Basketball is a sport predicated on athleticism. The youngest players are often the most exciting to watch whether it be for their break-neck speed and above the rim game or simply for a glimpse of the talent that is next in line to dominate the basketball universe. Some players, however, are able to use other weapons to prolong their careers. The old man game can be a deadly one. On day 40 of 100 days of hoops, we celebrate the best 40-year -old and older players of all-time.
John Stockton played until he was 41 years and 35 days old, playing in every single game of his last five seasons. Though Stockton was not as quick as he once was, his signature court vision, ability to steal the ball, and scoring ability make John Stockton one of the very best old guys to have ever played. Stockton averaged 11 points, eight assists, and 2 steals in his final season in 2003.
At Stockton’s side was the ultimate roll man in their pick and roll offense, Karl Malone. Malone dominated the power forward position with his physicality and low-post scoring most of his career. Malone played his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers after playing the previous 18 with John Stockton and the New Orleans / Utah Jazz. After being stopped in the finals twice by Michael Jordan, Malone saw his opportunity to finally get his ring by joining Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Phil Jackson in Tinsel Town. The Mail Man delivered for 12 points and 9 rebounds a game. However, Malone hurt his knee during the end of the regular season. He was never able to fully recover and neither the Lakers who lost in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons.
The biggest reason Malone and Stockton never got their rings was Michael Jordan. Jordan finished with the Chicago Bulls after his cold-blooded step-back jumper over Bryon Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals. Jordan could not stay away from the game for long, however, returning with the Washington Wizards in 2001 at the tender age of 38. Jordan averaged 22 points a game and was named an All-Star in his return season. The following year, Jordan would play his final season (unless he pulls a Jackie Moon with the Hornets) averaging 20 points per game. Jordan never really lost the ability to play above the rim or his ability to torment his opponent. Old Jordan’s primary weapons were his mid-range fadeaway jumper and quite simply his basketball IQ.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many to be the greatest center of all-time, dominating the position for much of his from 1969-1989. Along the way, Chamberlain faced anyone from Wilt Chamberlain all the way up to Patrick Ewing. Kareem averaged 15 points per game in the 1987-88 season and 10 points per game in the following season which would finally be his last. Kareem was able to use his size and unguardable sky-hook to play until he was 42 years and 6 days old. Abdul-Jabbar attributed his longevity to his practice of Bikram yoga. The yoga was able to help him stay centered mentally as well as help him to stay healthy and maintain his flexibility.
Although there may not be many great old-man games today, there is hope for the future as the fellow yogi, LeBron James looks as if he will not be slowing down anytime soon. Players such as Pau and Marc Gasol’s games have also aged gracefully. While Pau just turned 37 this summer, his younger brother Mark is only 32-years-old. Their abilities to pass the ball, shoot from distance, and their full arsenal of post moves make them prime candidates to play into their early 40s to bring back the old man game.