The greatest athletes can’t always walk away. These players all retired and came back again.
Christopher Hunt and Matthew Jussim 1 / 14
Michael Jordan, NBA
MJ retired three times. First, he called it quits after the Chicago Bulls pulled off their first three-peat. Jordan was being investigated for having gambling issues, and dealing with the murder of his father. Jordan spent 1994 playing baseball for the Birmingham Barons, a Chicago White Sox class A minor league affiliate. When “His Airness” famously announced to the basketball world, “I’m back,” the Bulls claimed three more NBA titles before Jordan retired again in 1999. He returned again to play two years for the Washington Wizards and left for the last time after the 2002-03 season at age 40.
Michael Phelps, Swimming
The American swimmer dominated his third straight Olympics in 2012 when he announced his retirement from competition. At the time, “The Baltimore Bullet” was already the winningest Olympian in history with 18 gold medals and 22 overall—but apparently that wasn’t enough. Two years later, Phelps decided to make a comeback and announced that he would compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The run for Phelps in Brazil played out like a dream scenario: He won five gold medals—giving him 23 for his career—one silver medal, and was voted as a captain of the 2016 US Olympic team.
Mario Lemieux, NHL
Super Mario retired from the Pittsburgh Penguins after the 1997 NHL playoffs and later became the first player in the modern era to buy the team he once played for. Lemieux returned to the ice in 2000 after 44 months. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics. After hip and back injuries, coupled with recurring signs of an irregular heartbeat and a canceled 2005 season, Lemieux retired for the last time in 2006.
Roger Clemens, MLB
The Rocket first retired in 2003 after six Cy Young Awards and one World Series championship with the 1999 New York Yankees. He came back in 2004 with his hometown team, the Houston Astros, winning a seventh Cy Young along the way. He returned again in 2007 after another stint with the Yanks and retired again at the end of that season. He last pitched a game, at 50 years old, in 2012 for the Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters.
Floyd Mayweather, Boxing
Floyd may be the master of the fake retirement. He retired in 2006, but then returned to for a mega-fight against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007 that broke the then-record for most pay-per-view purchases. He retired again in 2008 before making a 2009 comeback and continued to fight through 2015, winning a much-anticipated fight against longtime rival Manny Pacquiao. “Money” Mayweather fought against Andre Berto in his "final" fight in September 2015 and retired with a 49-0 record. There have been rumors throughout 2016 hinting at a comeback for Mayweather—trademarks were made referring to his potential 50th win.
Brett Favre, NFL
It’s not clear how many times Favre almost retired. Estimates say about a billion. The Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer won a Super Bowl and claimed he was retiring in 2006, 2008, and 2009 before finally hanging it up in 2011 after playing one season for the Minnesota Vikings. Favre might be as famous for his indecisiveness as he is for this toughness and incredible arm.
Randall Cunningham, NFL
Before Michael Vick and RGIII there was Randall Cunningham, the first revolutionary dual-threat quarterback. Cunningham played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1985 to 1995, becoming his own human highlight reel. He fell out of favor with coaches in Philly and retired after sitting out most of the ’95 season. He staged his comeback in 1997 playing for the Vikings, Cowboys, and Batimore Ravens, highlighted by a 15-1 record with the Vikings in 1998.
Magic Johnson, NBA
As great as Magic was, there still remains an aura of “what if” to his story. Ervin Johnson, the orchestrator of the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers retired in 1991 after announcing he had contracted HIV. He returned for the 1992 All-Star Game and won a gold medal on the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics. He returned to play for the Lakers in 1996, playing just 32 games and averaging nearly 15 points and 7 assists. He retired as the NBA’s all-time leader in assists per game at 11.2.
Manny Pacquiao, Boxing
After taking on Timothy Bradley in a welterweight fight, which he won on unanimous decision in April 2016, Pacquiao announced his retirement from boxing. Pacquiao later ran for a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives as a senator and won, but not even that could keep him from stepping back into the ring. Just two months after the fight against Bradley, rumors started swirling about a potential return. Then, in August 2016 it became official: Pacquiao would take on Jessie Vargas on Nov. 5 in Las Vegas, ending the short-lived retirement.
Andy Pettitte, Yankees, MLB
After finishing the 2010 season with a very strong 11–3 record and a 3.28 ERA for the New York Yankees, Pettitte announced his retirement from baseball. The lefty pitcher sat out all of 2011, but the itch to get back on the mound remained—Pettitte signed a signed a minor league contract with the Yanks in March 2012 after serving as a spring training consultant. Pettitte made his first start for the team in May and started 12 games posting a 5-4 record with a 2.87 ERA. The five-time World Series champion pitched the following season and made his final major league start against the Houston Astros—the only other team he pitched for in his career—before retiring again for good.
George Foreman, Boxing
After a long and successful career that included the world heavyweight title and a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics, Foreman retired and decided to focus on religion—eventually becoming an ordained minister. A decade later though, Foreman decided on a comeback at 38 years old and later fought against Undisputed Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield, losing on an unanimous decision, amazingly lasting all 12 rounds despite his age. Foreman continued to box for a number of years, eventually becoming the oldest heavyweight champion in history after his victory against Michael Moorer.
Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy, Soccer
The longtime star of the U.S. national soccer team hung up his cleats at the end of the the 2014 Major League Soccer season after leading the Los Angeles Galaxy to an MLS Cup championship. Then 32, Donovan had won his sixth title and was the most decorated soccer player in U.S. history, which he parlayed into opportunities on television as an analyst and commentator. But just two years later, Donovan was back: The Galaxy, facing a rash of injuries, signed Donovan out of retirement to help the team down the stretch of the 2016 season.
Randy Couture, UFC
“The Natural” announced his retirement after being knocked out by Chuck Liddell in the third bout between the two fighters at UFC 57 in February 2006. Couture returned to the Octagon just over a year later, coming out of retirement to face Tim Sylvia for the UFC Heavyweight title. Couture won the bout with a unanimous decision, becoming the first fighter to win a UFC championship fight. “Captain America” continued to fight until 2011, losing against Lyoto Machida in his final UFC event.
Deion Sanders, NFL
Sanders retired after playing with the Washington Redskins during the 2001 season following a successful two-sport career in the NFL and MLB. Sanders won championships with the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, making it to eight Pro Bowls before moving into a cushy broadcasting career. But “Showtime” couldn't resist the call of the gridiron, and the Baltimore Ravens convinced the high-stepping cornerback to return to the NFL. Over two seasons with the team, Sanders added five interceptions to his Pro Football of Fame resume.