Throughout the history of the NBA, a select number of players have spent their entire careers with just one franchise. Among those retired, John Stockton (Utah Jazz) and Reggie Miller (Indiana Pacers) top the list with 19 and 18 seasons, respectively. Among active players, Kobe Bryant is on his 18th season with the LA Lakers, while Tim Duncan is on his 17th with the San Antonio Spurs.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those players who seem to shift teams quite often. Having played for up to three or four teams is still pretty average. But eight or nine different franchises? That’s a whole lot of adjusting to new teammates and residences.
What does playing for so many different NBA teams mean? On one hand, it can reflect how several franchises saw wisdom in having the player as part of their brand. Seen from another perspective, it might also speak of how teams failed to find the player valuable enough to keep for an extended period of time.
In the history of the NBA, nine retired players have played for ten franchises or more. It’s important to note, however, that two players currently active in the NBA are certain to join the group upon their retirement: Drew Gooden (currently on his tenth franchise) and Mike James (currently on his eleventh franchise).
Ranked from least to most teams, here are the nine retired NBA players who played for the most franchises, with career salaries adjusted for inflation serving as the tiebreakers:
9. Earl Boykins / 10 Franchises / Career Salary: $19.8 Million
Earl Boykins is best known for his diminutive size (5 feet, 5 inches), which made him the second shortest player in NBA history. However, he should also be remembered for being among the ten players who played for the highest number of NBA franchises.
The longest that Boykins played for a single team was three-and-a-half seasons with the Denver Nuggets (2003-07), his fifth NBA team. Quite remarkably, on November 11, 2004, Earl scored 32 points in a 177-109 Nuggets home win over the Detroit Piston. His performance in that game made him the shortest player in NBA history to score 30 or more points during a game.
Following the 2007-08 NBA season, after becoming an unrestricted free agent, Boykins played basketball in Europe, where with Virus Bologna of the Italian A League, he signed a one-year, $3.5-million contract. That made Earl the highest-paid basketball player in the Italian League.
8. Damon Jones / 10 Franchises / Career Salary: $26 Million
Damon Jones has never played for the same team for more than one season, except for the Cleveland Cavaliers where he played from 2005 to 2008. In total, Jones played for ten different franchises, and with those teams, he built a solid reputation as a three-point specialist. In fact, during the 2004-05 season, Damon ranked third in the NBA in three-point field goals made (225), fifth in three-point field goal percentage (43.2%), and first in true shooting percentage (62.5%).
So why was it that Jones shifted teams so often? Perhaps his arrogance had something to do with it; Damon regularly referred to himself as “the best shooter in the world” and “the best-dressed player in the NBA.”
7. Mark Bryant / 10 Franchises / Career Salary: $26.2 Million
When 6-foot-9 Mark Bryant started his NBA career with Portland, there was little indication that he would play for ten different franchises. After all, he played seven straight seasons (1988-1995) as a Trail Blazer. But after that, Mark went on to be part of nine different teams in his final eight seasons in the league.
Bryant ended his NBA journey with the Boston Celtics in 2003, his career averages pegged at 5.4 ppg and 3.8 rpg. He currently serves as an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, which ironically is a team Mark never played for.
6. Aaron Williams / 10 Franchises / Career Salary: $31.2 Million
Aaron Williams played the power forward and center positions for ten different franchises in the fifteen years he stayed in the NBA. That all began when, after being left unpicked during the 1993 Rookie Draft, he was eventually signed by the Utah Jazz. However, he only played with the team briefly before heading to Italy to play with Aresium Milan. That would be characteristic of Aaron’s stay in the NBA, as he played in the CBA with the Connecticut Pride (1996, 1997) and in Greece with AO Ampelokipon (1995-96) in between stints with various NBA teams.
It was during the 2000-01 season that Aaron posted his best numbers in the NBA; he played all 82 games while averaging 10.1 ppg and 7.2 rpg. However, that season also saw Williams gaining the dubious distinction of leading the league in total personal fouls committed: 319, for an average of 3.89 fouls per game.
Today, Williams is an assistant basketball coach for his alma mater, Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
5. Kevin Ollie / 11 Franchises / Career Salary: $24.9 Million
When point guard Kevin Ollie was asked to trace his journey in the NBA, he was understandably confused:
Dallas, Orlando, then Sacramento, back to Orlando. New Jersey — no, no, no, no. Think it may have been New Jersey. No, it was Philly. Philly, then New Jersey. Got let go, back to Philly. After Philly was, um, Chicago. Chicago, got traded to Indiana. Milwaukee, got traded to Seattle. Signed a five-year deal in Cleveland. Umm. Traded to Philly. Played the four years there, went to Minnesota, then came here [Oklahoma].
He can’t really be blamed. Eleven franchises in sixteen years is a lot to remember.
Perhaps the number of teams Kevin played for can be attributed to his unremarkable career average of 3.8 ppg. But surprisingly, superstar Kevin Durant believes that Ollie, who was with the Thunder for only 25 games, is responsible for the OKC’s current winning ways.
He [Ollie] changed the whole culture, I think. He might not say it, but I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City. His mindset, his professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that; we all wanted to be like that, and it rubbed off on Russell (Westbrook), myself, Jeff Green, James Harden. And you know, everybody that comes through now, there’s a standard you’ve got to live up to as a Thunder player. And that started with Kevin Ollie.
4. Chucky Brown / 12 Franchises / Career Salary: $6.1 Million
Chucky Brown is one of only four players who played with twelve different franchises in their careers. In Brown’s case, he played for those teams throughout a thirteen-year stay in the NBA. In fact, from the time that he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989 to his retirement with the Sacramento Kings in 2002, Chucky played for fifteen different teams. That’s because he also played with Pallacanestro Firenze in Italy (1992), and the Grand Rapids Hoops (1993-1994) and the Yakima Sun Kings (1994-1995) both from the CBA. In fact, Brown is only the second player in basketball history to earn both a CBA ring and an NBA ring (with the Houston Rockets) in the same season (1994-95).
Ironically, when Chucky is asked about what the key ingredient was that took Houston to the NBA Championship over Orlando in a four-game sweep, he says it was “togetherness.” “Besides Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, everyone else knew their roles and fell in line,” Brown said.
3. Tony Massenburg / 12 Franchises / Career Salary: $17.5 Million
6-foot-9 Tony Massenburg played for three different coaches in College Park, but at that time, he probably didn’t know that he would be playing for many, many other coaches throughout his career. In fact, in between playing for the Spurs, who picked him 43rd overall during the 1990 NBA Draft, and his initial retirement, again with the Spurs in 2005, Tony also played with Pallacanestro Reggiana in Italy (1992) and Unicaja Málaga (1992-93) and Barcelona (1993-94) in Spain. In that time span, Massenburg played for twelve different NBA franchises for which altogether he averaged 6.2 ppg and 4.3 rpg. Quite significantly, he won an NBA championship with San Antonio in his last season in the league.
In 2007, Tony actually tried to make a comeback by playing with the Wizards. Unfortunately, the 40-year-old was waived in the preseason and was unable to play for his thirteenth NBA franchise. Instead, in 2008, Massenburg joined Capitanes de Arecibo in Puerto Rico.
2. Jim Jackson / 12 Franchises / Career Salary: $42.5 Million
Shooting guard Jim Jackson averaged an impressive 14.3 ppg throughout his NBA career, which spanned fifteen long years from 1992 to 2006. He peaked during the 1994-95 season, when he played for the Dallas Mavericks, who drafted Jackson fourth overall during the 1992 NBA Draft. That season, he averaged 5.1 rebounds and 25.7 points, which was good enough for him to finish 5th in scoring throughout the league.
1. Joe Smith / 12 Franchises / Career Salary: $77.8 Million
Joe Smith was the first overall pick of the Golden State Warriors during the 1995 NBA Draft. Smith immediately showed a lot of promise, averaging north of 15.3 ppg and 8.5 rebounds in his two first seasons. However, his production took a hit when he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1998.
Then came Joe’s highly controversial contract with the Timberwolves in ’98. A hot free agent, Smith inexplicably signed with Minnesota for only $1.75 million. During the next two years, Joe played very productively with Kevin Garnett. Unfortunately, after the 1999-2000 season, it was discovered that the contract he had signed involved a salary cap tampering scandal engineered by Timberwolves executive Kevin McHale. It turned out that Smith was promised a future $86 million deal if he signed with the team for below market value, thus allowing Minnesota to make some additional player moves in the short term. That was, of course, highly illegal, and sanctions were immediately put in place, one of them the voiding of Smith’s contract.
From that time onwards, Joe moved around eleven more times across different franchises, including the Timberwolves again from 2001 to 2003. Smith last played during the 2010-11 season, when he joined the Lakers and averaged .5 ppg.