Returning to a city where an athlete once played is part of the game. Depending on how long they were there and what their roll was, the return could be smooth and easy, or outright awful. For instance, a player may get a standing ovation and tribute video in his first time back, or be the subject to constant boos from the crowds.
That’s exactly what happened to Kevin Durant in his recent return to OKC, an organization he spent his entire career with (he was drafted by Seattle and played there for a year before the team moved to Oklahoma City). Durant was showered with boos for the entire game. But I mean, what else would you expect from fans after the heart and soul of the team decides he has a better shot at winning somewhere else (Golden State), without saying goodbye.
Then there are the players who have retired, but still hold lifelong feuds with an organization. That would be where Eric Lindros falls. Lindros was drafted first overall in the 1991 NHL draft by the Quebec Nordiques but refused to wear the jersey and play a single game with the organization. While that feud has lasted 26 years, it appears both sides are ready to reconcile. While appearing on a French-Canadian television show, Lindros wore the Nordiques jersey for the first time, and spoke about the whole debacle. We won’t know though if it’s officially water under the bridge for both sides until a team possibly returns to Quebec City (a discussion for another time and place).
So, with two big “returns” who could be next? Here are our picks.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals: 1/8
Who could blame Puljos for taking advantage of free agency? The slugger was coming off some of his best seasons when he signed with the L.A. Angels and received a huge pay raise for his efforts. While fans always feel betrayed by athletes who do so, in the end, most players only get to experience free agency once in their careers. It’s safe to say most of those involved have gotten over it and Puljos will likely head back to St. Louis to be honored when his career is done.
Robinson Cano, NY Yankees: 2/7
Could it happen? Yes. Will it happen? My guess is it’d have to be up to him. Here’s why: Cano left New York as a free agent after eight seasons with the club when Seattle offered him a big chunk of money. Fans were livid, and still are three years later, as their star slugger “betrayed” them. His game in Seattle isn’t what it was in New York, and even though Cano will probably retire as a Mariner, there is a chance he’ll head back to the Big Apple, where the Yankees will recognize his work with the organization.
Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets: 1/3
Anthony played hero in Denver after being drafted in 2003, transforming an awful team into one consistently in the playoffs. He was the poster boy and the fans loved him, that is until he demanded a trade in 2011. He landed in New York, where he still plays. It’s been six years since then, and while fans still remember, my guess would be if the Nuggets organization attempted a reconciliation, Anthony would be all for it.
Kevin Durant, OKC Thunder: 2/5
Durant played his entire career with the Sonics/Thunder organization before taking off to Golden State. Like you’d expect, fans felt betrayed; Durant pretty much gave them a “screw you, you suck” when he left for less money but a better chance at winning. Saying that, once Durant’s career is over, there is no doubt he will have his jersey retired and be honored in OKC. By then, both he and fans will have forgotten all the drama.
Rex Ryan, NY Jets: 9/2
Is there an organization Rex Ryan leaves in better shape than when he arrives? Not likely. While he did improve the Jets record for a couple of years, he followed that up with subpar seasons, before ultimately being fired after coaching the Jets to a 4-12 record. Ryan is known for his outspoken manner and know-it-all attitude, and all that leads me to believe he won’t want anything to do with the Jets in the future.
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns/NFL: 20/1
How could we have a Bad Breakups list and not include Johnny Football? Most of his sorrows were self inflicted, like being fined for inappropriate actions, suspended for drug use, and even the assault charges he faced. He was drafted with as much fan fare as most high-profile players, but never really lived up to the expectations. Both the Browns and NFL said goodbye, but never say never; a team could become desperate enough for a quarterback and be willing put up with the troubled player in its organization. Don’t be surprised if the Browns never invite him back.
Steve Francis, Vancouver Grizzlies: 25/1
This feud may not be as well know as the others, but it’s up there as one of the worst. Here’s the back story: Francis was drafted second overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1999, despite telling the team not to do so. He didn’t play a single game in Vancouver, and was traded soon after to Houston. While the Grizzlies in Vancouver are now the Grizzlies in Memphis, fans north of the border haven’t forgotten. It was another example of athletes not wanting to go to Canada to play ball.
Charles Oakley, NY Knicks: 75/1
As it stands right now, it looks like Oakley won’t be reconciling with the Knicks anytime soon. The strange thing, though, is that the fans are still on his side. It’s just the owner who feels betrayed. Since the whole charade between Oakley and James Dolan has been plastered all over newspapers and online, I won’t go into detail, only to say things that were already bad got a lot worse. Both feel the other is at fault, so unless Dolan apologizes or sells the team, don’t expect Oakley to wear a Knicks jersey again anytime soon.
Photo credit: By Keith Allison (Flickr: Kevin Durant) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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