The natural cycle of an NBA career is the same most of the time. Players come into the league at 18,19,20 years of age, develop for a couple of seasons, and eventually reach their prime at around 25 years old. That period lasts differently from player to player, but up until their early 30’s, most guys are still the best versions of themselves. But at that point, the fall-off starts, as a player goes into their mid and late 30’s. Health plays a huge part, limiting guys to less and less time on the court.
Most players retire around that time, but particular guys stick around till their 40’s, mostly being the veteran presence in the locker room without too much impact on the court. Only a handful of players actually manage to play in the ’40s and actually contribute. Those are usually unique players with so much class in their game that their skillset is timeless. Here are the best of best that managed to produce even at 40+ years old in the NBA:
One of the most obvious choices, “The Cap,” was a staple of longevity and consistency in the NBA. By many even regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, Jabbar spent 20 seasons in the NBA, becoming the leader in total points scored. After all, that sky-hook is still considered to be the most unstoppable shot in basketball history.
With his size and skill, Kareem was able to be productive until the very end of his career. Jabbar played his last two seasons with the Lakers at 40+ years old and averaged double-digit points in both years. Even though the quickness wasn’t there anymore, pure skill allowed Jabbar to still be a very dangerous player on the floor.
The most recent example can be found with “Mr. Canada.” You could very well say that Carter’s long run was a bit of a surprise. Coming into the league, VC was an athletic phenom, living off his athletic ability. Players who base their game on physical dominance rather than skill usually retire in their 30’s, but Carter improved throughout his career and built an all-around game.
Even though he is a Raptors and Nets legend, Carter became more of a journeyman in the latter part of his career, serving as the veteran shooter for numerous teams. That role would suit him perfectly, as he contributed to his team until his last game with the Hawks in 2020, at 43 years old.
“The Mailman” is remembered as a Utah Jazz legend and the other part of the legendary duo with John Stockton. And with good reason, as he spent 18 years there, achieving numerous personal accolades. But in his final season at 40 years old, Malone tried to get a ring in Los Angeles, joining forces with Shaq, Kobe, and GP as a Laker.
Malone averaged 13.2 ppg and 8.7 rpg that season, proving he still got it. In the playoffs, the veteran would even up his production and prove to be the X-factor. But unfortunately for him, the Lakers couldn’t get through the Pistons in the Finals, as Malone even suffered a severe knee injury that eventually forced him to retire.
The Argentinian’s career is vastly overlooked, as Manu served as the ultimate 6th man for one of the best dynasties in NBA history. Instant offense off the bench, high IQ, and beautiful style on the floor graced Ginobili, who spent his whole 16-year career in San Antonio.
During his final season at 40 years old, Manu would show he still has what it takes, averaging 8.9 ppg, 2.5 apg, and 2.2 rpg for the year. Manu’s retirement in 2018 would be the end of an era for the Spurs franchise, as he joined his peers Duncan and Parker in a well-deserved retirement.
Who else could be number #1 then the GOAT? Of course, he is remembered for his glory days with the Bulls, but MJ’s stint with the Wizards is seriously underrated. Sure it was far from prime Jordan, but Michael was the most feared player in the league even at that age.
Coming off a three-year retirement, Jordan would return for one final run, playing two seasons with the Wizards. In that last season, Jordan would turn 40 years old but still show out, averaging 20.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 3.8 apg. The athleticism was still solid, mixed with impeccable footwork and an all-around game.
Dropping 40+ and 50+ points on numerous occasions just showed what kind of class we are talking about here, as he became the oldest player in NBA history to score at least 40 points in a game. Jordan was still dominating at 40 years old. That is why he is still the consensus GOAT in the eyes of most NBA fans.