Duncan continues to tap into the Riverwalk of youth in San Antonio; last week in Denver the 36-year-old power forward had his first game with at least 30 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots in 11 years. His production per 36 minutes is almost identical to what he contributed 10 years ago, when he won the second of consecutive league MVP awards.
Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich keeps Duncan at a minutes limit to keep him rested and fresh, but marvels at how he can stay so effective after appearing in 1,139 regular season games and another 190 postseason games.
“For some magical reason, some strange elixir that he’s found. He and Kevin Garnett have found it, and nobody else has, besides, maybe Jason [Kidd],” Popovich said with a laugh. “The training techniques are really advanced and they go year-round, so it’s not surprising that they can extend their careers the way they have. What they put into their bodies are real important to them. The contracts are big. They know somebody is waiting in line, so they better take care of themselves.”
The Knicks have taken veteran presence to the extreme. With Thomas (40), Kidd, Camby (38), Rasheed Wallace (38) and 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni, they have fielded the oldest team in NBA history, with an average age of nearly 33.
“Those are the guys that are winning titles, when you look at it,” Knicks Coach Mike Woodson said of 30-somethings. “We didn’t ask our old players to come in and play 30 or 40 minutes. We asked them to be a nice piece to the puzzle and that’s what we think we’ve assembled here.”
Ten years ago, the NBA had 54 players that were born in the 1960s. This season, there are 37 players that were born in the 1970s. But the current generation of NBA veterans has played during the most lucrative financial period in league history, as nine of the 11 players with at least 16 years of experience have earned well over nine figures. At the conclusion of his current deal in 2015, Garnett will have earned over $300 million in his career.
“It’s definitely not about money,” said Stackhouse, who has earned more than $84 million from his NBA salary over his career. “I think it’s just about competing. There is plenty of time for all of that other stuff. I have aspirations to coach, do broadcasting and things, but you can never get back that camaraderie of being in the locker room with guys, game-planning and being on the road. That’s been my life. That’s all that I’ve done.
“Before you actually have to step out of it, and into the quote-end quote real world, then why not?” Stackhouse said. “I can live with the old-man jokes on Twitter. That comes with it. Because I know that in the back of everybody’s mind that Tweet things like that, they wish they could do what I do. Being able to still have success doing something that you love to do.”