“If you would’ve asked when I was 20 if I still wanted to play when I was 38, I would’ve been like, ‘Nah,’ ” said Stackhouse, who was drafted third overall out of North Carolina in 1995 but now serves as a valued reserve with the Brooklyn Nets. “I would’ve felt like if I had 12 to 15 years, those are the numbers you were seeing from guys play that had a great career.”
But this season, the NBA has players such as Jason Kidd and Grant Hill in their 19th seasons; Stackhouse, Kevin Garnett and Kurt Thomas in their 18th seasons; and Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Marcus Camby and Jermaine O’Neal in their 17th seasons. Great careers are lasting a little longer.
Of the 47 players in NBA history to play at least 17 seasons, 10 are currently on active rosters — and nine are members of teams that will be showcased during the league’s quintet of Christmas games. Fifteen active players are among the 105 all-time to have appeared in at least 1,000 NBA games and the 39-year-old Hill, who has yet to make his season debut for the Los Angeles Clippers, has played in 997 despite a history of ankle problems.
In a league that is getting increasingly younger with players often getting drafted after one or two years in college, many of those older players, such as Bryant, Nash, Garnett, Allen, Kidd, Paul Pierce and Tim Duncan, are still playing prominent roles on relevant teams in the championship hunt.
“I think it’s great,” said Kidd, who is averaging 29.4 minutes per game for the New York Knicks and will turn 40 in March. “That goes to show that the wisdom and understanding how to play the game sometimes can overshadow talent.”
Kidd hugged Bryant before the Knicks played the Lakers in New York two weeks ago and said, “What up, young fella?” But Bryant is proving that while he may lack the same athleticism as in his Afro-rocking youth, his talent hasn’t eroded much as he gets older.
Bryant, whose Los Angeles Lakers will take on the Knicks at 3 p.m. Eastern time, is leading the league with 29.7 points per game, the highest scoring average of any player age 34 or older. He is also shooting a career-best 47.1 percent from the field, playing heavy minutes despite a litany of ailments, including a bad back.