Unless you rely on Milwaukee Record as your only source of sports-related news (which you shouldn’t do), you’ve surely learned of LeBron James’ somewhat surprising decision to opt out of his contract with the reigning Eastern Conference champion Heat in the lovely and income-tax-free locale of Miami in favor of returning to his native Ohio to re-join a rebuilding Cavaliers team in the national punchline of Cleveland. Scorned Heat fans—some of whom have avidly followed the team since summer of 2010!—burned their number 6 jerseys in disgust. Cleveland fans collectively wished they could un-burn their garments with the number 23 as they hastily deleted hateful tweets directed at the betrayer-turned-resurrected savior. No matter what team people liked, the swift patching of a bridge that was torched to embers four years ago made even the worst free agent exit seem patchable.
While King James reclaiming his throne in “The Mistake By The Lake” is an especially intriguing and high-profile case of a player returning to his former team after spending time elsewhere, the practice isn’t all too uncommon in the world of professional sports. Even when it comes to Wisconsin-based sports franchises, the door in and out of state lines appears to be of the revolving variety. Though Gary Sheffield can continue to go fuck himself until the end of time, some tales of second passes through Wisconsin are uplifting. Other instances are rooted in desperation, convenience, or loyalty at the cost of winning. There are dozens of instances of “LeBron-ing” in Wisconsin sports, but here are 14 (or so) that stick out to us.
1. Forrest Gregg – Packers, 1956-71 (player) and 1984-87 (coach)
Hall Of Fame lineman Forrest Gregg fucked up what could have been a storied playing career spent entirely in a green and gold uniform by ditching the Packers to help hated rival Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl in the 1972 season (his final season). The next season, Gregg parlayed his on-field success to the world of coaching, and he quickly ascended to the position of head coach by 1975. After stints with the Browns, Toronto Argonauts (CFL), and Bengals, Gregg returned to Titletown and somewhat smeared his good name in Green Bay with a 25-37-1 record in four seasons at the helm.
2. Ned Yost – Brewers, 1980-83 (player) and 2003-08 (manager)
In a somewhat similar situation to Gregg, a player from Milwaukee’s glory years was called upon to try and return his team to the promise land by being given a leadership position he probably wasn’t qualified to have. As Milwaukee manager, Yost went 457-502 and is perhaps remembered most for his boneheaded decisions and his fiery post game interviews when he was asked to explain his boneheaded decisions. With a dozen games left in his sixth season managing the Crew, he was fired and replaced by Dale Sveum, another former Brewers player who returned to town. Yost cashed in on his last remaining year under contract in 2009, then cut into his hunting time when he accepted the Kansas City Royals manager position (which he still holds) in 2010
3. Mike Dunleavy – Bucks, 1982-85 and 1988-90 (player) and 1992-96 (coach)
Dunleavy finished his playing career in Milwaukee. Then he un-retired in 1988 and re-finished it in Milwaukee in 1990. He quickly got into coaching, and after two seasons with the Lakers, he came to Milwaukee once again, where he went 107-221 in four abysmal seasons. In 2011, his son Mike Dunleavy Jr. signed to play in the city where he spent much of his youth.
4. Jeff Cirillo – Brewers, 1994-99 and 2005-06
Jeff Cirillo was one of many instances in the 1990s of the Brewers trading the team’s fan-favorite default All-Star for salary relief. Yet where ’Rillo differs from John Jaha, Greg Vaughn, Mark Loretta, Ricky Bones, Mike Fetters, and Kevin Seitzer is simple: He came back. When his perennially dipping batting average and swelling contract saw him released by the Padres and forced to seek his lost talent in Mexican baseball (like a precursor to Kenny Fucking Powers), the beloved Brewer returned to his first big league city in search of a job. In 2005, Cirillo signed a deal for about a twentieth of his previous year’s salary. In 2005 and 2006, he played 189 games. In his final year in Milwaukee, he hit .319, which helped make him the franchise leader in career batting average.
5. Antonio Freeman – Packers, 1995-2001 and 2003
Packers fans would be hard-pressed to name a better possession receiver in semi-recent Green Bay history than Antonio Freeman. The fearless wideout never hesitated to risk life and limb (and fingers) going over the middle to catch a Brett Favre bullet. He was a huge part of the Pack both reaching and winning Super Bowl XXXI. The Pro Bowler’s three-1,000-yard campaigns and highlight reel of receptions that ranged from great to unbelievable made him a commodity on the free agent market. After a 46-catch, one-start year with Philadelphia, the temporary Eagle flew home to provide depth to a stacked corps of receivers. Free had just 14 receptions and 141 yards in his second stint with Green Bay, but after that Monday Night Football catch, nobody can say shit about him.
6. Doug Pederson – Packers, 1996-1998 and 2001-04
Turns out a quarterback can’t learn to play like Favre by osmosis. After serving as second string QB during the Pack’s mid-to-late ’90s dynasty, Doug Pederson was handpicked by first-year Philadelphia Eagles coach (and longtime Packers assistant) Andy Reid to start while rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb was groomed. The Eagles went 2-7 in games started by Pederson (who had a shit-tastic 62.9 QB rating). He fared even worse in Cleveland, going 1-7 with a 56.6 rating and only two touchdowns whilst under center. Realizing this whole “starting quarterback” thing didn’t quite suit him, he returned to his rightful place next to the durable Favre on the bench in his final four seasons. Pederson began a tradition that Craig Nall and Matt Flynn would carry on.
7. Ahman Green – Packers, 2000-06 and 2009
Say what you want about Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, but Ahman Green is statistically the best running back in Packers franchise history. Following six 1,000-yard seasons in seven years (missing 11 games to injury in 2005 cost him the seventh milestone), Green joined ex-Packers coach Mike Sherman in Houston. He hit the wall with the Texans, compiling 554 rushing yards in 14 games spread over two injury-shortened seasons. In 2009, he was back with the Pack to serve as third string halfback and occasional kick returner. Though he had only 141 rushing yards in his second pass through Green Bay, that was enough to help him pass Taylor to claim the franchise’s all-time rushing lead.
8. Danny Kolb – Brewers, 2003-04 and 2006
Closer Danny Kolb was a huge return on next to no investment by the Brewers. After four bad years (and just one save) with the Rangers, the Midwest native tallied 60 saves with Milwaukee in two seasons. He was traded to Atlanta before the ’05 season and quickly lost the closer job there. Milwaukee traded back for him the following year, where he slowly reverted to the sub-par player he was before 2003.
9. Desmond Mason – Bucks, 2003-05 and 2007-08
Along with a flurry of colorful expletives, the general Milwaukee Bucks fan refers to the misguided 2003 trade that sent Ray Allen to the Seattle SuperSonics as “the Gary Payton deal.” But from an emotional sense, it could just as easily be called “the beginning of the Desmond Mason-Milwaukee love affair.” Despite playing for some pitiful Bucks teams, Mason made no secret of his Milwaukee love. In fact, when we was traded to New Orleans in 2005, he called then-Bucks GM Larry Harris a “snake in the grass.” He put his money where his mouth was when he reached free agency by re-signing a two-year deal with Milwaukee—who then traded Mason to Oklahoma City a year into the contract. Coincidentally, the Bucks got Luke Ridnour in that trade. Ridnour, too, left Milwaukee and returned last season.
10. Doug Davis – Brewers, 2003-06 and 2010
Best known for his god-awful soul patches and working at an infuriatingly slow pace, former Brewers starter Doug Davis spent five seasons of his modest 13-year career in Milwaukee. After year four, he was traded to Arizona for Greg Aquino, fellow Wisconsin LeBron-er Claudio Vargas, and Johnny Estrada (who is still running out the last ground ball he hit as a Brewer). Milwaukee probably wishes that would’ve ended Davis’ Brew Crew tenure, as he returned in 2010 and made $4.25M while posting a dreadful 7.51 ERA in just eight appearances.
11. Craig Counsell – Brewers, 2004 and 2007-11
On paper, local boy done good Craig Counsell was the crown jewel of the six-player haul the Brewers got in return for slugger Richie Sexson. The longtime Whitefish Bay resident had a career high in hits, two scrap-tastic home runs, and one absolutely fucked up batting stance in 2004. That winter, Counsell returned to Arizona, until he came back home in 2006 to play out the remainder of his career. He’s now a special assistant to Doug Melvin and a fill-in radio broadcaster on Brewers radio.
12. Lyle Overbay – Brewers, 2004-05 and 2014
Lyle Overbay was the actual centerpiece of the Sexson
fleecing trade. The double machine smacked a club record 53 two-baggers in his first Brewers season, and regularly inspired a half-full Miller Park to scream a vowel each time he stepped to the plate in his two-year Brewers role of keeping first base warm for Prince Fielder. He was traded to Toronto, then bounced around the league until he re-signed with Milwaukee to help the Brewers somewhat fill the gaping infield hole that has pretty much existed (excluding most of a season of Corey Hart) since Prince left. We hope you held on to your Overbay bobblehead.
13. Matt Flynn – Packers, 2008-11 and 2013-present
On the weight of two great games, Packers clipboard caddy Matt Flynn signed a lucrative three-year deal—$26M plus $6M signing bonus—with the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. We all know what happened next. Russell Wilson beat Flynn out for the starting job, Flynn was traded to Oakland last season, then beat out by Terrell Pryor, released, signed by the Buffalo Bills, then released again. In all, he started one game (a loss) and made $14.5M of that huge payday in the process. The injury-ravaged Packers took in Flynn last season. Here, he found his old form and led the Packers to a 2-2-1 record in Rodgers absence. He quickly inked a deal with Green Bay this spring that will pay him just over $1M.
14. Francisco Rodriguez – Brewers, 2011-13 and 2014
Though there isn’t a full-season gap in K-Rod’s Brewers résumé, many fans certainly remember the quiet transaction last July in which an underperforming Milwaukee sent its longtime setup man to the contending Baltimore Orioles for promising third base prospect Nick Delmonico. Instead of a dominant fringe Hall Of Fame closer, the O’s got little relief the 23 times K-Rod was sent to the mound. He posted a career worst 4.50 ERA for a Baltimore team that ultimately missed the playoffs. This winter, he re-signed with Milwaukee, where he assumed closer duties. His 27 saves this season are good for third most in the Majors, and a spot on the National League All-Star team.