At the #1 spot, Vince Carter had the longest NBA career of all time. He went 22 seasons. There’s a solid chance LeBron will beat that next year.
So that’s the answer, and you don’t even have to scroll. But what’s cool about this topic is actually the stories. Every one of these 10 guys reveals a different perspective on what it takes to perform at the highest levels of competition for 20 years. And you can’t go 20 years in the NBA without being among the oldest players to ever play in the NBA.
It’s no small feat to make this list, to place among the longest NBA careers of all time. The NBA level takes a toll on the body. You can’t push yourself to your absolute limits for 80+ nights a season and not feel the effects.
So here are the 10 guys who have done just that. Every one of these players spent 20 or more seasons in the NBA. Three spent 20 or more seasons with the same team.
This is insanity…
Vince Carter (22 Seasons)
Vince holds the record for the longest NBA career, having played for 22 seasons, spanning 4 decades from 1999 to his retirement in 2020.
His career probably could have stretched another season or two. A lockout in 1998 kept him off the court until 1999. On top of that, the Covid hiatus in 2020 may have cut his career a little short.
But the real story here is that Vince started his career on a platform of dominant athleticism. Carter is regarded as one of the greatest dunkers in history. It’s typically this kind of pure athleticism that degrades most rapidly with age.
But Vince wasn’t just athletic. He had a remarkable court IQ and a deep bag to fall back on. So while he frequently featured as a star-player in his earlier days, he settled comfortably into a position as a role player in his mid-thirties and held that pattern into his later career.
This willingness to embrace the position that best benefits his team allowed Vince a remarkably long career. At times, his ability to adapt has been dramatic. Known for scoring in the paint in his early years, by the time he joined up with the Mavericks in 2011 he was taking close to 50% of his shots from 3-point land.
Robert Parish (21 Seasons)
Parish played a record 1,611 games in his career.
His NBA journey began when he was selected as the eighth overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. But it was during his tenure with the Boston Celtics that he truly established himself as one of the greatest centers in the league’s history. With Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, Parish helped form one of the most imposing front court trios in NBA history.
What truly sets Robert Parish apart is his unparalleled career longevity. Known as “The Chief,” he played an astonishing 21 seasons in the NBA, a record at the time for the most seasons played by any player in the league. Throughout his career, Parish consistently displayed remarkable durability, maintaining a high level of play well into his later years. In his 19th year in the league he averaged 36.5 minutes and 17 points per game and
His conditioning, work ethic, and commitment to the game allowed him to remain productive even as he aged. Parish’s remarkable consistency and longevity are especially remarkable given the physical demands of the center position, which often takes a toll on players’ bodies.
Over the course of his career, Robert Parish achieved numerous accolades, including winning four NBA championships with the Celtics in 1981, 1984, 1986, and 1997, his final career year (with the Chicago Bulls). He was also a nine-time NBA All-Star, showcasing his dominance on both ends of the court.
In 1997, at the age of 43, Parish finally decided to retire from professional basketball, leaving an indelible mark on the NBA and inspiring future generations of players with his dedication and lasting impact. His career longevity and consistent excellence have solidified his place as one of the all-time greats in NBA history.
Kevin Garnett (21 Seasons)
Kevin Garnett, an iconic NBA player, is celebrated for his exceptional career longevity and remarkable impact on the game of basketball. Born on May 19, 1976, in Mauldin, South Carolina, Garnett entered the NBA straight out of high school when he was selected as the fifth overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1995 NBA Draft.
Throughout his 21-season career, Garnett exhibited an unparalleled work ethic, versatility, and defensive prowess that set him apart from his peers. As a power forward and center, he possessed a unique combination of skills, excelling in scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking. His passionate and intense style of play earned him the nickname “The Big Ticket.”
After spending the first 12 years of his career with the Timberwolves, Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007, just in time to snag his first and only championship title and earning the NBA Finals MVP. He experienced a career resurgence during his time in Boston.
Garnett’s dedication to the game and commitment to staying in peak condition allowed him to remain a significant contributor on the court well into his 30s and 40s. His enduring career saw him continue to make an impact as a veteran leader and mentor to younger players, inspiring a generation of athletes.
His influence extended beyond his impressive statistics and accolades, as Garnett’s leadership, and dedication to the game left an enduring legacy in the NBA. Kevin Garnett’s career longevity is a testament to his passion, talent, and enduring impact on the sport of basketball.
Kevin Willis (21 Seasons)
The second of two Kevins with 21 NBA seasons. That’s a total of 42 NBA seasons just from players named Kevin. Willis also scored the record as the oldest NBA player to play more than 2 games in a season when he came out of retirement for a 10-day contract and played 5 games with the Mavericks going into the end of the 2006-2007 season.
Willis entered the league in 1984 when he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks as the 11th overall pick in one of the most impressive drafts in history. What set him apart was his ability to maintain a high level of play for an extended period.
Over his illustrious career, Kevin Willis played a staggering 21 seasons in the NBA, a testament to his exceptional physical conditioning and dedication to the sport. He played for 8 teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, and the Dallas Mavericks.
His longevity in the league allowed him to achieve remarkable milestones, including being named an NBA All-Star in 1992 and his only NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. His ability to stay relevant and contribute to his teams throughout his career earned him widespread respect from players and fans alike.
Willis missed 2 seasons during his career. The first was the 1988-1989 season in which Willis suffered a broken foot during the preseason and was subsequently suspended for missing team events. He also did not play in the 2005-2006 season and assumed retired before his surprise resurrection with the Mavs.
Kevin Willis retired from professional basketball in 2007, leaving behind a legacy of durability and perseverance. His impressive career longevity remains an inspiration to future generations of NBA players.
Dirk Nowitzki (21 Seasons)
The only player to have played 21 seasons with just a single NBA team. Dirk is the regarded as the greatest Maverick in history and an essential piece of the teams 2011 title win.
He was a ridiculous shooter, hitting seasons with 50%+ from the field and 40%+ from 3 multiple times in his career. He was known for his nearly unguardable fadeaway jumper.
Nowitzki is the Mavs franchise leader in points, games played, blocks, rebounds, 3’s, 2’s and points.
LeBron James (21 Seasons)
Debuting in the NBA in 2003 as the first overall pick to his hometown Cavaliers, LeBron quickly established himself as a prodigious talent. Over the years, he consistently displayed unparalleled skills, versatility, and basketball IQ, earning him the title of one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
Notably, what sets LeBron apart is his remarkable durability and ability to maintain peak performance even as he aged. Despite the physically demanding nature of professional basketball, LeBron continued to excel and adapt his game throughout his career, defying the usual decline associated with aging players. His strict dedication to fitness, injury prevention, and nutrition have played a pivotal role in sustaining his longevity.
LeBron’s career longevity allowed him to consistently lead his teams to the playoffs and compete for NBA championships. He frequently shattered records and achieved numerous milestones, solidifying his legacy as an all-time great. His leadership both on and off the court has played a crucial role in motivating and inspiring his teammates.
Deep into his career, James is still an incredibly efficient scorer. He continues to play extended minutes at the height of competition in an era of the NBA that is more demanding than any in history.
Throughout his career, LeBron James became a symbol of excellence, showcasing that with determination, hard work, and a passion for the game, players can continue to perform at an elite level for an extended period. His remarkable career has left an indelible mark on the NBA and serves as a shining example for aspiring athletes worldwide.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20 Seasons)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a legendary NBA player, is celebrated for his extraordinary career longevity. Spanning from 1969 to 1989, his 20-season tenure remains one of the longest in NBA history. Standing at 7 feet 2 inches tall, his iconic skyhook shot became his signature move, securing him the record as the league’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points—a record few thought could be broken until LeBron took it down in. 2023.
During his illustrious career, Abdul-Jabbar displayed an exceptional combination of skill, athleticism, and consistency, earning him numerous accolades, including six NBA championships and a record six season MVP awards.
Beyond his on-court achievements, he was an influential advocate for social justice, using his platform to address important issues. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s remarkable career longevity and his contributions to both the sport and society make him an enduring icon in the world of basketball.
Kobe Bryant (20 Seasons)
Kobe Bryant was an iconic NBA player known for his remarkable career longevity. Born in 1978, he entered the NBA directly from high school in 1996, joining the Los Angeles Lakers. Throughout his 20-year career with the Lakers, Bryant consistently displayed exceptional skills, work ethic, and dedication to the game.
His longevity allowed him to evolve and excel through different eras of basketball, adapting his playing style to remain competitive. Kobe’s unyielding commitment to training and his focus on perfecting fundamental aspects of the game contributed to his sustained success.
Over the course of two decades, he achieved numerous accolades, including five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, and 18 NBA All-Star selections.
Tragically, in January 2020, Kobe Bryant’s life was cut short in a helicopter crash, leaving behind a legacy of unparalleled dedication and longevity in the world of basketball. His impact on the sport and his influence on future generations of players continue to be felt, making him one of the greatest players in NBA history.
Udonis Haslem (20 Seasons)
The most recent addition to this list, Haslem retired in 2023, just 3 days after his 43rd birthday, when the Heat lost to the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 finals.
Haslem is notable as the longest-tenured Heat vet of all time. Upon retirement, he joined Kobe and Dirk as the only players to have played 20+ seasons with a single NBA team.
Jamal Crawford (20 Seasons)
Crawford made his professional debut in 2000 after being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over the course of his illustrious career, Crawford showcased his exceptional skills as a shooting guard and point guard for multiple NBA teams, including the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Minnesota Timberwolves.
What sets Jamal Crawford apart is his ability to maintain a high level of play and productivity over an extended period. Throughout his career, he consistently delivered impressive performances, earning him the reputation as one of the league’s most reliable and durable players. Notably, Crawford excelled as a scoring threat, demonstrating an exceptional knack for shooting from long range, his signature crossover dribble, and an uncanny ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Tied at 3 with Lou Williams for the most 6th man of the year awards.
Crawford’s career accolades include three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year awards, demonstrating his impact off the bench even in later stages of his career. His longevity in the league allowed him to rank high in all-time scoring, three-pointers made, and games played. He holds the record as the oldest player to score 50+. Besides his on-court achievements, Jamal Crawford was highly respected as a veteran leader and mentor for younger players.
Overall, Jamal Crawford’s career longevity and consistent success in the NBA have solidified his legacy as one of the game’s enduring and influential players, leaving an indelible mark on the league.
One weird detail about this list. It’s crazy how many of the guys on this list have won only one title.
Things are different now because you can’t join right out of high school. As of 2006, high school players are no longer allowed to go straight to the NBA, as the minimum draft eligibility was raised from 18-years-old to 19-years-old. Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Garnett were all drafted straight out of High School. There was some expectation that the most recent CBA would dismiss the one-and-done rule, but this was not the case.