Age ain't nothing but a number. Well, at least that's what they say. Yet if that's all it is, why bother lie about it then?
People have lied about their age for various reasons. Whether it be to get that special girl/boy, land a job, or simply because one is just to embarrassed to say how old they really are.
Age fraud, as it's referred to, has somewhat plagued sports for a number of years. Several athletes have been found out in that regard, yet it's a ticklish area as things of that sort are quite hard to prove.
It's thought to be more prevalent in football, especially among African players. Nigeria has been suspect for some time now when it comes to declaring ages, and their entire national team at one point was believed to be comprised by players way older than they claimed to be.
The NBA has had its own problems with age matters, mainly due to their sanctions on foreign players. African and Asian players are accused of being the chief culprits, but fortunately, there haven't been that many cases.
It was actually quite difficult to come up with a list of 15. However, that's why we're here - to come up with things.
So here goes.
15 Bismack Biyombo
The Congolese center was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, getting selected by the Sacramento Kings, who instantly traded him to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Starting out as a 16-year-old in Spain after being discovered during a tournament in Yemen – at least that’s what the reports say – the 6 ft 9 in player earned himself a contract with EBA side Fuenlabrada-Getafe Madrid.
Biyombo – now with the Orlando Magic - joined the NBA as an 18-year-old, according to himself and his agent, but several scouts believed that he was actually somewhere between 23 and 26.
"When he talks, he sounds like a wise, old traveller, not the 18-year-old he claims to be,” said ESPN’s Chad Ford in his profiling of the player in 2011, before Biyombo was drafted.
"'I was born on August 28, 1992'," he tells me several times. He repeats the date several times in the interview.
“But ask NBA scouts, any NBA scout, and they'll tell you he's closer to 22 than 18. They have no proof, mind you. He just looks, sounds, acts and plays older, they claim.”
14 Thon Maker
The Milwaukee Bucks big man was selected as the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft, but could have been drafted lower if there weren’t concerns over how old he actually was.
Maker claimed to be 19 when he entered the draft, yet he was believed to be as old as 23 years old. He categorically denied the accusations of lying about his age, however. There have been leaks of yearbook photos with Thon Maker being apart of a graduating class in 2010.
"It did get to me in terms of me hearing about it, but it didn’t get to me personally because if it were true, I’d probably be like sideways about it, but it’s not true, so I’m comfortable," Maker said in an interview. "I’m not angry or anything. I’ve got to learn what I can say and what I can’t say now."
13 Dikembe Mutombo
Dikembe Mutombo is a true legend of the game. But the Congo national, who is also famous for his philanthropy and humanitarian work, was – during his 18-year career - constantly accused of being older than he purported to be.
The former Houston Rockets center grew sick of it, and in 2008, told reporters that he was looking for intervention from the NBA Commissioner.
"My wife just mentioned that to me a few days ago," Mutombo lamented. "She said: 'Honey, I think this joke has gone on too long and it has to stop. Is there a way you can tell the commissioner during the All-Star break to let the world know that this thing needs to stop, from a media standpoint all the way to the players?'
"It really doesn't disturb me, but it hurts when your wife starts feeling uncomfortable about it. Even my daughter says, 'Daddy, why are they talking about your age?' She's nine years old and she knows about it.”
12 Yi Jianlian
Yi Jianlian is a Chinese power forward who now plays for CBA side Guangdong Southern Tigers in his homeland.
The player has also played for the Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks in the NBA, having been drafted as the sixth overall pick in 2007. Yi had entered the 2006 draft, but made himself unavailable thereafter because he didn’t think he was good enough to rub shoulders in the NBA, and wanted more experience.
Looking back at his stats, one would think that he was right in thinking that, as his highest scoring average in the NBA stands at 12.0 points per game, while his highest rebounding average was 7.2 per game. He eventually moved back to China, but attempted a return last year with the Los Angeles Lakers, who signed him up on a one-year $8 million deal.
After playing just six pre-season games, Yi asked the Lakers to waive him, and they did so without much hesitation.
Yi came into the NBA as a 20-year-old, but there were always questions shadowing his actual age, which was thought to be 23. At this point, however, it doesn’t really matter.
11 Shabazz Muhammad
The California native, who was a college sensation, plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But before joining the NBA, it was discovered that he, along with his family, lied about his age in order to match him up with younger players so he would have an advantage.
Muhammad was 20 years old at the time, but pretended to be 19, a saga that ruined his stock in the 2013 NBA draft. Initially, he was viewed as a top-three pick, but ended up at 14th.
The player’s profile in the UCLA men's basketball media guide stated that he was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 1993. However, a copy of his birth certificate at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revealed that he was in fact born a year prior.
10 Greg Oden
Greg Oden was supposed to be the most dominant player in the league right now, but sad to say, he’s not even in it.
There’s nothing suggesting that the former center ever lied about his age, yet just looking at him, and considering his brittle knees, it’s easy to believe that Oden was already past his thirties when he was drafted.
Selected as the first overall pick in 2007 by the Portland Trailblazers, he couldn’t even play his first season, as he was forced to undergo microfracture surgery prior to the start of the campaign, and had to wait until the beginning of 2008/09 to finally make his debut.
At just 29 years old (probably more like 40) Oden’s basketball career is effectively over, and he’s currently a student manager at Ohio State, where he’s also working on his degree.
9 Wang Zhizhi
Wang Zhizhi became the first-ever Chinese basketball player to showcase his talents in the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks took him aboard in 2001.
The Mavs had been tracking the center almost 10 years prior to drafting him, and went through quite the hassle to get him on their team due to his team back in China – the CBA’s Bayi Rockets – refusing to let him leave.
Wang would go on to play for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat before moving back to his homeland, averaging 4.0 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
According to reports stemming from China, the player was told by his team to lie about his age and pretend to be two years younger before he made himself available for the NBA draft. There’s no solid proof of this, but several sources have reported that age shaving is a rife practice in the Far East.
8 Zhou Qi
Another player hailing from the Orient, Zhou Qi was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2016, having worked out with the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoeniz Suns and Memphis Grizzlies. He now plays in China, however, and certain complications have made it so that it is unclear when he will actually play in the NBA.
Zhou soared to popularity after blocking Kevin Durant in an exhibition game between the USA and China last year, and he was expected to be a first round draft pick. Yet he was only drafted in the second round at 43.
Concerns have since been raised over his age. Zhou claimed that he was 20 years of age prior to the draft, but several sources believe that he may actually be three or four years older due to China’s rumored proclivity for knocking years off their players.
7 Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka now plays for the Toronto Raptors, having joined the league in 2008 when he started out with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 6 ft 10 in power forward is quite a lucky boy. He actually fulfilled the dream of dating R&B singer Keri Hilson, but the pair split last year after a four-year relationship. Also hailing from the Republic of Congo, Ibaka has played for both his country and the Spain national side.
He posted some of his best numbers between the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, averaging 13.2 and 15.1 points, as well as developing into one of the best defensive big men in the game. The forward was voted the third best defensive player in the league in the 2012/13 campaign, having led the NBA in blocks with an average of 3.0 per game.
This player is listed as a 27-year-old, but many believe that he may already be 30, mainly due to the general decline in his game. However, they don’t all believe that he lied about it, but rather he just doesn’t know.
6 Ersan Ilyasova
The case of Ersan Ilyasova is a bit of a strange one. The 6 ft 10 in Atlanta Hawks power forward is listed as a Turkish player, and began his career in Turkey, yet there are claims that he may be from Uzbekistan, as well as three years older than he says he is.
Uzbekistan officials so strongly believed that Ilyasova was one of theirs, they made an official complaint to FIBA, who eventually ruled in Turkey’s favour. The claim stated that an 18-year-old man named Arsen Ilyasov left for Turkey in August of 2002 and never returned.
The following month, a Turkish man insisted that he had forgotten to register his son at birth, and proceeded to register him as 15-year-old Ersan Ilyasova.
If Ersan is indeed Arsen, then he’s definitely not as young as he claims to be, but like many of the cases in this list, there’s no hard evidence.
5 Tanguy Ngombo
Tanguy Ngombo is a Congolese small forward who plays for Qatari Basketball League side Al Rayyan. Despite being born in Congo, he represents the Qatari national side.
Ngombo was drafted as a second-round 57th pick by the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, and was immediately traded to the Portland Trailblazers and then the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Initially, he was registered in the FIBA Africa Club Champions Cup as being born in 1984, but after moving to Qatar, his listed year of birth changed to 1989. He entered the 2011 draft as Targuy Ngombo, born in 1989, which led to him being accused of altering both his name and his age in order to be eligible for drafting.
NBA rules make it so that foreign players over the age of 22 are ineligible for the draft, which is why the player is said to have pretended to be five years younger.
4 Wang Zhelin
Wang Zhelin is also a Chinese player, as you may have already guessed. He was drafted the same year as compatriot Zhou Qi, mentioned earlier in this list, but hasn’t played in the NBA as yet.
Zhelin was selected by the Memphis Grizziles in last year’s draft, and is regarded as one of the most promising centers to come from China since Yao Ming. Standing at 7 ft tall, the player has shown some remarkable skill with the ball.
He is the best Chinese player to ever perform at a Nike Hoops Summit, having posted 19 points, 8 rebounds and two blocks in a win over the U.S Juniors men’s select team.
The center is listed as a 23-year-old, but several sources believe he is in fact, at least 26. He is currently playing with the Fujian Sturgeons in his homeland, but he is expected to join up with the Grizzlies in the near future after completing his development.
3 Yao Ming
Referred to as ‘The Great Wall of China’ back in his playing days, former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is certainly the best player to come from China in the history of the NBA.
While he did get dunked on by Kobe Bryant and blocked by Nate Robinson, the 7 ft 6 in giant proved a dominant force in the league during his early years.
He was the 1st overall pick in the 2002 draft, having starred for the Shanghai Sharks, a team which he now owns. A huge present in the paint for the Rockets, his game declined midway into his nine-year career due to injuries, and he retired at the supposed age of 30.
Many believe that Yao was older than he pretended to be, which does seem veritable given the age at which he retired in 2011, although he did play for his country every summer, while most players took the opportunity to rest.
2 Christian Eyenga
While it isn’t as widely believed, there’s still talk of Christian Eyenga being older than he presented himself to be. The Congolese small forward, who now plays for Italian Serie A basketball side Pallacanestro Varese, spent two years in the NBA after being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Eyenga was selected as the 30th pick in the 2009 draft, but played in Spain after getting pulled in by the Cavs. He played summer league basketball for them in the following pre-season, before signing a two-year deal with the club. He was later sent to the team’s D-League partner, the Erie BayHawks, spending some time before he was recalled and ultimately traded to the Lakers.
The Lakers traded him to the Orlando Magic, who later waived him.
Eyenga is 27 years old now, but the word, though not as rife, is that he could already be 30. At least he’s not an NBA problem anymore, right?
1 Hakeem Olajuwon
Two-time NBA champion Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the best players to ever wear a Houston Rockets jersey. The former center is still the man to go to when you need to work on your post game, and is credited with helping LeBron James become a more complete player with his off-season training.
The Nigerian is the Rockets’ all-time leading scorer, having scored 26,511 points over his 17-year stint with the side. He’s also ranked at number one on their appearances, minutes, rebounds, blocks, steals and made free throws list, as well as in various other categories.
There used to be a rumor going around claiming that the ex-player shaved five years off his actual age when he entered the NBA. If anyone could have pulled off such a stunt, Hakeem certainly could.
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