Lillard could join MJ, LeBron and more with a positive reception from his prior team's fans


Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard will play his first game back in Portland on Wednesday (10 p.m. EST on ESPN).

Lillard spent the first 11 years of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers prior to being traded to the Bucks last September. He’s the franchise leader in points with 19,376 and 3-point field goals made with 2,387. He averaged fewer than 20 points per game in one season with the Trail Blazers.

He thanked the Portland fans in a rap song released after he was traded, but the fans haven’t been able to thank him in person yet. However, it’s likely that Lillard will receive a hero’s welcome.

Here’s a look back at notable happy returns for stars across multiple sports.

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NBA

Michael Jordan, 2002

Game stats: 16 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks

Game result: Washington Wizards win 77-69

Three seasons after his second retirement from the Chicago Bulls, Jordan made his return to the NBA in 2001, signing with the Wizards. His first game back to Chicago included an emotional tribute.

Jordan struggled from the field on 7-of-21 shooting and had nine turnovers in the Wizards’ 77-69 win. He acknowledged the challenges of playing in front of his former home crowd.

In his words: “I had a tough time playing against Chicago. It’s like playing a relative, in a sense. It’s not as intense, you’re not quite as motivated.”


LeBron James, 2018

Game stats: 32 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 block

Game result: Los Angeles Lakers win 109-105

Eight years after a raucous return to Cleveland while playing for the Miami Heat, James had a completely different experience when he faced the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time as a member of the Lakers.

The crowd roared when his name was called last during player introductions, and a tribute video left James emotional. He thanked each side of the arena.

In his words: “I appreciate these fans, just as much as they appreciate me … So that was just my salute to them for them appreciating what I was able to accomplish with my teammates and coaches along those four years.”


Russell Westbrook, 2020

Game stats: 34 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds

Game result: Houston Rockets lose 113-94

Westbrook looked right at home in his first game back at Oklahoma City. He had a game-high 34 points in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder crowd welcomed Westbrook with a tribute video and chanted “MVP” after he was announced. He acknowledged how different it was to be on the opposing side, but thanked the fans for their reception.

In his words: “Some things you can’t put into words. I’ve been here for so long and so many great memories, great people. The absolute best fans in the world because they come with it, and tonight they came with it.”


NFL

Tom Brady, 2021

Game stats: 22-of-43 passing, 269 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions

Game result: Tampa Bay Buccaneers win 19-17

Playing against the New England Patriots for the first time, Brady was welcomed back with cheers before fans booed him during the game. He led the Buccaneers to a tight 19-17 victory, driving the Buccaneers downfield for a 48-yard field goal with 1:57 left to take the lead.

Brady reflected on the emotional night postgame.

In his words: “It’s not that I would predict what would happen. There were a few emotional moments thinking about the people that meant so much in my life. My football journey took me somewhere else.”


Peyton Manning, 2013

Game stats: 29-of-49 passing, 386 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception

Game result: Denver Broncos lose 39-33

One of the most anticipated returns in NFL history, Manning faced the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 7 of the 2013 season.

The Colts played a 90-second tribute video for Manning, who responded by taking off his helmet and waving to the crowd in an emotional moment. Andrew Luck led the Colts to a 39-33 win, giving the Broncos their first loss of the season — and spoiling Manning’s return.

In his words: “Hopefully we’ll have a chance to play these guys again because that would mean we made the playoffs. I think if there is a next time it may be a little bit easier just because it was somewhat of an emotional week and it can be a little bit draining.”


Emmitt Smith, 2003

Game stats: 6 carries, -1 yards

Game result: Arizona Cardinals lose 24-7

The former Dallas Cowboys star returned to Dallas in an uneventful way as a member of the Cardinals. He had six carries for minus-1 yards and left the game with an injury in the second quarter. At the time, it was the only game of his career that he finished with negative rushing yards.

Fans cheered for Smith the second he stepped on the field.

In his words: “First time I went into Texas Stadium in a bus. On a visiting bus. Got off the bus, walked into the visitors locker room, saw my Cardinals uniform. And I looked around. I felt out of place … I said this out loud: ‘I’m not supposed to be here. This is not my room.’ I broke down in tears and cried for 45 minutes before we played that game.”


MLB

Mookie Betts, 2023

Game stats: 1-for-4, 2 runs, 1 walk

Game result: Los Angeles Dodgers win 7-4

In his first game back to face the Boston Red Sox since being traded to the Dodgers, Betts received a standing ovation before his first at-bat.

He offered his appreciation after the game.

In his words: “I don’t really remember what I was feeling. I know I was kind of shaking a little bit. But I’m just thankful. Thankful I got the ovation. … Thankful we won.”


Nomar Garciaparra, 2009

Game stats: 2-for-4, 1 RBI

Game result: Oakland Athletics win 6-0

An emotional return to Fenway Park came five years after the Red Sox traded Garciaparra in 2004, the same year they went on to win the World Series.

Garciaparra, who spent 8½ seasons in Boston, was welcomed with a standing ovation before his first at-bat. He tipped his helmet and tapped his chest in response.

In his words: “You don’t know how things are going to play out. There’s no script for that one. I think what you saw out there was just pure emotion, from the fans, from myself.”


Freddie Freeman, 2022

Game stats: 1-for-3, 2 runs, 2 walks

Game result: Dodgers win 4-1

There may not have been a more emotional return than when Freeman faced the Braves for the first time on the road. He spent 12 years with the Atlanta Braves, winning an MVP in 2020 then a World Series in his final season with the team.

Freeman walked in the first and fifth inning, scoring both times while on base. He received two standing ovations — one before the game and his first at-bat — plus his 2021 World Series ring. He also teared up during a pregame news conference, but had positive thoughts after the game.

In his words: “I’m exhausted, emotionally exhausted, but what a wonderful evening for my family.”


NHL

Matthew Tkachuk, 2022

Game stats: 0 points, 2 penalty minutes, 21:50 ice time

Game result: Florida Panthers lose 6-2

After playing six seasons with the Calgary Flames, Matthew Tkachuk decided that he wouldn’t be signing a contract extension with them during the summer of 2022, and was traded to the Panthers.

A fan favorite during his time with the Flames (and for the way he let the club get something in return for him via trade), Tkachuk was the subject of a tribute video and standing ovation when he made his first trip back to the Saddledome wearing a different sweater, though he did endure some boos too.

In his words: “Just passionate fans here. It’s obviously nice to see that video. A couple seconds of showing what my time was like here on and off the ice, it was nice to see.”


Marc-Andre Fleury, 2018

Game stats: 33 saves on 38 shots

Game result: Vegas Golden Knights lose 5-4

The expansion draft for the Golden Knights allowed them to build the foundation for a team that made the Stanley Cup Final in its first season (and would win the Cup in 2023). One of the key components — and in fact, the early face of the franchise — was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

But before he was a Golden Knight, the future Hockey Hall of Famer had already authored a legendary career in 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. His first game back in Pittsburgh brought on the emotions, but it was the home team who won that night.

In his words: “I didn’t know what to expect. In the warmup, I had goose bumps. It’s a night I won’t forget.”


Jarome Iginla, 2013

Game stats: 0 points, 4 shots on goal, 21:36 ice time

Game result: Boston Bruins win 2-1

Perhaps no player is more synonymous with Calgary Flames hockey as the 20th century flipped to the 21st than Jarome Iginla. The Hockey Hall of Famer played 16 seasons for the franchise, prior to skating for the Penguins, Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings to close out his career.

On Dec. 10, 2013, Iggy returned as a member of the Bruins and was honored with an extensive pregame celebration.

The visiting Bruins won, and Iginla was named the third star, resulting in another standing ovation from the Calgary faithful.

In his own words: “It was definitely emotional. It was a cool feeling. It felt special, the ovation there at the start, and then you kind of feel funny standing out there.”


WNBA

Candace Parker, 2022

Game stats:10 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal

Game result: Chicago Sky win 82-59

After spending her entire 13-year WNBA career with the Los Angeles Sparks, Parker went home, signing with the Sky.

She made history in her first game against the Sparks in Los Angeles, recording a WNBA record third career triple-double. She received a loud cheer during the introductions.

In her words: “This is home. This is where my family lives. This is where I love coming back to. It’s definitely bittersweet to be back because it is a part of our past.”


Breanna Stewart, 2023

Game stats: 25 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 2 blocks

Game result: New York Liberty win 86-78

Stewart won two WNBA titles in six seasons with the Seattle Storm before she left the franchise for the Liberty in 2023. She had a strong return to Seattle, leading New York to the win.

Fans shared their appreciation throughout the game. Stewart acknowledged that the “emotional roller coaster of a day” had an impact on her play.

In her words: “I was trying to play through it, but I was telling [coach] Sandy [Brondello] in the first half, I was just floating. I don’t think I was really doing anything except just like — not sure what I was doing.”



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