Being a professional athlete is hard. That’s not a bold statement. However, it’s even more difficult to play into your late 30s and sticking around in the pros into your 40s, if you aren’t a bowler or a golfer, is a truly rare feat. That’s certainly the case in the NBA. There are 25 NBA players who laced up their sneakers for at least one game in their 40s, not including Nat Hickey who played two games as a 40-year-old in the BAA in 1948. Here they are in ascending order in terms of games played.
Andre Miller always had an “old man” game. There’s a reason he was nicknamed “The Professor.” He got by on his brains, and eventually he grew into that old man game of his. The last couple of years of his career he bounced around a bit, playing for multiple teams every season as he chased a title. Miller ended his career with the Spurs, where he played six games as a 40-year-old.
Oakley had a reputation as an enforcer, and people didn’t really want to mess with him. However, you need to be more than tough to play as long as he did, though his toughness certainly helped. There were probably some games late in his career where he was gutting it out to get on the court given the wear and tear on his body. He played seven games after turning 40.
Juwan Howard is now the head coach at his alma mater, Michigan, where he was a member of the Fab Five. He spent his last few seasons with the Miami Heat, where he was basically a de facto coach while technically still being a player (after which they made him an actual coach). People have been calling him a future coach since, and now, only a few years later, he’s got a big college gig.
The is the first Hall of Famer on this list, but obviously Cousy didn’t need the seven games he played in his 40s to make it to Springfield. Although, there’s a bit of a caveat on those seven games. You surely think of Cousy as a Celtic, and he retired as a Celtic in 1963. Then after six seasons of retirement, he served as the coach of the Cincinnati Royals in the 1969-70 season. As the coach, he stepped in to play seven games as a 41-year-old.
Injuries plagued Nash early in his career, so it’s kind of amazing he was able to play as long as he did. The two-time MVP bounced around the league a bit, though he’s probably best known for his time with the Suns under Mike D’Antoni. Those final games, though, came during his disastrous time with the Lakers.
Let’s hear it for Hall of Fame point guards who played into their 40s! Kidd is the first player on this list to make it to double-digit games after turning 40. He played 14 games in that time, tossing up threes for the Knicks. Remember when Kidd couldn’t shoot? He really remade his game. Playing 21 seasons lets you do that.
Mahorn first stepped onto an NBA court in 1980 with the Washington Bullets and played his final games in 1999 with the Philadelphia 76ers when he was 40. He came oh-so-close to playing in four different decades. A strong defensive player, Mahorn won a title with the Bad Boy Pistons in the '88-'89 season and returned to Detroit for a couple of years when he was in his late 30s as well.
Williams spent his final three seasons in a place of quasi retirement. He didn’t even average 10 minutes a game or two points a contest. In his final campaign, he played in only six games, though he had already turned 40 the season prior. However, Williams did make it into eight playoff games for the Knicks that year.
Play for long enough, and you can see a lot of the country. Edwards ended up playing for eight different squads in his career. Never a household name, he did have some good seasons, even averaging 15.9 points per game through his first four years. Of course, he probably remembers his time in Detroit more fondly, as he won two rings there. Then as a 40-year-old, he added another ring alongside Michael Jordan on the Bulls. Way to go out on top.
People must have liked Jones’ defense. How else could a guy who averaged 2.5 points per game in his career play 726 career games? He spent the bulk of his career as a Bullet but ended his career with four seasons on the Rockets, where he sat on the bench and won a ring.
For a while, it seemed like Hill’s promising career was going to be upended by injury. He was a five-time All-Star with the Pistons, but after signing with the Magic his ankles started to derail his career. Fortunately he was able to put the injuries behind him to keep his Hall of Fame career going. In fact, he even played in 82 games one season as a 36-year-old with the Suns.
This is a little awkward. We all kind of try and forget the Wizards years with Jordan, right? We want to remember him winning his sixth title with the Bulls and walking off the court into retirement? MJ just couldn’t say goodbye to the game, though, as the competitive spirit was still inside him. While he was no longer Air Jordan, he did play 30 games in his 40s with Washington before finally retiring for good.
Long was a strong scorer at shooting guard for the Pistons for several years. In fact, one season he even averaged 21. 9 points per game. Long is another guy who returned from a lengthy retirement to get back on the court. After five years out of the NBA, as a 40-year-old Long signed with the Toronto Raptors. He then proceeded to play in 32 games, averaging 4.0 points per contest.
A strong rebounder, Thomas was a bit of a cult hero for the New York Knicks, where he spent the bulk of his career. After averaging a double-double one season, he got a nice turn with the Suns, though he was never at that previous level again. Eventually, Thomas did return to New York. In his final season, he didn’t just play in 39 games in his 40s. He started 17 contests for the Knicks!
The Mailman kept delivering well into his twilight years. The Hall of Famer, and one of the highest-scoring players in NBA history, is a legend in Utah. Of course, he famously never won a ring there, so at the end of his career he moved on to join the Lakers to chase that title. Then the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals, and that was that for Malone.
Uncle Cliffy had some big years in Portland, as he averaged over 20 points per game for three straight seasons with the Blazers. He even made one All-Star Game during that time. It feels fitting that Robinson had his best years in Portland, because since retiring, after playing 43 games at 40 of course, he’s gotten into the marijuana business. He also appeared on “Survivor.”
The Jet was the kind of player who was always good but never quite great. He didn’t make an All-Star Game but he did win a ring, and he was a key cog on many really strong squads. Shooters also tend to be able to stick around for a long time, and Terry certainly could shoot. He’s in the top five all time in three-point attempts and makes.
Nowitzki and Terry won a title together in Dallas, and they also both happened to play 51 games after turning 40. It still feels odd to think of Dirk not being in the NBA anymore, given that he just retired after last season. The surefire Hall of Famer was definitely not the player he was at his peak, when he won an MVP, in that final year, but it was still fun to see him take his trademark one-footed jumpers for a little while longer.
Ginobili didn’t join the NBA until he was 25, but he made the most of his career to be sure. The Argentine spent his entire career with the Spurs dynasty, and he was part of the key trio that kept that going strong under coach Popovich. A dynamo off the bench, Ginobili won Sixth Man of the Year once, and he made an All-NBA team twice. When you factor in his international play, Manu seems like another Hall of Fame lock.
There’s a real jump from Ginobili, who played 65 games after turning 40, to Stockton, who played 94. For years Stockton and Karl Malone were an iconic duo for the Utah Jazz. It wasn’t until Stockton retired that Malone left Utah to chase his ring. By that point, Stockton was already the all-time leader in both assists and steals, and he still is.
Talking about big jumps, Mutombo played a whopping 123 games after turning 40. He played in three different seasons in his 40s, including nine games as a 42-year-old. Through it all, Mutombo was wagging his finger at opposing players who tried to get a shot off on the 7-footer. The guy was Defensive Player of the Year four times. Mutombo was still averaging over a block a game well into his 40s.
The guys who played a bunch of games in their 40s are almost all household names…and then there’s Willis. He had a fine career. Willis averaged 12.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He was an All-Star once. Willis is 25th in total career rebounds, although the length of time he played is a big reason for that. He played in a whopping 1,424 games, owing to the fact that, aside from one season lost to an injury, he tended to be an iron man.
There are a couple of reasons why Kareem is the highest-scoring player in NBA history. One is that he was a great player. He was a six-time MVP, a two-time Finals MVP and averaged 24.6 points per game in his career. The other is that he managed to play forever. Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons, and he never played fewer than 62 games in a year. (The one season he played just 62 games, he wasn’t an All Star.) As a 41-year-old, he started 74 games and averaged 10.4 points per contest. What a legend.
When Carter was nicknamed “Half Man, Half Amazing” it was because of his amazing athleticism and dynamic dunks. Now it could be because of how long he’s managed to play. Vinsanity is still going strong, as he announced that he is going to play one more season for the Hawks, even though he is 42 years old. Carter has already played 167 games in his 40s, and he’s primed to add to that. He won’t be able to get to the top of this list though.
That’s because Parish played forever. The Chief played a staggering 272 games in his 40s. While a lot of 7-footers deal with injuries derailing their careers, Parish was able to keep going strong. The last three years of his career, which he spent with the Bulls, were definitely a step down. His minutes dropped, and he failed to average double-digit points per game for the first time since his rookie campaign. Are we going to quibble with the fact he played 43 games in a season he started as a 43-year-old? Parish is a testament to durability. This is a record nobody is likely to ever beat.
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