This topic is particularly interesting to me because I myself am old. Not, like, super old, but definitely old enough that if I were a professional basketball player, I would be long retired at this point. So it’s just an interesting question to me, who are the oldest players in the NBA?
And there were some surprises for me in this list. We see LeBron enough that it almost seems normal to play deep into your thirties. It is not normal at all.
Professional sports at an elite level take a massive toll on the body. There are only 10 players who have played 20 seasons or more. There are only around 15 players in the NBA who are currently older than 35. If we estimate around 450 players currently in the NBA, that’s a little over 3%. And only a handful of those guys are playing real meaningful minutes.
The Oldest Players in the NBA as of 2023
LeBron James (December 30, 1984 | 38 years old)
King James, is it? Not only is he one of the oldest players in the NBA, he’s still a force. James is playing way more minutes than anyone older than him, that’s for sure. And he’s doing far more in those minutes as well.
PJ Tucker (May 5, 1985 | 38 years old)
Born one day before Chris Paul. A creepy number of these guys were born in the beginning of May. Literally half of these guys on this list were born in the first half of May.
I had no idea PJ Tucker was this old, even though it really does make plenty of sense. Tucker went to the Raptors at pick #37 in 2006. But he quickly got exported and wound up spending about 5 years playing internationally.
It wasn’t until 2012 that he got a chance to start shaping his NBA legacy with the Phoenix Suns. He’s proven himself a fantastic defender and role player, remaining impressively consistent over the years. Tucker finally got his ring 2021.
But seriously, is early May some kinda power zone for athletic longevity? It’s legitimately wild.
Chris Paul (May 6, 1985 | 38 years old)
Reportedly, Paul will be waived by the Suns in the wake of the well-deserved disaster that was the 2023 Phoenix finals. The team was picked up mid-season by a Michigan billionaire.
As is to be expected from deep-pocketed rookie ownership, The Suns went all-in to pickup another aging legend in Kevin Durant. The move didn’t exactly pay off. The suns were evicted from the playoffs by Jokíc and the Nuggets, despite some impressive performances from Booker and Phoenix and Paul both extended a masterful stretch of never winning an NBA title.
Paul is supposedly game for another season at least and should be a hot commodity this summer if he does get waived. But he does appear to be running out of his bag.
Taj Gibson (June 24, 1985 | 37 years old)
Taj was a reliable 10PPG player for most of the 2010’s. It was as a staple of the Bull’s 6th man that he built his name. He came in second for 6th Man of the Year in 2014.
Gibson has been pulling some unimpressive minutes in a stretch with the Wizards these days, but unimpressive is what the Wizards are all about, so things may work out a little longer.
Kyle Lowry (March 25, 1986 | 37 years old)
Lowry’s listing at 6′ 196 pounds seems like a stretch. It’s not his physicality, mostly unimpressive by NBA standards, that has kept him in the league this long.
He’s a smart guard, and although his numbers are dipping, he’s reliable and give Spoelstra another look to work with. I say he’s got another Heat season ahead, but what do I know?
George Hill (May 4, 1986 | 37 years old)
Hill was picked at 26 by the Spurs in the 2008 draft. The Indiana native point guard has bounced around as much as can be expected of a 15 year NBA veteran. But in 2023, Hill was traded from the Bucks back to his hometown Pacers. One would assume he will closeout his career in Indiana.
Goran Dragić (May 6, 1986 | 37 years old)
The Slovenian born Dragić has had an illustrious career. He was pretty safely the most accomplished active Slovenian in the league before Luka showed up.
Goran was drafted at 46 to the Spurs in 2008, that same year they picked the also finely aged George Hill. And Goran may yet have another round in the tank. He played 52 games for the Bulls into 2023 before being waived and picked up by the Bucks. But his numbers are steadily falling off, so we’ll see.
Garrett Temple (May 8, 1986 | 37 years old)
Garrett Temple went undrafted in 2009 after putting up some unimpressive but very well-rounded numbers for the LSU Tigers in his senior year (7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.7 steals). His Dad, Collis Temple, was the first African American to play basketball at LSU.
And Garrett is a consummate grinder. After the disappointing draft miss, he turned a Rockets summer league stint into a run with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. This initial shot in the minors would evolve into a 2-year odyssey covering 5 NBA teams, 3 minor league teams and a trip to Italy.
In 2012, Temple finally scored a 2-year $2 million contract with the Wizards. The resulting 4-year run with the Wizards would be the longest of his career. He bounced around for a decade or so, finally landing with his hometown Pelicans in 2021.
Temple’s minutes and productivity this year have been tight. He’s contracted through 2024, but he’ll likely finish out his career at home.
The Oldest Players to Ever Play in the NBA
45 seems to be the hard limit for age in the NBA. However, we’re on the fringe of some fascinating developments. Players like LeBron and Curry are already proving that it’s possible to maintain relevance in a league that’s provably more athletically challenging than it has ever been.
As athleticism drops off, players often make for it in wisdom. But there’s that limit where your wisdom becomes more valuable on the coaching side, and some players are happy to make that jump.
Once you hit 40, it starts to make a lot less sense to keep grinding. So there are only so many players who have made it even that far, and they’re all relatively unique situations, so let’s take a look…
Nat Hickey (Age 45 + 363 days)
You may well have never heard of Nat Hickey. Or maybe you’re an old head Providence native and you love Nat Hickey. Regardless, I think we can agree he is an obscure character.
Hickey was an early professional baseball and basketball player. He played for a number of early American pro and minor leagues. And he is, with the possible exception of the under-documented Manute Bol, the record holder for the oldest person to have played in the NBA, at 45 years, 363 days.
In 1947, Hickey served a stint as coach with the Providence Steamrollers of the BAA (rebranded as the NBA in 1949). During his tenure, Hickey activated himself as a player on 2 occasions. And one of those occasions was the date in question, just 2 days before his 46th birthday.
Hickey can be credited with another important NBA record that year. The Steamrollers had won two games when he took over mid-season. Under Hickey, they would go 4-25. The resulting 6 win season sill holds as a record for the lowest number of wins in NBA/BAA history.
If you trust the official documents, Manute Bol retired in 1995, leaving the Warriors at the young age of 32. Nothing to see here, right?
Wrong! Bol was recruited from Sudan. The former Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey openly admits that he just made up a birth date when he was, ummmm, the 7’7″ Bol’s naturalization process.
So Manute Bol may have set records for longevity as well as height during his NBA tenure. Mackey has suggested that the player was well into his fourties, perhaps approaching 50 during his career.
We can be quite certain that Manute Bol was much older than it said on his birth certificate. Just how much older, it’s unlikely we’ll ever really know.
Kevin Willis (retired at 45)
Kevin willis spent a decade with the Hawks, neatly spanning the eighties and nineties. He was quite productive, trending up into the 20 PPG territory.
After a 2-year title winning stint with the Spurs, Willis hopped back to the Hawks for the 2004-2005 season. He was the oldest player in the league that season and he expectedly slipped into retirement in 2005-2006. It all made sense, closing out a strong NBA career with the team you cut your teeth on.
And then, in 2007, late into the 2006-2007 season, Willis picked up a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks, playing 5 games, and bumping out Robert Parish as the the oldest player to play more than 2 games in an NBA season.
Robert Parish (retired at 43 + 360 days)
If you take the word any of his former teammates, the legendary Celtics big man is a consummate professional.
Parish is among the top shooting bigs in history. Over 21 seasons, Parish averaged almost 54% from the field, peaking at 59.8% in the 1990-1991 season.
His professionalism and marksmanship definitely helped his longevity. But, like Kareem, he also cites yoga as an essential part of his regimen. And he retired only 5 days before his 44th birthday.
While Parish is technically outranked here by Nat Hickey and Kevin Willis, he is notably one of the most dominant late-stage NBA players of all time. He didn’t just sneak on for a last minute record-breaking stint.
Vince Carter (retired at 43 + 151 days)
Vince is the record holder for the longest NBA career, spanning 22 years. His transition from marquee star in his early days to dependable role player in his later years has served as a template for how to maintain relevance in the league.
Udonis Haslem (Retired at 43 + 3 days)
Haslem played with the Heat, and the Heat alone, for over 20 years. He is only the third player to achieve this feat, joining Kobe and Dirk Nowitski. In 2022, he announced his intention to retire following the 2023 season. The Heat made it to the finals and Haslem’s retirement became official with the Nuggets title win on June 12th, 2023, just 3 days after his 43rd birthday.
He wasn’t getting a ton of playing time towards the end of his career, remaining on the roster in more of a mentorship role. He did check in for a few symbolic seconds towards the end of the Nuggets game 2, a safely lost game at that point.
Dikembe Mutombo (retired at 42)
7′ 2″ Congolese-American Dikembe Mutombo remains among the top inside defenders of all time. He won Defensive Player of the Year 4 times and led the league in blocks 3 times.
For Mutombo, it’s a combo of extreme height, medical wisdom, work ethic, and just being a good dude to have around, that kept him in the NBA for a solid 19 seasons.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (retired at 42)
Kareem is a wild example of just being so dominant that, even as his athleticism waned, he remained an undeniable asset on an NBA roster. Kareem is obviously physically gifted, but his skill is legendary.
And you can’t dismiss the fact that Kareem was ahead of his time in the 70’s in that he took impeccable care of himself. He stopped drinking when he converted to Islam. And he’s practiced yoga since High School. And he often credits that love of yoga for his longevity in the NBA.
Bob Cousy (retired at 41)
A second legendary Celtic in this mix. Cousy was initially snubbed out of the #1 draft spot by Celtics coach Red Auerbach who likely thought his tactics were a little too flashy to win games. A string of lucky breaks would swing Cousy back to Boston by the time the season got rolling.
Starting his NBA career in 1950, Cousy retired from Boston in 1964 at the age of 34, having never played for any other team. So, wait, then how did he make it on this list!?
In the 1969-1970 NBA season, Bob Cousy was brought up from coaching Boson College to head the then Cincinnati Royals. He had been officially retired as a player for 5 seasons at this point. His star player was none other than Oscar Robertson (The big “O”).
This story reads like your typical mid-life crisis. Robertson in his earlier years had something of a rivalry going with the aging Cousy and the Celtics. Now, years later, Robertson is taking down a bunch of Cousy’s old records and getting attention. Cousy comes in and of course they butt heads.
Then, towards the end of the season, Cousy goes full Nat hickey and activates himself for 7 games. He ultimately plays less than 5 minutes per game on garbage productivity to prove some kind of stupid point. He did make all of his free throws.
If it sounds weird and delusional for a 41 year old coach to put himself on a team and takeover his own offense, it absolutely was. Oscar has commented about it in the past.
Herb Williams (retired at 41)
Herb Williams should get some kind of award for lingering. He’s basically the Udonis Haslem of the New York Knicks.
Williams started his career in Indiana, where he had peaked by his 5th season. Williams jumped to Toronto for a bit, then landed in Dallas for a passable 4-year stretch where he hovered around 10 PPG.
And then, Herb made it to the Knicks. With the exception of a brief side trip back to Toronto during the 1995-1996 season, Williams would just kinda wait out the inevitable in New York, hovering around 10 MPG and 3 PPG off the bench.
He must have brought some cultural contributions to the team, because Williams managed to stick around way past his expiration date. He did ultimately end up sliding onto the Knicks coaching staff, and ultimately taking over as head coach of the Knicks for a brief run in the 2004-2005 season.
John Stockton (retired at 41)
Perhaps the reigning king of facilitators? Stockton holds a ton of records for assists, including the all time highest APG season. Into the early 90’s Stockton led the league in assists for nearly a decade.
Stockton played meaningful minutes and logged assists and points right up to his 19th and final year with the Jazz. He’s one of the few players to stick with the same team for his entire career and stay relevant right up until the end. The man had an incredible NBA career.
So what does it take to survive long term in the NBA? We’ve seen some wild tactics in this list. Nat Hickey became a coach and put himself on the floor, probably against better judgement. Kevin Willis took a year off and then snuck back in for one last 10-day. Manute Bol basically picked his birth date out of a hat.
But these are outliers. If you look at the wider picture here, you see the trends. To stay relevant in the NBA beyond your mid-thirties, there are some obvious qualities you need to have or adopt.
The players that last the longest are the players who deliver value that is not tethered to athleticism. There’s a higher density of players with elite shooting and play making towards the top.
We see a lot of big men in this list. Height is a clear advantage in basketball, and it’s a lot easier to maintain into mid-life than explosiveness. This runs counter to the widely accepted narrative that big players are prone to injury.
We also see multiple references to yoga and active self-preservation. Active training develops the strength and explosiveness that wins games, but yoga and nutrition will reduce injury. Players that don’t neglect these details aare playing the long game.
It’s not too crazy to assume we’ll see the limits of NBA career-length pushed in the future. The league is more challenging than it has ever been. the demands on players in terms of reaction time and athleticism are greater than they have ever been. But medicine and knowledge seem to be outpacing those demands.
Players like Steph Curry and LeBron James are likely to challenge some of these records in the future. These players are building on the knowledge of their predecessors to develop plans to extend their careers.