As sports fans, we’re always consumed with debating what players are the best. But there’s also something to be said about the players who show the most longevity and are able to keep playing well past the peak of their career. Of course, it’s usually the great players that can keep playing longer. But not all of them are able to or choose to. That’s why it’s worth remembering the oldest players in NBA history.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (42 years, 6 days)
The great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons in the NBA and didn’t play his last game until a few days after his 42nd birthday. In his last couple of seasons, his playing time dipped below 30 minutes per game.
However, he was still starting and averaging double figures in his 40s. Abdul-Jabbar ended up winning three of his six NBA championships over the last five years of his career, which gave him plenty of incentive to keep playing.
Dikembe Mutombo (42 years, 300 days)
Mutombo was well past his prime by the time he joined the Rockets in 2004. His scoring numbers were way down during those years, but he could still rebound and block shots while serving as the backup to Yao Ming.
He re-signed with the Rockets on New Year’s Eve 2008, hoping the rest of the season would be his farewell tour at the age of 42. However, he tore a tendon in his quad during a playoff game later that spring after landing awkwardly, and that’s how Mutombo’s long career came to an end after 18 seasons.
Vince Carter (43 years, 45 days)
It’s almost unfathomable that Carter came into the league in 1998 and was still playing in 2020. His 22-season career spanned four decades, making him the only player in NBA history to play in four different decades.
Obviously, toward the end he wasn’t the same “Vinsanity” dunker he was early in his career. But he was good enough to get playing time off the bench. Unfortunately, when the coronavirus pandemic suspended the 2019-20 NBA season, it ended Carter’s career before he could get a proper sendoff.
Robert Parish (43 years, 254 days)
Parish’s 21 seasons are tied for the second-most in NBA history with only Vince Carter playing longer. Aside from being a Hall of Famer and 9-time all-star, Parish showed incredible longevity for a big man. He retired in 1997 at age 43, but as late as the 1993-94 season, he was still starting over 70 games per season.
During his final three seasons, Parish’s production went way down. However, he kept on playing and went out a winner, playing his final season with the Bulls when they won their fifth of six titles in the 90s.
Kevin Willis (44 years, 224 days)
Willis was only an all-star once, so he was nothing special for most of his career. But he loved playing and is the oldest player in NBA history to play multiple games in a season (Nat Hickey activated himself and played one game in 1948 while he was interim coach of the Providence Steamrollers).
In 2007, Willis played five games with the Mavericks at age 44. To be fair, Willis was a role player during the back half of his career, making it a little easier to play longer. However, he’s also one of just 15 players with over 16,000 points and 11,000 rebounds in his career. For that, he deserves some recognition.