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Ten memorable athlete "unretirements"

March 19, 2015

Michael Jordan John Ruthroff/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Jordan

Retired: 1993, 1998, 2003

On March 18, 1995 -- 20 years ago! -- Michael Jordan and the Bulls announced that he would rejoin the team and play in the following day's nationally televised game against the Pacers.

Jordan went 7-for-28 from the field, scoring 19 points, dishing out six assists and grabbing six rebounds. He would go on to lead Chicago to three additional championships (1996-98) as well as an NBA-record 72 regular-season wins in the 1995-96 season.

Here are other notable athletes who called it quits only to come back to give their sport another go:

Lance ArmstrongPatrickKovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong

Retired: 2005, 2011

Armstrong retired in 2005 after a record seventh consecutive Tour de France victory, though it would eventually be stripped because of his steroid scandal. On Sept. 9, 2008 he announced he would return, but would never finish first again (he finished third and 23rd in the 2009 and 2010 Tour de France races). Armstrong left the cycling world again in 2011 while facing a federal investigation into doping allegations.

ClemensDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

Roger Clemens

Retired: 2003, 2006, 2007

"The Rocket" retired from the big leagues a few times. He first retired in 2003 after six Cy Young Awards and one World Series win with the New York Yankees. Clemens came back in 2004 to play for the Houston Astros and captured his seventh Cy Young. In 2006, he retired again before returning again for another stint with the Yankees. Clemens would finally hang up the cleats for good in 2007, at the age of 45.

Brett FavreJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBrett Favre more than earned his spot in the Packers' ring of honor.

Brett Favre

Retired: 2008, 2009, 2011

It probably isn't easy for any player to give up playing their respective sport, but it seemed especially hard for Favre. No. 4 formally retired in 2008 only to come back a few months later. But the Green Bay Packers were ready to move on with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, so they traded Favre to the New York Jets that year. He played for one season before retiring again on Feb. 11, 2009. But Favre wasn't done yet. The winningest quarterback in NFL history came out of retirement again a few months later to play for the Minnesota Vikings until finally retiring for good in 2011.

Foreman & MoorerGetty Images

George Foreman

Retired: 1977, 1997

Foreman came back 10 years after his retirement in 1977 at the age of 38. In 1994, nearly two decades after he last held a title, Foreman beat Michael Moorer for the WBA, IBA and lineal heavyweight championships. This made Foreman a rather improbable champion at the age of 45.

Magic JohnsonDavid Madison/Getty Images

Magic Johnson

Retired: 1991, 1996

Johnson's circumstances are unique among the athletes on this list. Before the 1991-1992 NBA season, he found out he tested positive for HIV and announced in a news conference that he would retire immediately. In 2011, Johnson told Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, "If I knew what I know now, I wouldn't have retired," referring to the misconception at that time that he could spread the disease through minor contact. In 1995, at the age of 36, Johnson returned to the Lakers and averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game before retiring permanently after that season.

LemieuxGetty ImagesNeither Father Time nor Hodgkin lymphoma could keep Mario Lemieux off the ice.

Mario Lemieux

Retired: 1997, 2006

Super Mario retired from the Penguins after the 1997 NHL playoffs but returned to the ice in 2000 and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Then, after several health setbacks and the cancellation of the 2005 season, Lemieux retired for good in 2006.

Micheal PhelpsPatrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Phelps

Retired: 2012

After the 2012 Olympics in London, the most decorated athlete in Olympics history took a break from the pool and retired from swimming. The 22-time Olympic medalist came back in 2014 with plenty of time to prepare for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Deion Sanders George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Deion Sanders

Retired: 2001, 2005

Sanders, who lived up to his "Prime Time" nickname during his several successful seasons with the Cowboys, retired in 2001 after a one-year stint with the Washington Redskins. In 2004, Sanders returned to the gridiron after signing a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens. That season, Sanders recorded five interceptions before retiring again.

Ricky WilliamsGregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ricky Williams

Retired: 2004, 2012

Facing a four-game suspension in 2004 for violating the NFL's drug policy, Williams shockingly announced his retirement. He returned in 2005, then left to spend a season in the Canadian Football League in 2006. Williams found his way back into the NFL in 2007 to play for his former team, the Miami Dolphins, until 2010. In 2011, Williams played for the Ravens before officially calling it a career again. Despite bouncing around a few times, Williams tallied 10,009 yards and 74 rushing touchdowns in 11 NFL seasons.

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Kobe Bryant may have passed Michael Jordan on the NBA's all-time scoring list Sunday, but former Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller says that Bryant, now No. 3 on the list, doesn't come close to being the player Jordan was:

The quote came from "The Dan Patrick Show" Tuesday when Miller was asked which player was tougher to guard. Miller did add: "That is not shortchanging Kobe Bryant because he gave me my lunch pail, too."

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Kemba Walker's last-minute shot to lead the Hornets to an overtime win over the Bucks was pretty sweet, but look at how Michael Jordan reacted to it from the sidelines:

Fan, player and owner alike... we all get crazy during game-winning shots in OT! #HornetsComeback

A video posted by Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) on

That's exceptional. We can't think of many better ways to start off a season -- at least for Hornets fans.

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The "next Michael Jordan" debate/discussion will never stop raging. Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, though, thinks the case has been closed for a long time.

Speaking to the crowd at the Seattle Basketball Pro Am, the Emerald City native introduced Kobe Bryant as "this generation's Michael Jordan." Check it out, as captured by davidverts on Instagram:

Bryant certainly has something of a claim, using his prodigious shot-creating ability to win five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. Others, though, believe LeBron James deserves the title, while many surely believe there will never be a "next Michael."

What do you think?

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In the June 26 issue of ESPN The Magazine, the discussion surrounded comebacks. How do the comebacks of some of the biggest names in sports stack up? Let's take a look.

Which comeback was greater, Jordan's first or his second?

8.0 APG

Whatever your metric of choice, it's clear: Early Jordan (1984-93) trumped Middle Jordan (1995-98). Early MJ got to the line more (.385 FT rate vs. .346), was a more efficient scorer and had more steals and blocks. Counter to the notion that he came to trust his teammates as he aged, Early MJ even had more assists (a career-high 8.0/game came in 1988-89) than Middle MJ did. Which is all to say: MJ was slightly worse during his first comeback than the greatest player of all time. -- Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider


Which comeback was greater, Michael Jordan's first or his second?


Discuss (Total votes: 58)


Jordan's second comeback, in 2001, was unprecedented. No perimeter player in NBA history has scored more points at ages 38 and 39 than MJ. (And not for nothing, only Kevin Durant played more minutes this season than the 39-year-old Jordan did in 2002-03.) The Wizards had just 19 wins in 2000-01, before His Airness arrived; they had 37 victories in each of his two seasons. But don't trust us -- trust metrics: The Wiz were three points better per 100 possessions with Jordan creaking and crawling down the floor. -- Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Insider

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