The Youthful Game
It seems like we're always talking about youth. Teams wants to get younger. Players want to get into the league earlier, and athletes want to get paid at a younger age.
As I'm nearing 40, it's also incredibly obvious to me that playing anything in your late 30's, much less professional sports, is a whole lot different than it was in your 20's. One more game at the gym isn't about being competitive anymore; it's about thinking about how much do I want to hurt tomorrow.
My feelings aside, it's pretty incredible how many guys have stepped onto an NBA court in their 40's. I"m sure all of them had their reasons: a championship opportunity perhaps or maybe a legacy that wasn't quite finished. Heck, maybe they knew that this was their opportunity to be a part of the history books.
Regardless of "why," these guys all had incredible careers, marked by their longevity. Let's explore the 10 oldest players ever to appear in an NBA game. This list includes one active player (although he will be retiring at the end of the year).
The Top Ten Oldest Players to Play in the NBA
1. Nat Hickey: 45
Nat Hickey was a basketball/baseball coach and player who was born on January 30, 1902, in Croatia, and passed away on September 16, 1979, in Johnstown, PA. Hickey played college basketball at Saint Joseph's College in Philadelphia and later played professionally in the American Basketball League (ABL) for the Chicago Bruins and the Cleveland Rosenblums (among others).
Hickey is best known for minor league baseball career, where he played 15 seasons and managed two. Yes, you read that correctly. He was actually Stan Musial's first minor league manager in 1938.
In 1947, at the age of 44, Hickey made a brief comeback as a player-coach for the Providence Steamrollers in the Basketball Association of America (BAA). He played in two games on January 27th and 28th, 1948, at the age of 45, becoming the oldest player to ever play in the NBA/BAA at the time. Ironically, with his birthday on January 30th, he could've played as a 46-year-old had he appeared in another game. In those two games, he scored two points, both on free throws.
Hickey was coaching the Johnstown Clippers of the All-American Basketball League in 1951. After a game in West Virginia, Hickey was driving back to Pennsylvania when he lost control of his car. One of his players, George Karmakovich, 24 at the time, was ejected from the car and killed. While Hickey was never charged with anything, the Clippers basketball team was disbanded the following day, and Hickey would never coach again.
2. Kevin Willis: 44
Kevin Willis was born on September 6, 1962, in Los Angeles, California. Willis played college basketball at Michigan State University before being drafted in the first round of the 1984 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks.
Willis played 21 seasons in the NBA, which is tied for the third-most seasons played in league history. He played for several teams throughout his career, including the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, and Dallas Mavericks, among others. He was known for his rebounding and his ability to play both power forward and center positions.
In 2003, at the age of 40, Willis became the oldest player to record a triple-double in NBA history, tallying 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game for the Denver Nuggets. He retired from the NBA in 2007 at the age of 44, having played in 1,424 career games and averaging 12 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
After retiring, Willis worked as a motivational speaker and also founded Willis & Company, a real estate investment company. In 2018, he was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
3. Robert Parish: 43
Robert Parish was born on August 30, 1953, in Shreveport, Louisiana. Parish played college basketball at Centenary College of Louisiana before being drafted in the first round of the 1976 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.
Parish played in the NBA for 21 seasons and is best known for his time with the Boston Celtics, where he won three NBA championships alongside Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in the 1980s. Parish was known for his durability, and he set a then-NBA record for most consecutive games played, appearing in 1,611 straight games over 21 seasons.
Parish was a seven-time NBA All-Star and was named to the NBA All-Defensive team three times. He retired in 1997 at the age of 43, having played in 1,611 career games and averaging 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
After retiring, Parish worked as a consultant for the Celtics and also served as head coach for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks. In 2003, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 2017, he was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All Time.
4. Vince Carter: 43
Vince Carter was born on January 26, 1977, in Daytona Beach, Florida. Carter played college basketball at the University of North Carolina before being drafted in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, who then traded him to the Toronto Raptors on draft night.
Carter played in the NBA for 22 seasons and is best known for his high-flying dunks and electrifying style of play. He played for several teams throughout his career, including the Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks. Carter was an eight-time NBA All-Star and won the Slam Dunk Contest in 2000.
Carter was known for his longevity and became the first player in NBA history to play in four different decades when he played his final game on March 11, 2020. He retired as the only player in NBA history to play 22 seasons and was in the top 20 all-time in career points scored.
After retiring, Carter signed a multi-year deal with ESPN as a broadcaster.
Carter's mom actually published a book. I haven't read it and no idea if it's any good or not, but you can check it out below.
5. Dikembe Mutombo: 42
Dikembe Mutombo was born on June 25, 1966, in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Mutombo played college basketball at Georgetown University before being drafted in the first round of the 1991 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets.
Mutombo played in the NBA for 18 seasons and is best known for his defensive prowess, particularly his shot-blocking ability. He played for several teams throughout his career, including the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, and Houston Rockets. Mutombo was an eight-time NBA All-Star and won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award four times.
Off the court, Mutombo was known for his philanthropic work, particularly his efforts to improve healthcare in his home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He founded the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation in 1997, which has provided healthcare services and education to millions of people in Africa.
After retiring, Mutombo worked as a global ambassador for the NBA and also served on the board of directors for several organizations, including the Special Olympics, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the National Constitution Center. In 2015, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
6. Udonis Haslem: 42
Udonis Haslem was born on June 9, 1980, in Miami, Florida. Haslem played college basketball at the University of Florida before going undrafted in the 2002 NBA Draft.
Haslem has played his entire NBA career with the Miami Heat, where he has been a key player on the team's championship-winning teams. He has been known for his tough and physical style of play and his leadership both on and off the court.
Throughout his career, Haslem has been a three-time NBA champion, a two-time NBA All-Star, and has set franchise records for rebounds and games played with the Miami Heat. He has been known for his tenacity on the defensive end and his ability to knock down mid-range jump shots.
Off the court, Haslem has been involved in various charitable organizations and has been an advocate for youth development programs in Miami. He has also been involved in business ventures, including owning several Subway franchises.
Haslem remains an active player with the Miami Heat, and is one of the longest-tenured players in the NBA, having played with the team for over 18 seasons. He is known for his dedication to the city of Miami and his unwavering commitment to the Heat organization. He's announced that he will retire at the end of the 2023 season.
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 42
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born on April 16, 1947, in New York City. Abdul-Jabbar played college basketball at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) before being drafted in the first round of the 1969 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Abdul-Jabbar played in the NBA for 20 seasons and is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He played for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers, winning a total of six NBA championships throughout his career. He was a 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, and a six-time NBA Most Valuable Player.
Abdul-Jabbar was known for his iconic skyhook shot, which he used to become the NBA's second all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points. He was also known for his social activism, particularly his involvement in the civil rights movement and his advocacy for Muslim rights.
After retiring, Abdul-Jabbar became a bestselling author, writing several books about his life and experiences. He also worked as a coach and mentor for young basketball players and served as a cultural ambassador for the United States Department of State. In 1995, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
There are several books about Kareem, and he's also co-authored some. In my opinion, this one is the best:
8. Bob Cousy: 41
Bob Cousy was born on August 9, 1928, in New York City. Cousy played college basketball at Holy Cross before being drafted in the first round of the 1950 NBA Draft by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now the Atlanta Hawks).
Cousy played in the NBA for 14 seasons and is widely regarded as one of the greatest point guards in basketball history. He played for the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, the Chicago Stags, and the Boston Celtics, where he won six NBA championships throughout his career. Cousy was a 13-time NBA All-Star, a 10-time member of the All-NBA Team, and won the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 1957.
Cousy was known for his flashy and innovative style of play, particularly his ball-handling skills and ability to set up his teammates for easy baskets. He was also a strong defender and helped revolutionize the fast break in basketball.
After retiring, Cousy became a coach and broadcaster, and also worked in various business ventures. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1971, and in 2019, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump for his contributions to the game of basketball.
Cousy also has had several books written about him. My favorite, though, is this one, which was written long after his playing days and illustrates the incredible character of a man that even in his late age, had something to get off his chest.
9. Herb Williams: 41
Herb Williams was born on February 16, 1958, in Columbus, Ohio. Williams played college basketball at Ohio State University before being drafted in the first round of the 1981 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers.
Williams played in the NBA for 18 seasons and is best known for his time with the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks. He was a versatile player who could play both power forward and center positions, and was known for his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities.
Throughout his career, Williams played for four different NBA teams, including the Dallas Mavericks and the Toronto Raptors. He retired in 1999, and went on to work as an assistant coach for the Knicks and the New York Liberty of the WNBA.
Williams is highly respected in the basketball community, both as a player and a coach. He has been praised for his work ethic and dedication to the game, and has served as a mentor to many young basketball players. In 2015, he was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame.
10. John Stockton: 41
John Stockton was born on March 26, 1962, in Spokane, Washington. Stockton played college basketball at Gonzaga University before being drafted by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 1984 NBA Draft.
Stockton played his entire 19-year NBA career with the Utah Jazz and is widely considered one of the greatest point guards in basketball history. He was known for his exceptional passing ability, ball-handling skills, and tenacious defense. Stockton was a 10-time NBA All-Star, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and was named to the All-NBA First Team twice.
Stockton is perhaps best known for his partnership with Jazz teammate Karl Malone, with whom he formed one of the most successful duos in NBA history. Stockton ranks first in NBA history in both career assists and career steals, and is widely regarded as one of the most efficient and intelligent players to ever play the game.
After retiring from playing, Stockton continued to be involved in basketball, coaching youth teams and serving as a television analyst. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 and continues to be highly respected and admired in the basketball community.
I didn't realize that he wrote an autobiography back in 2014 and will have to check it out.
Other Notable NBA Players to Play in Their 40's
Who are the Oldest Rookies in NBA History?
1. Pablo Prigioni: 35 Years Old in 2012 (NY Knicks)
2. Marcelo Huertas: 32 Years Old in 2015 (LA Lakers)
3. Andre Ingram: 32 Years Old in 2018 (LA Lakers)
4. Pero Antic: 31 Years Old in 2013 (Atlanta Hawks)
5. Antoine Rigaudeau: 31 Year Old in 2003 (Dallas Mavericks)
Who are the Oldest NBA Players to Score 60 Points in a Game?
1. Kobe Bryant: 60 Points at 37
2. Steph Curry: 62 Points at 32
3. Wilt Chamberlain: 66 Points at 32
4. Wilt Chamberlain: 60 Points at 32
5. Wilt Chamberlain: 68 Points at 31
It's interesting that of the top 10, every guy was either really tall or really short (with the exception of Vince Carter at 6'6" and Udonis Haslem at 6'7"). Hickey stood only 5'11". Cousy and Stockton were both 6'1". On the opposite end, every other guy was 6'10" or taller.
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John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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