As purists, we’d love to see all players stay with their original professional teams. But as realists, we understand how that’s not always possible. Oftentimes it’s in the best interest for all parties involved if an athlete and that player’s respective team decide part ways. This can turn into an opportunity for an organization to regroup and hopefully become better prepared to make a run at a championship, and it can also help a player make a fresh start in a new city. There’s nothing wrong with that.
When this goes down, sometimes athletes aren’t able to make the best of their new surroundings. However, other times, they rise to the occasion and thrive with their new team. They take their game to new heights and show everyone that they can still compete with the best of them. They use this change in scenery to reinvent themselves and, a lot of times, become better for it. It’s pretty remarkable to see this transformation take place, and it’s one of the things we love most about sports.
With that in mind, here are the seven greatest athletes to find success with a new team.
1. Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman was an integral part of the Bad Boys Pistons of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was a ferocious defender, a dominant rebounder, and more than capable of contributing on the basketball floor. But if you wanted the Worm on your team, you had to be willing to deal with his eccentric personality, as well. A lot of teams couldn’t handle this, but he proved himself to be a valuable addition to the Chicago Bulls.
From the moment Rodman signed with Chicago at the beginning of the 1995-1996 season, he played his part perfectly. He was relentless on both ends of the floor, pestering the opposing team’s top players, and was force on the glass. These Bulls teams will always belong to MJ and Scottie, but make no mistake about it: Rodman was a major reason why they were able to win their second three-peat. Dennis the Menace was more than deserving of his Hall of Fame induction in 2011.
2. Kurt Warner
It’s not as if things weren’t good for Kurt Warner during his six years with the St. Louis Rams. During this span, the former supermarket grocery bagger-turned-quarterback managed to lead one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, win two Most Valuable Player awards, and go to two Super Bowls, winning one of them. As a Ram, Warner would throw for 14,447 yards and 102 touchdowns. And yet, despite all that he did as the leader of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” Warner’s most impressive quarterback play might have been during his latter years as the man under center for the Arizona Cardinals.
In his five years as quarterback for the Cardinals, Warner would throw for 15,843 yards and 100 touchdowns. On top of that, he would be selected to his fourth Pro Bowl career and take Arizona to Super Bowl XLIII. He may not have won that big game, but he proved that even at 37 years old he could still sling the pigskin.
3. Kevin Garnett
One of the best things about the last season of NBA basketball was watching Kevin Garnett has come full circle to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Garnett is now back with the team that drafted him fifth overall in the 1995, a team that he spent the first 12 years of his career with. Their hope is that Garnett will be able to provide veteran leadership to a young and talented core group of players. After all, KG knows what it’s like to be in their position, and he has years of wisdom to instill. He loves Minnesota, and he never wanted to leave the Timberwolves. But that’s what happened in 2007, when a megadeal brought the power forward to Boston.
From the moment Garnett became a member of the Boston Celtics and their “Big Three,” he brought with him an intense ferocity, a focused demeanor, and a commitment to team defense. It was these traits that helped the city of Boston see its Celtics again raise a championship banner, as they reached the pinnacle of the basketball mountain in the 2007-2008 season. Garnett finally got the championship ring he so richly deserved and with it, let the world know that anything is possible.
4. Drew Brees
Although Drew Brees spent the first five seasons in the NFL as a member of the San Diego Chargers and performed liked a franchise quarterback, the moment he tore his labrum in his right shoulder in 2005, there was immediate uncertainty about his future. The Chargers showed doubt that Brees would ever be able to recover from the injury, and the quarterback out of Purdue clearly felt slighted. So in 2006, he decided to sign with a team that showed real confidence in him: the New Orleans Saints. It would end up becoming the best decision he’s ever made in his career.
Not only did Brees make the most remarkable comeback that Dr. James Andrews has ever treated, he came back stronger than ever. He proved that he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Saints have thrived with him under center. Brees has been selected to the Pro Bowl in all but one season as a New Orleans Saint, but what he’ll always be remembered for is leading the team to an unlikely Super Bowl in the 2009 season. That’s pretty special, if you ask us.
5. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal was a forceful presence in the NBA from the day he stepped onto the scene in 1992. In his four seasons as a center for the Orlando Magic, Shaq averaged 27.2 points and 12.5 rebounds a game. But none of that really matters if you can’t bring home a championship. And that didn’t happen for O’Neal until he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his eight seasons with the Lakers, the Diesel would capture one MVP award and three NBA Championships in a row. During each of those finals wins, Shaq would be named Most Valuable Player and, as such, reaffirm his sheer dominance on the court. Even though his run in Hollywood would come to an end because of a feud with superstar Kobe Bryant, it’s safe to say that this period in O’Neal’s career was a monumental success.
6. Peyton Manning
It was a sad day in football when Peyton Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts. Not only had Manning brought a winning culture back to the franchise, but he also experienced incredible individual success in his 14 seasons in Indy. During his time as a Colt, Manning threw for 54,828 yards, 399 touchdowns, and won four NFL Associated Press MVP awards. But in 2012, Peyton Manning found himself on the free agent market and opted to sign with the Denver Broncos. Who would’ve ever guessed that this second and final chapter in his illustrious career would be filled with some of the most remarkable quarterback play of his entire career?
While in Denver, Manning hasn’t been able to capture his second Super Bowl, but he’s since exceeded all possible expectations after returning to the game following four neck surgeries. 2013 was a year for the history books, and perhaps the greatest season of Manning’s life. He threw for a record 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. He also captured his fifth career MVP award. It may have been a new city for the future Hall of Famer, but the results were still the same. Peyton Manning is one of the greats. End of story.
7. LeBron James
It is really nice to see LeBron James back in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform; it’s clear that he’s exactly where he belongs. But that doesn’t mean he was always meant to spend his entire in Cleveland — he couldn’t. James needed to leave in order to learn how to lead. He needed to face a new challenge and he needed to discover how to turn a group of players into a family. Or, more cynically, he needed to see what a competent front office could do. You may have hated “The Decision,” but it was a choice that James had to make at the time. Miami was the right destination for the King.
In his four seasons as a member of the Miami Heat, James went to the NBA Finals four times and took home two titles. He elevated his game to new heights and evolved his skills in a number of different capacities. He became the player, teammate, and leader that we all believed he could be. This was a period of growth for James, and it needed to happen. Now he’s ready to start the next chapter of his career. And this time, he’s prepared to lead the Cavaliers to the promised land, already making it back to the NBA Finals in his first season back home.
All statistics are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.