The National Basketball Association is a vibrant league filled with stars of a variety of ages, veteran statuses and athletic gifts. While some who remember how the league was back in the 1980s and 1990s may lament the fact it is not as physical as it was decades ago, nobody can deny that many of the best athletes in all of North American professional sports today make their fortunes and cement their legacies playing in the NBA. Cleveland Cavaliers Superstar LeBron James is routinely referred to as the best athlete in all of the world, to the point some view him higher than they do footballers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar and others. Whenever James loses the top spot in such theoretical lists, it will probably be a fellow basketball player who claims the throne.
Because of the nature of a sport that involves individuals rushing back and fourth down the court for 48 minutes of action, you may be surprised, or even shocked, to learn three players on rosters as of the start of the 2017-18 season are already over 40 years old. Another will celebrate his 40th birthday around the same time a champion will be crowned next spring. At the other end of the spectrum are several youngsters who still won’t legally be able to purchase alcoholic beverages even after their debut NBA seasons conclude. Those NBA player ages may more so depress than shock you considering the fact that the young men are already working toward earning millions upon millions of dollars before turning 20 years old.
15 Lonzo Ball: 19 Years Old
It’s easy to forget Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball turned 19 years old in October 2016, as he has been in the news for a long time and well before he was ever drafted by the Lakers. LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s famous father, is an outspoken and polarizing individual, but nobody can say he doesn’t know how to promote and generate attention.
Don’t let anything LaVar says or does take away from the undeniable talent possessed by Lonzo. The first-year Los Angeles guard may very well earn Rookie of the Year honors when all is said and done, and Lakers fans are hoping he will evolve into a cornerstone of what becomes a championship roster. Perhaps he will even be a reason LeBron James takes his talents out west in the summer of 2018.
14 Kevin Durant: 29 Years Old
Golden State Warriors star and 2017 NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant will not turn 30 years old until September 29, 2018. That has to be downright terrifying for those who cheer on teams other than the Warriors, as Durant, who is, at worst, one of the top three players in the NBA today, is just now, theoretically, in his prime.
Durant made an already formidable Golden State side unbeatable in any playoff series this past spring, and he’s maybe the top reason why the Warriors are heavy favorites to emerge as the kings of the Western Conference en route to winning the NBA Finals a second straight season and a third time in four years. Durant, who entered the NBA all the way back in 2007, is aging like a fine wine.
13 Richard Jefferson: 37 Years Old
Some out there may be shocked to learn that Richard Jefferson, who put pen to paper on a deal with the Denver Nuggets after he and the Cleveland Cavaliers parted ways, turned 37 years old this past June because of how active he is on multiple media platforms.
Jefferson is the host of one of the most popular NBA podcasts today, and he is isn’t shy about using Snapchat on a daily basis during a season. While some veterans of the sport haven’t fully embraced these forms of communicating with fans, Jefferson has turned the practice into an art form. Cleveland players roasted Jefferson about his age during his tenure with the club, but the one-time NBA champion continues to remain young at heart as he enters the closing stages of his career.
12 Jayson Tatum: 19 Years Old
You almost have to feel bad for Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who turned only 19 years old this past March. The original hope ahead of the season was that Tatum could be part of a roster that featured Superstars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but Boston’s season changed in the first quarter of the campaign when Hayward was lost to a horrific and devastating leg injury.
Tatum, the third overall pick in the draft, became the first Celtics rookie since Larry Bird to notch a double-double in his debut game. While that’s promising, the harsh truth is that Tatum is going to be asked to carry more of the load for a team that was hoping to hang with the Cleveland Cavaliers in a playoff series next spring.
11 Pau Gasol: 37 Years Old
Pau Gasol, who will turn 38 years old next July, is a two-time NBA champion who has established himself as one of the greatest European players in league history. The veteran is now hoping to help the San Antonio Spurs survive and even thrive in a Western Conference that is filled with championship-caliber teams.
The Spurs have a history of proving doubters wrong and completing historic and memorable journeys when it appears the team has no chance of winning a title, and Gasol will be looking to show he can still contribute for a team capable of doing more than merely sneaking into the postseason. Whether or not Gasol will prove he’s worth the contract that could keep him with San Antonio up through his 40th birthday has yet to be determined.
10 Damien Wilkins: 37 Years Old
The fact that current Indiana Pacers guard and NBA journeyman Damien Wilkins turned 37 years old last January may not, on its own, shock you all that much. However, those of you who remember watching his uncle play may feel downright ancient upon realizing Wilkins’ age.
The veteran is the nephew of nine-time NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins, who used to delight fans with his ability to perform highlight-reel dunks with ease. Damien, of course, never rose to such a level at any point during his lengthy career, but he nevertheless deserves credit for being able to remain in the league and on a roster as he approaches his 40th birthday. If nothing else, he has good genes helping him remain in playing shape at his age.
9 Terrance Ferguson: 19 Years Old
The Oklahoma City Thunder will be one of the most interesting teams in the NBA this season for multiple reasons. Rookie guard Terrance Ferguson, who turned 19 years old in May, likely won’t be high on the list of those reasons. The Thunder are a team that possesses a stacked starting lineup, and the first-round pick is a project who is going to need to improve offensively if he wants to see meaningful minutes during his debut campaign.
While he has the talent to help out on defense even on the first night of his career, he is still going to find himself fighting for minutes and playing time unless disaster strikes multiple parts of the OKC roster this fall or during the winter months.
8 Dirk Nowitzki: 39 Years Old
The NBA will truly miss Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki if he does call time on his playing career at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Nowitzki, who turned 39 years old in June 2017, is a one-time NBA champion, and his spot in the Hall of Fame is already reserved for him.
As Cork Gaines and Diana Yukari of Business Insider pointed out in July 2017, Nowitzki has sacrificed roughly $194 million throughout his career by giving the Mavericks hometown discounts so the club can pay other talented players. While Nowitzki is obviously still a very rich man, this type of selflessness should be praised, particularly at a time when so many pro athletes out there are largely concerned with taking care of number one, ahead of winning a title.
7 Markelle Fultz: 19 Years Old
The question has to be asked: Do you trust “The Process?” Fans of the Philadelphia 76ers are all-in on the team’s rebuild following years of disappointment, and the hope is that rookie guard Markelle Fultz, who turned 19 years old this past May, will play a major role in the Sixers potentially competing for more than a playoff spot by 2020.
Fultz, the first overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, enters the league as a Rookie of the Year candidate expected to be one of the best young players in the game, and he’s a reason why so many are intrigued with Philadelphia even if the club has no chance of hanging with the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards in the standings and/or in a playoff series.
6 Jason Terry: 40 Years Old
Guard Jason Terry celebrated his 40th birthday this past September, and there were some questions during the final days of summer about where he would land before the opening weekday of the campaign arrived. Terry eventually agreed to return to the Milwaukee Bucks on a one-year deal, and the journeyman who became somewhat of a cult hero among Milwaukee fans will look to show he has plenty in the tank at his age.
Yes, Terry is unquestionably seen as a veteran who is meant to serve as a role model for younger players on the roster, but don’t think he is merely some cheerleader. The Bucks will expect Terry to carry his weight, and he’s shown he still has the goods to accomplish that task throughout another season.
5 Frank Ntilikina: 19 Years Old
The second youngest player in the NBA entered the league after playing overseas, he turned 19 years old in July 2017, and he was a first-round pick taken by a New York Knicks side in the middle of a lengthy rebuild that has left fans in the biggest sports market in the United States expecting big things from the rookie. No pressure, Frank Ntilikina.
Those hoping that the Knicks may have a potential Rookie of the Year on their hands should keep expectations realistic and remember that the club that calls Madison Square Garden home still isn’t all that close to getting to where it hopes to be come the end of the decade. Ntilikina will likely lose more than he wins during his first season playing in North America.
4 Manu Ginobili: 40 Years Old
If you listen to San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili these days, it seems he understands he is approaching the closing stretch of a marvelous career that is on the cusp of ending, most likely at the end of the 2017-18 season.
The second-oldest player in the NBA is a four-time champion, and it’s obvious among those who watch him that he isn’t the same athlete he was while in this prime. This is not to say Ginobili still can’t torch opponents and even win games for his side every now and then. Ginobili, a modern legend of the sport and one of the greatest players in franchise history, has seen it all and done it all, and we fans thank him for his service to the league.
3 Ike Anigbogu: 18 years Old
Depending on when you come upon this piece, Indiana Pacers big man Ike Anigbogu may have already celebrated his 19th birthday on October 22, 2017. Even if that is the case, Anigbogu began the season as the youngest player in the NBA.
It’s far too early to tell what Anigbogu will or won’t be as a professional, as expectations are being kept realistic for the young man acquired late in the 2017 NBA Draft. It also doesn’t help his cause that he is attempting to return from a knee injury he suffered ahead of the draft, a problem that caused his stock to drop. One thing we know for sure is Anigbogu seemingly has plenty of time to find his best form as his body continues to mature and adapt to life in the pros.
2 Vince Carter: 40 Years Old
Those who get to the arena early to watch Sacramento Kings guard Vince Carter prepare for a game would probably be shocked to hear or read he will be the oldest player in the NBA at the start of the 2017-18 campaign. Carter may not have the same ups he did while in his physical prime, but the veteran in his 19th season can still fly over opponents, and he can occasionally drain shots from well beyond the arc.
Maybe craziest of all is that it doesn’t appear “Vinsanity” is ready to hang his shoes up regardless of the fact he probably won’t be hoisting a trophy at any point between now and next summer. Here’s hoping Carter, who turns 41 in January, makes it to his 20th season.
1 LeBron James: 32 Years Old
We end the list with three-time NBA champion LeBron James for multiple reasons. In a way, one might think James was older than 32 because of the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him all the way back in 2003. Remember, though, that James was able to bypass college and go straight from high school to the NBA.
Others may look at James, who appears to be a freak of nature because of his amazing athletic gifts and his ability to remain healthy and in remarkable shape into his 30s, and assume he’s younger. King James will turn 33 on December 30, 2017, and logic tells us Father Time should, slowly but surely, catch up with him at some point. One thing we’ve learned is that James is no mere mortal or normal athlete. Don’t be surprised if he’s the oldest player in the NBA during his final season, whenever that occurs.