Each time LeBron James hits free agency it feels like a seismic shift in the sports landscape. That’s kind of how it goes when the world is waiting to see where the game’s greatest player will end up, but it’s hardly a new phenomenon among stars of the four major North American sports leagues.
LeBron joining the Lakers isn’t even close to the first time the NBA’s best player made a move to Los Angeles
But now that he’s firmly planted on the West Coast, James has joined an even more exclusive list of top athletes to play for three or more teams. There may even be an argument for LeBron as the best player, respective to his sport, on the list — though that may depend on your favorite league.
First it was Cleveland, then Miami, then Cleveland and now Los Angeles. There’s no denying in LA he will still be one of many stars, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once you’ve conquered the league over and over again, it helps to have a new list of greats to ascend.
The four-time NBA champion has quite the collection of jerseys at home having played for Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston. There’s also no denying he was one of the main attractions every where he went. Still, it’s hard not to wonder what his career would’ve looked like if he and Penny Hardaway had made it work with the Magic.
Well before Shaq was the league’s prized big man, the NBA belonged to Wilt Chamberlain. And before games were shown across the country, The Big Dipper made sure to show both coasts what basketball was supposed to look like. Wilt started his career with the Harlem Globetrotters after leaving the University of Kansas and wound up a two-time NBA champion and four-time league MVP with stints in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Think LeBron going to Los Angeles is big? You have no clue just how bonkers the idea of trading Wayne Gretzky was back when he landed in LA in 1988. Famously, there were calls by some in Canadian Parliament to use the government to block the move. The Kings never did win the Stanley Cup with The Great One on their side and they eventually traded him to St. Louis before he finished his NHL career as a New York Ranger.
Gretzky’s longtime teammate had a similarly wild career. Messier stayed with the Oilers for three years after Gretzky left and watched the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty fall apart up close. He finally went to the New York Rangers where he made The Guarantee in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals and went on to capture the Rangers first Stanley Cup since 1940. He tried and failed to bring the same luck to Vancouver as a free agent in 1997 and ultimately returned for one last stint in New York three years later.
A prodigy in Seattle and a superstar in Texas, A-Rod would end up playing Robin to Derek Jeter’s Batman in New York. It still worked out pretty well for him. Rodriguez ended his career with a World Series title in 2009 to go along with his 14 all-star appearance and numerous batting titles. Sometimes being a sidekick isn’t the worst gig.
He’ll kill a bird, then steal your heart. The Big Unit was an absolute force no matter where he pitched — and there were plenty of stops. Montreal, Seattle, Houston, Arizona, New York and San Francisco all got the Randy Johnson Experience. The five-time Cy Young winner was clearly comfortable in every MLB jersey he wore.
Ken Griffey Jr
It’s easy to forget the one season Griffey spent with the Chicago White Sox, but it’s right there in the history books between his eight years in Cincinnati and his two stops in Seattle. We promise to never bring this up again.
For four decades Rickey Henderson made 90 feet of dirt look like a child’s sandbox en route to becoming the best base-stealer in the history of the sport. Along the way the Hall of Famer played for ten separate clubs, including three turns in Oakland. You can’t argue with the results, though. Some guys live for the journey.
Like Griffey, it might be hard to imagine Pete Rose in anything other than a Reds uniform, but Phillies and Expos fans won’t forget when the hit king donned their colors. Focus only on his time in Cincinnati, however, and you’re still left with a cool 3,358 hits.
He wowed us with his arm in Boston, Toronto, New York and Houston, then introduced the world to the word “misremembered”. Clemens was hurler if there ever was one — and, yes, this includes bats. The two-time World Series champion and seven-time Cy Young winner seemingly always put on a show. It just wasn’t always what you expected.
Name a more iconic mullet, we’ll wait. At 46-years-old, Jagr is still playing professionally in his native Czech Republic, but until he hangs up his skates for good you never know if you’ll see him back in the NHL. He played for nine different teams in the league and ranks second all-time in points with 1914. We are now required by NHL law to point out that that’s still 943 points fewer than Gretzky, who played in 224 less games.
The greatest NFL receiver of all time made the west coast his own personal playground. After winning three Super Bowls with the 49ers, Rice went across the bay to Oakland before spending one season with Seattle. We won’t count his attempt at playing in Denver in 2004 before officially retiring as his fourth team, but we also won’t forget, either.
From Minnesota to Oakland to New England, it was never dull when Randy Moss was lining up. If he wasn’t the best player on every field he walked onto, he was certainly going to make you prove it. He never won a Super Bowl — and can thank David Tyree for that — but it’ll take an absurd effort to top his NFL-best 23 touchdowns in a season.
Look, we’d like to forget about Favre’s time with the Jets and Vikings, too, but he brought this on himself. If No. 4 would’ve stayed retired the first time around we’d never have to envision him in purple ever again.
The king of not quitting. Gordie Howe played professionally from 1946 until his final retirement in 1998. He eventually wound up playing on the same line as his sons Marty and Mark with the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association. Keep that in mind as Bronny James is only five years away from a potential NBA career.
– – – – – –
Blake Schuster is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Schustee
More from Yahoo Sports:
• LeBron agrees to join the Lakers on 4-yr, $154M deal
• Celtics draft pick misses flight, continues to make terrible first impression
• NBA Twitter reacted accordingly to LeBron joining the Lakers
• Russia fined after fans display Neo-Nazi banner at World Cup