An athlete’s career length depends on their sport. Professional female gymnasts generally retire in their early 20s, while the average NFL player retires before the age of 30. There is more longevity for NBA players, with most retiring in their mid to late 30s. However, many players have proved to be anomalies on the court, playing into their 40s.
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The oldest athlete to play in the NBA is one such anomaly. Nat Hickey played over 20 years on various teams in the NBL and ABA before he began coaching for the Providence Steamrollers in the NBA’s forerunner, the Basketball Association of America. In 1948, he activated himself as a player for a game only three days before he turned 46. He played in that game and another game following it.
Kevin Willis is the second oldest player to play in the NBA and represents a more modern era. He was 44 years and 224 days old when he retired in 2007. He was the 11th pick in the 1984 draft and played for eight different teams during his career.
Utah Jazz fan favorites John Stockton and Karl Malone also grace this list in ninth and 11th place, respectively. Stockton was 41 years and 35 days old when he played his last game for the Utah Jazz, and Karl Malone was 40 years 325 days old when retired after his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Danny Schayes, who spent his first two years in the NBA with the Jazz from 1981-83, is the 28th oldest. He retired at 40 years and three days old.
The oldest active player in the NBA is Vince Carter. He’s the fifth oldest player to ever play in the NBA at the ripe age of 42 years old. He was the fifth draft pick in 1998 and currently plays for the Atlanta Hawks. Utah Jazz forward Kyle Korver is the fourth oldest active NBA player. He announced on April 25th that he’s considering retirement due to his age.
Young and hungry
For all the older players in the NBA, there are plenty of young players as well. While many players go through college before playing professional ball, the youngest athlete to play a game in NBA history went straight to the pros from high school. Andrew Bynum was the 10th player drafted in the 2005 NBA Draft. He played his first game for the Los Angeles Lakers when he was 18 years and six days old.
Andris Biedriņš, who played his final season with the Utah Jazz before retiring in 2014, is the ninth youngest hoopster to play in the NBA at 18 years and 217 days old. He played for the Golden State Warriors from 2004-2013. He is followed by C.J. Miles, who played for the Utah Jazz from 2005-2012.
Of today’s active players, the youngest to play in the NBA is Isaac Bonga. He played his first game for the Los Angeles Lakers at 19 years and 166 days old.
The gap between the oldest active player and the youngest is 25 years. As veterans of the sport continue to retire at older ages, and younger players get drafted, it will be interesting to see how the experience and youthful energy interact on the court. And maybe someday a player will break Hickey’s decades-old record.