major talking point.

Howard’s 39 points – which included 25 from 39 attempts at the free throw line – led the Lakers to a fourth consecutive victory, the team’s second-longest such streak of the year. The Lakers are now 9-2 since the All-Star break, a period in which Howard has averaged 17.6 points, 14.9 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game.

The Lakers returned to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, edging out the idle Utah Jazz by one-half game. Houston is just one-half game ahead of the Lakers in the seventh spot.

Howard’s performance against his old club came as a huge surprise to most, but looking back, history suggests that maybe it shouldn’t have.

Here at BettingSports.com we’ve tracked back and compiled a list of 10 of the most high-profile NBA players to return to their former team donning a new uniform.

The first point to note; there have been some huge performances.

The second point to note; Howard’s numbers on Tuesday night have him standing shoulder-to-shoulder, or some might suggest shoulders above, some of history’s very best players.

Notable Player Returns

1. LeBron James (MIA) put together a 38-point performance in his return to Cleveland on Dec. 2, 2010, a game that featured a crowd response to rival that of Tuesday night in Orlando.

2. Dominique Wilkins (LAC) found himself traded from the Hawks to the Clippers at the deadline in 1994. His response was to put up 36 points in his return to Atlanta on Mar. 25 of that year.

3. Charles Barkley (PHX) scored 35 points for the Suns in his return to Philadelphia on Mar. 28, 1993.

4. Wilt Chamberlain (PHI) scored 33 points for the Sixers in a Feb. 9, 1965 ‘road’ game against the San Francisco Warriors. That game was played in San Jose though. When Chamberlain returned to the San Francisco Civic Auditorium two nights later, he scored ‘just’ 24 points. Chamberlain’s return to Philadelphia with the Lakers in 1968 saw him score 15 points.

5. Allen Iverson (DEN) tallied 32 points for the Denver Nuggets on Mar. 19, 2008, as he returned to Philadelphia, the team he led for 10+ seasons.

6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (LAL) scored 30 points on Oct. 28, 1975, his first visit to Milwaukee as a member of the Lakers. He would go on to lead the league in rebounds, blocked shots and minutes played that season, winning a fourth MVP honor along the way.

7. Clyde Drexler (HOU) scored 24 points in his return to Portland on Apr. 7, 1995. Drexler and the Rockets would go on to win the NBA title two months later.

8. Shaquille O’Neal (LAL) tallied 20 points against the Magic in Orlando on Feb. 22, 1998. O’Neal had missed his first opportunity to play in Orlando as a Laker the previous season due to injury. O’Neal would go on to score 24 for Miami in his return to the Lakers (Dec. 25, 2004) and 22 for Phoenix against Miami (Mar. 4, 2009). His appearances for Cleveland against Phoenix (3pts) and Boston against Cleveland (7pts) were less impressive though.

9. Alex English (DAL) scored 20 points for the Mavericks on Dec. 22, 1990, his first game playing against the Nuggets after spending 11 seasons in the Mile High City.

10. Michael Jordan (WAS) scored a paltry (by his standards) 16 points on Jan. 19, 2002, his first game back in Chicago after joining the Wizards.

So, Howard joins a list that includes the ‘Big Three’ of Los Angeles Lakers’ centers. Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal all went on to win the NBA title in the purple and gold. Is Howard set to be next in line, and if so, will it happen this year?

One thing’s for sure; it would be one of the most remarkable stories in the history of the NBA is he was to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy this season.

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Of course, for every player that put on an impressive performance on their return, there are plenty that failed to do so.

Some less noteworthy performances came from Patrick Ewing (SEA), who scored 12 points in his return to New York with the Sonics on Feb. 27, 2001; Scottie Pippen (POR), who scored 11 points on his return to Chicago on Jan. 3, 2000 (he did not play the Bulls the previous season with Houston); Hakeem Olajuwon (TOR), who tallied seven points in a visit to Houston on Mar. 5, 2002; and, perhaps most surprisingly, Oscar Robertson (MIL), who had just six points on his return to the Cincinnati Royals (today’s Sacramento Kings).

Karl Malone, who spent one season (2003-04) with the Lakers after a storied career in Utah, never got to play the Jazz in Salt Lake City. The Hall of Fame forward was injured for both road games that season. In his only game against his former side, the ‘Mail Man’ scored 19 points at Staples Center.

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As chance would have it, Wednesday night will see another NBA superstar make a return to his former stamping ground for the first time.

Believe it or not, after forcing his way out of Denver at the trade deadline in 2011, Carmelo Anthony has yet to return to the Mile High City. The Knicks had already played at Denver that season, and last year’s lockout-shortened season frivolously dumped this fixture from the schedule.

Anthony therefore will play his first game as a member of the Knicks at the Pepsi Center tonight. The must-see tag that accompanied Howard’s return to Orlando, and some of the gusto of this return have been lost from the game due to the time lapse since the move, but the crowd response will be interesting to say the least. Denver is a seven-point favorite in what could turn out to be an absolute blowout if New York’s recent form continues against a team that dominates at home.

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Finally, circle July 19 in your diary now. That’s the day Kevin Youkilis will (injuries, lineup pending) play his first game at Fenway Park as a member of the New York Yankees. If going back to your old team is bad, going to Boston as a Bronx Bomber is just about unforgivable. ‘Youk’ might just be hoping Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are back in the lineup for that weekend series.

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