NBA Basketball is a young man's game. During the 2021/22 season the average age of NBA players was 26.1 years, and only 4% of players were 35 years or older.
However, there are exceptions. Lebron James, at age 36, was still one of the most productive players of the 2021/22 season and made the third team All-NBA. It seems father time can be defeated (or at least slowed down) if you spend $1.5M a year on your body!
What other players had long and successful careers in the NBA? Let's take a look at this comprehensive list of the oldest players during the 21/22 season and in NBA history.
Oldest NBA Players in the 21/22 Season
1. Udonis Haslem (41 years)
Undrafted in 2002, Haslem has been with the Miami Heat since 2003. A three-time NBA Champion and a member of the NBA All-Rookie Second Team, Haslem has had a long and successful career.
During the 2013-2014 season, Haslem was replaced in the Heat rotation, losing the spot he had occupied for ten years. Although his time on the court continued to decrease with each season, he continued to re-sign with the Heat.
In this scenario, many other players have taken offers from other teams or left the NBA to play overseas. He only played in one game last season, but he has embraced his new place and role on the team. Even without playing in games, he works as though he’s a starter. If he is not able to be in the rotation of consistent Heat players, his goal is to elevate the players on the court and impact winning however he can.
Haslem commented, “The only shift is that I’m not getting minutes on the court. But it still keeps my competitive fire, my juices flowing, and it still keeps me young and active. So it’s a two-way street.”
“Just like I’m preparing them, they’re preparing me. It’s not so much 30, 45 minutes a game, but it’s moments when I’m called upon to come out there. And it might be impactful moments and I need to be ready for those. Those are the moments I prepare for. Also, I cherish getting these guys prepared. I take it personally to help them perform and the way they go out there and do their jobs.”
2. Joe Johnson (40 years)
Johnson was drafted 10th overall in the 2001 NBA draft to the Boston Celtics. With the exception of 2019-2021 when he played in the BIG3 league, Johnson has spent his entire professional career in the NBA. He has played for numerous teams, including the Celtics, Suns, Hawks, Nets, Heat, Jazz, and Rockets.
In 2021 he returned to the Celtics, who were struggling due to Covid to fill their roster. During this return, he appeared in one game. With his single basket in this game, he became only the second NBA player (along with Dirk Nowitzki) to score a basket with the same team at the age of 20 and 40.
3. Andre Igoudala (37 years)
Iguodala was drafted 9th overall by the 76ers in the 2004 NBA draft. Dick Vitale claimed Iguodala wouldn’t make it at the NBA level and Andre used that criticism as motivation and went on to have a fantastic rookie season. He was the only 76er to start and play in all 82 regular-season games, plus 5 playoff games.
Since then, Iguodala has been part of four different NBA teams in 18 seasons, including the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat, and Golden State Warriors. During his career in the NBA, he has been a 4-time NBA Champion. He has also been named an NBA Finals MVP and an NBA All-Star.
He returned to the Warriors in 2021 after two seasons in Miami, and even though he missed 31 games between January and April due to a back injury, he was able to contribute to their Finals run to beat the Boston Celtics.
4. Carmelo Anthony (37 years)
Anthony has had a successful NBA career. Playing one season at Syracuse before declaring for the NBA draft in 2003, he has been in the league since he was just 19 years old. Drafted 3rd overall to the Denver Nuggets, Anthony (along with Dwayne Wade and Lebron James) was part of a draft class with very high expectations.
Although he never won an NBA Championship, Anthony has certainly been a game-changer. A 10-time NBA All-Star, he has played for the Nuggets, Knicks, Thunder, Rockets, Trailblazers, and (most recently) the Lakers. In 2021, Anthony signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Due to injuries and inconsistencies, the season was not as productive as many had hoped for.
Last season, he appeared in 69 games, averaging 13.3 points. Known for his offensive maneuvers and scoring ability, he remains an offensive threat and highly-regarded player in the league.
5. Lebron James
After 19 seasons in the NBA, Lebron James has established himself as one of the greatest players in NBA history. With a list of awards, honors, and records, it’s easy to see why Lebron remains one of the most sought-after players in the league. He is a game-changer, both on and off the court.
Signing with the Lakers in 2018, Lebron has been a big part of bringing an NBA Championship team back to Los Angeles. Although he suffered an ankle injury and only played in 56 games in the 2021-22 season, it was a year of record-breaking and record-setting for James. On March 27th, he became the second player in NBA history to reach 37,000 total points. He became the oldest player to have multiple 50-point games in a single season. He recorded his 10,000 career assist.
Age is just a number, and Lebron has many numbers larger than 36 that are solidifying his spot in the NBA.
Oldest NBA Players Ever
1. Kevin Willis
Age: 44 years 239 days
Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks
Last Game: The last game he played in was against the Seattle Supersonics on April 18th, 2007. The Mavs made the playoffs in 2007, but he was either inactive or did not play in the playoff series.
Known as the NBA’s “Godfather of Fashion,” Willis didn’t have to stay in the NBA for 23 years. In the company of a few other players with careers as long as his, he is an NBA legend. He is also a fashion icon. During the summer, he would intern with fashion designers such as Tommy Hilfiger to learn more about his other fashion, and what would become his other career.
Willis remained relevant in the league for so long because he was talented and driven. Drafted 11th overall in 1984, many teams traded for him in order to have a solid veteran presence on their rosters. But he was also a force as a player. Standing 7’0” with arms that could be registered weapons, he was one of the NBA’s greatest rebounders. He is one of the elite NBA retirees boasting over 16,000 career points and 11,000 career rebounds.
After two decades in the NBA, he finally won a NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. After the 2007 season, he returned to his clothing business, Willis & Walker, which had taken off in Atlanta. He remained active in the NBA, designing clothes, bags, and other apparel for individuals and teams.
2. Robert Parish
Age: 43 years 254 days
Teams: Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls
Last Game: May 5, 1997 (he did not play in the twelve playoff games after this date, as Chicago would win the NBA Championship this season).
Robert Parish is considered one of the greatest NBA players of all time. With 1,611 appearances, he holds the record for most games played. In those games, he accumulated:
- 23,334 points
- 14,715 rebounds,
- 2,361 blocks
Along with these impressive stats, he was also a 4-time NBA Champion, a 9-time NBA All-Star, an All-NBA second and third team choice, a 2-time member of the NBA anniversary team, and an inductee to the NBA Hall of Fame.
It’s obvious why Parish was in the league for as long as he was - his talent was unmatched by many of his opponents. This was an especially great feat because he was 7’0” tall. To be this tall and be such a great shooter was a double threat that many teams wanted. He was also very well-known for his humble nature. He was great, but he was modest. The Celtics honored his legacy by retiring his jersey, #00, in 1998.
3. Vince Carter
Age: 43 years 45 days
Teams: Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks
Last Game: March 11, 2020
Vince Carter played his last NBA game on the same day the league shut down for Covid. Nobody knew when the league would continue, but Carter had already planned to retire at the end of the 2019-2020 season. A legendary NBA career ended with 1,541 games and astounding stats:
- 25,728 points
- 6,606 rebounds
- 4,714 assists
A 5th overall draft pick out of UNC, Carter was a game-changer for the teams he played on. The only player in NBA history to play games in four different decades, Carter was skilled both on and off the court.
Along with Rookie of the Year, All-NBA, and 8-time All-Star honors, he was recognized as much for his talent as for his character and work ethic. Throughout his career, Carter received an NBA Sportsmanship Award, the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award, Most Influential Veteran, NBPA’s Backbone Award, and NBPA’s Most Respected Award.
With this unique combination of talent, leadership, and grit, it’s no wonder Vince Carter was a powerhouse in the league for as long as he was.
4. Dikembe Mutombo
Age: 42 years 326 days
Teams: Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Nets, Houston Rockets
Last Game: April 21, 2009 (classified as inactive for the remainer of the playoffs)
Known as one of the greatest shot blockers and defensive players in NBA history, Mutombo had a storied career. Inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2015, he is recognized for his talents and other contributions to the league.
4th overall pick to the Nuggets in the 1991 draft, Mutombo began establishing himself right from the start. He was selected to the All-Star team as a rookie, and only continued to grow and improve as a player. Playing in 1,196 games total, he finished his career with 11,729 points, 12,359 rebounds, and 3,289 blocks.
Throughout his career, Mutombo was honored in numerous ways, including:
- 8-time NBA All-Star
- All-NBA 2nd Team
- 2-time All-NBA 3rd Team
- 4-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year
- 3-time NBA All-Defensive 1st Team and 3-time NBA All-Defensive 2nd Team
Outside of the NBA, Mutombo is known for his humanitarian work, especially for his native Democratic Republic of Congo and his support of the Special Olympics. Although it was his talent and attitude that kept him in the league, he will surely be remembered for his work outside of the NBA as well.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Age: 42 years 58 days
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers
Last Game: June 13, 1989
Regarded by many people as one of the greatest players of all time, it is crystal clear why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was able to remain in the NBA for 20 successful seasons. Playing for 6 seasons with the Bucks and 14 with the Lakers, his legacy is forever imprinted on the NBA and the NCAA. He was known not only for his height and defensive skills but also for his offensive ability. His ambidextrous skyhook and clutch field goal shots made him the 8th-ranked most accurate scorer of all time.
Kareem is a 6-time NBA Champion (and added two more NBA Championships as an assistant coach for the Lakers). Although one of his championships came with the Bucks, his true dynasty was as part of the Lakers organization. Known as “Cap” or “Captain” by his colleagues, his leadership and talent earned him the respect of those around him.
Abdul-Jabbar is a record 6-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a record 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time ALL-NBA Team member, and an 11-time All-Defensive Team member. He was named to three NBA Anniversary Teams (the 35th, 50th, and 75th), and ESPN named him the greatest center of all time in 2007, the greatest player in college basketball history in 2008, and the second greatest player in NBA history (behind Michael Jordan) in 2016.
At the time of his retirement in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar held the record for most career games played in the NBA (1560), most points scores (38,387), most field goals made (15,837), and most minutes played (57,446). Numbers don’t lie - and his stats are off the charts. If you ask Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the best player of all time. The GOAT.
6. Udonis Haslem
Age: 42 years, 30 days, and counting
Teams: Miami Heat
Haslem has lasted so long in the NBA for two main reasons. First, he works like he is still playing in every game. His goal is to be prepared to play whenever his team needs him. He continuously does whatever he needs to do to not only maintain a spot on the team but to improve.
Second, he embraces his role on his team, even if that role doesn’t make him the star of the show. He pushes all of the players on the team to be better and understands that when they win, he also wins.
In recent years, he has taken on a role much like that of an assistant coach. His experience, talent, and hard work inspires teammates both on the court and in the locker room. This kind of “leadership by example” is priceless, and that shows in the effort of the Heat to ensure Haslem returns to the team for the 2022-23 season.
7. Bob Cousy
Age: 41 years 150 days
Teams: Boston Celtics, Cincinnati Royals (7-game comeback after not playing for six seasons).
Last Game: January 6, 1970
Acquired by the Celtics after the Chicago Stags folded in 1950, owner Walter Brown initially didn’t want Cousy on the roster. Proving him wrong quickly, Cousy established his place and importance as one of the league’s most dominant point guards. Playing a total of 924 games in his career, he scored 16,960 points and had 6,955 assists. Known for his street-style of play, he was able to move the ball effortlessly around himself and to others on the court.
Cousy spent his entire professional career (minus the seven games when he returned to the league briefly in 1970) in Boston. He had an extremely successful professional career, improving every year during his first decade of play. During this time, he also helped lead the team into the Celtics Dynasty, between 1957 and 1963. During this time, the Celtics won six NBA Championships.
During the last three seasons, Cousy’s statistics began slowly decreasing. At age 34, he declared he would be retiring at the end of the 1962-1963 season. He held his retirement ceremony at a packed Boston Garden, and an emotional crowd led to a 20-minute farewell speech.
8. Herb Williams
Age: 41 years 129 days
Teams: Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors
Last Game: June 25, 1999
Williams played in a total of 1,102 NBA games, the majority of those games being for the Pacers and the Knicks. He did not have the standout career that many others on this list did. However, he remained in the league because of his consistency and leadership.
His best years in the league were arguably his seven seasons with Indiana. Averaging over 14 points and 7 rebounds per game, he was one of their primary players. His minutes and points diminished as he changed teams, but he finished his career with 11,944 total points, 6,509 rebounds, and 1,605 blocks.
After retiring, he went on to coach in both the NBA and WNBA for sixteen years. His careers both as a player and a coach are a testament to his skill, work ethic, and ability to elevate those around him.
9. John Stockton
Age: 41 Years 35 days
Teams: Utah Jazz
Last Game: April 30, 2003
Known as one of the best point guards and passers in NBA history, Stockton was in the league for 19 seasons. His entire career he played for the Utah Jazz, and in all 19 seasons, he helped lead them to the NBA playoffs. Although Stockton and the Jazz made it to the NBA Finals twice, Stockton was never an NBA Champion.
He played a total of 1,504 games, and in those games he accumulated the following stats:
- 19,711 total points
- 15,806 total assists
- 3,265 total steals
Along with these numbers (which demonstrate why he was one of the top point guards), he was honored as a 10-time NBA All-Star, a 2-time All-NBA First Team player, a 6-time All-NBA Second Team player, a 3-time All-NBA Third Team member, a 5-time NBA All-Defensive 2nd team, and a member of the NBA anniversary team. His number was retired by the Jazz, and Salt Lake renamed the street in front of Vivent Arena to John Stockton Drive. A statue of Stockton stands in front of the arena, along with statue of teammate Karl Malone.
His numbers speak for themselves as to why Stockton was able to remain relevant in the league for as long as he did. Unlike many of the other players mentioned, his consistent talent and production allowed him to remain a starter until his retirement. He was also admired for his loyalty and humility. While other players sought the limelight, he stayed away from endorsements and turned down contracts for higher salaries offered by other teams.
10. Charles Jones
Age: 41 Years 30 days
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, Washington Bullets, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets
Last Game: May 3, 1998
Playing fifteen seasons in the NBA with five different teams, Jones was never the standout player that many of the other players on this list were. He won an NBA Championship with the Rockets in 1995, but compared to others, his numbers were average.
At the time of his retirement, Jones had played in 726 total games, amassing 1,826 points, 3,253 rebounds, and 1,134 blocks. He averaged 19.4 minutes played, and although he wasn’t a standout player, he was a consistent contributor to the teams he was a part of.