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The NBA’s 10 Best Homecoming Games

Sergio Estrada / USA TODAY Sports

DeMarcus Cousins dominated in his return to Sacramento. But how does it stack up to the other great homecoming games in recent NBA history?

Last Thursday, DeMarcus Cousins made his long-awaited return to Sacramento for the first time since he was traded to the Pelicans in February. It was the NBA’s first real “homecoming” game of the year. You know the type: daps with former teammates, pre-game montage, strong crowd engagement, etc. Homecoming games always make for good theater and draw heavy media attention. And after Boogie Cousins decimated the Kings, I took a look at where it ranked among other great homecoming performances in recent memory.

The following “homecoming games,” will be graded under the following criteria:

  1. The player must be significant…enough. Being the former face of the franchise is a good way to think of it, unless said player is among the top faces (think OKC or Miami’s big three) but still played a big role on the team that’s usually a championship contender. Sorry, Joffrey Lauvergne.

  2. There needs to be a compelling narrative. A free agent signing is usually the most compelling because the player leaves under their own merit. A trade still makes for a good narrative, especially if the player asked to be traded (hello, Kyrie), or if the player is balling out as a means of showing up the front office.

  3. A player getting booed is always a nice touch. Fans who aren’t welcoming makes for way better theater than fans who are.

  4. The player plays a significant role in the result of the game. Putting up 30, providing a dagger, or even a scuffle with former teammates is recipe for success.

  5. The game is competitive. Possibly the least important, but a little drama always spices things up.

10. James Harden returns to Oklahoma City - November 28, 2012

This game wasn’t good by any means, and Harden’s three-for-16 shooting performance might have got OKC fans thinking they were better off with Kevin Martin (hahahahaha). The only reason this game made the list is because it gave us a chance to laugh at Harden for getting his [expletive] stuffed by two former teammates.

Harden avenged that performance by dropping a then career-high 46 in the next match-up to remind the Thunder that they made one of the worst deals in NBA history.

9. Ray Allen returns to Boston - January 27, 2013

The original cupcake move! Ray Allen left for Miami just months after they beat Boston in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Despite a tribute video and standing ovation, fans mostly booed Allen, who dropped 21 points. Boston ended up winning this one in double OT, but it wasn’t without some solid drama, which included a clutch Allen trey.

Of course, the more interesting stuff came five years later when Rajon Rondo decided not to invite Ray Allen to the 2008 Celtics reunion. Stay petty, NBA.

8. Dwight Howard returns to Orlando - March 12, 2013

It seems a bit hard to believe, but Dwight Howard once led a team to the NBA Finals. Before the era of shooting and spacing sabotaged his career, he was the lovable face of the Magic. That team went all the way to the Finals in ‘09 before losing to Kobe and the Lakers. A few years later this happened:

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Image via SI

Long story short: it wasn’t fun. The Lakers wheezed into the playoffs that year and then had to rebuild shortly thereafter. Nash and Kobe injured themselves into retirement, and Dwight’s likability was cut in half each time he switched teams (He’s in Charlotte now, btw). The post-Dwight Magic haven’t fared too well themselves.

Oh, the game? Fans got their boos in, but likely left mid-way because Dwight went to the free throw line 39 (!!!) times. He made 25 of them and finished with the lamest 39-15 of all time.

7. Kyrie Irving returns to Cleveland - October 17, 2017

Opening night of the 2017-18 season was jam-packed with narratives after one of the craziest trades in NBA history. The King’s right hand man — the man responsible for hitting a shot that helped Cleveland end a 52-year championship drought — was now a member of the Celtics. And the two teams were matched up in Cleveland on opening night. The NBA hype was at its peak.

Then Gordon Hayward straight snapped his ankle and made it all seem meaningless.
So when your prized free agent acquisition goes down with a gruesome injury, it does take away from your homecoming game. However, the NBA never fails to excite, and the Kyrie-led Celtics made a game out of it. Had this gone in, you’d definitely have to consider this among the all-timers.

Kyrie finished with 22 points and 10 assists in the loss. He’ll have two more times this season to exact his revenge.

6. Allen Iverson returns to Philadelphia - March 19, 2008

Not all homecoming games have to have bad blood. But let’s be honest, it’s better when they do. Here the fans cheered Iverson, he kissed the Sixers logo, he dropped 32, the Sixers ended up winning a great game…It all felt too nice.

Who knew Philly fans had such warm hearts?

5. Vince Carter returns to Toronto - April 15, 2005

Vince Carter was the first star of the Raptors’ franchise. He was largely responsible for bringing legitimate popularity to the team. So fans were a little irked when he asked to be traded less than halfway into his six-year, $94 million contract. The Carter-Raptors relationship, while one of the greatest spectacles in the early 00’s, did not end on good terms.

Not to be confused with this game from 2006, Vince’s return to Toronto was in the midst of a playoff chase where the Nets needed a win. They got it; the Raptors choked away a lead in typical Raptors fashion, and had their hearts broken by Vince who dropped 39 points on 25 shots.

4. DeMarcus Cousins returns to Sacramento - October 26, 2017

This game loses some points because of how well-received Boogie was. And why wouldn’t he? He did everything for the Kings for six-and-a-half years…Except for one thing.

Anyways, I’d rather have Boogie + no playoffs than no Boogie. After all, he’s a 6’11”, 270-pounder who plays LIKE A POINT GUARD.

The Kings led for double digits for the majority of the game, but made their run in the third and put the Kings away late. By the end of the game Boogie was doing absolutely everything.

As far as individual performances go, this might have been the most impressive in a homecoming game. It was just the sixth 40-20 game in the last 10 years, and the third by someone not named Anthony Davis.

3. LeBron James returns to Cleveland - December 2, 2010

When the generation’s greatest player leaves his “hometown” team for South Beach and comes back, there’s bound to be a little drama. This was the most venomous homecoming environment, rivaled only by Durant’s OKC return. In fact, as a precaution the QuickenLoans Arena only sold beverages in paper cups that night. LeBron was booed almost the entire game. The signs were as poisonous as they were hilarious.


Once fans saw the Heat lead grow to 30 in the third quarter, they started chanting “Scottie Pippen,” suggesting that LeBron was Pippen to Wade’s MJ. This all seems rather hilarious in 2017. LeBron torched the Cavs to a point where booing seemed pathetic. Ultimately the Cavs were too trash to make it compelling through and through. For God’s sake, the best defender they threw at LeBron was Jamario Moon.

LeBron dropped 38 points on 15/25 shooting in just three quarters. The Heat won by 28.

2. Shaquille O’Neal returns to the Lakers - Christmas Day 2005

Three rings between Kobe and Shaq didn’t stop them from having a messy breakup. This was truly the KD-Westbrook beef of its day.

Shaq’s return to Los Angeles had all the fixins. Christmas. Shaq v. Kobe. Close game that went to overtime. The beef culminated in Kobe drawing Shaq’s sixth foul with two minutes left in the fourth. Kobe finished with 42, but his teammates (consisting of Chris Mihm, Chucky Atkins, and Luke Walton) couldn’t pull it together. The Heat won by two behind Shaq’s 24 and 11.

1. Kevin Durant returns to Oklahoma City - February 11, 2017

The thing that made LeBron’s return to Cleveland super sad was that it left Cleveland’s roster completely decimated. Oklahoma City was only partially decimated, but they still had a legitimate superstar whose pettiness was very real.Image title

Image: GQ

Durant got off to a bit of a cold start, but settled in at the end of the second quarter as the Warriors grew their lead. What makes this performance greater than LeBron’s was the skirmish with Andre Roberson, which provided this magical moment.

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Image: ABC

And the Thunder sorta, kinda hung around just long enough for KD to hit this:

Luckily we live in a time where we will get more and more homecoming games because more and more players are jumping ship to chase the Warriors. There’s quite a few games where the team has entered a rebuilding phase since the star left. (Paul Millsap’s return happened last week, but it was far too warm and fuzzy for top-10 worthiness). The others include: Paul George back in Indiana on Dec. 13, Carmelo Anthony back in New York on Dec. 16, and Jimmy Butler back in Chicago on Feb. 9.

Most don’t expect Gordon Hayward to come back before the playoffs, but there is a Boston at Utah game slated for Mar. 28 in the event he does. Chris Paul’s return to L.A. on Jan. 15 is bound to produce a great game. And it’s a long shot, but the potential for the juiciest 2017-18 game? The Cavs head to Boston on Jan. 3.

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

Boogie's most recent 40-point game was his 11th in his career. Who's the only active big man with more?
Created 11/1/17
  1. Karl Anthony-Towns
  2. Dwight Howard
  3. LaMarcus Aldridge
  4. Anthony Davis

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