Sports are often considered a young person’s game. The best MLB player is a tight race between 24-year-old Mike Trout and 23-year-old Bryce Harper. Lebron James is already considered old and he’s only 31. Don’t get us started on the 3 year “life span” of an NFL player. These men and women have a finite amount of time that they can really accomplish anything in their game before they are way too old to compete.
Being a professional athlete takes a serious toll on the human body. That’s why someone who is considered young in every other professional field often is an aging veteran on a field or a court. A 30-year-old lawyer is a young hot-shot, a 30 year-old-shortstop is ancient, and a 30-year-old track star is mind blowing.
This is why we are so impressed with athletes who are able to compete into their “twilight years.” And those athletes who do more than just ride the bench are even more impressive. Here 15 athletes who prove that when it comes to age, it’s really just a number.
15 Pau Gasol
Pau’s career was over during the 2012-13 NBA season according to a number of analysts. While playing for the Lakers that year, Gasol had a number of injuries that limited his play time, and while he was on the court, he never bought into head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. That system never really worked so Pau’s choice to split at the end of the season made perfect sense. Many thought that the 7 foot Spaniard should simply retire or go play basketball in Spain as they believed his career in the NBA was over. He then proved everyone wrong when he signed with the Bulls and helped lead them to the playoffs once and made the All-Star team twice. His career does look to be winding down, but he played in 72 games this season and scored over 1000 points. He can be a good player on any team, no matter how old he is.
14 R. A. Dickey
R.A. Dickey entered the MLB in 2001 with the Texas Rangers. He was up and down from the minor league for years, both as a member of the bullpen and the starting rotation. He never broke the mold and was regularly thought of as a run of the mill spot starter without much to really offer a team. He attempted the knuckleball while still with the Rangers, but it was very ineffective. During his time perfecting the pitch, he earned the records for most home runs given up in a game and the most wild pitches in a game. Slowly he figured the knuckleball out, and became a pretty respectable pitcher for the Mets. Then came the 2012 season where Dickey dominated the league in route to his first (and only) Cy Young award. He hasn’t been nearly as dominant as his 2012 season, but during the 2015 season he did become the oldest player to make his post-season debut, proving that he has a lot left to give a team, even at the age of 40. Apparently you totally can teach old dogs new tricks.
13 David Villa
David Villa has put together a remarkable career for Valencia, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid, not to mention that he was a key component for those great Spanish national teams, scoring 59 international goals. When New York decided to add a second team to the MLS, he was one of the earliest players to sign on. It’s well known that international players will sometimes choose to go to the US in the twilight of their career instead of playing on the bench in Europe. At 34, Villa is easily one of the best players in the MLS, leading the league with 8 goals and 64 shots taken (including 28 shots on goal). He immediately stepped up as the captain of the new expansion team, and even though he’s a bit “old”, he’s still extremely talented.
12 Bartolo Colon
The man is so old that he’s the only current player who can say he played for a team in Montreal. He won his Cy Young award over a decade ago, and has played for 5 different teams since then. Many though his career would be over after he missed the 2010 season due to severe shoulder and elbow damage caused by years of high level pitching, but due to some stem cell treatments, he made a comeback. Since then, he has been a valuable asset to a number of playoff teams, including the Mets who made it to the World Series last season. Colon is still going strong; it wasn’t long ago that he hit his first career home run at the age of 42, and it doesn’t look like he plans to retire just yet.
11 Zach Randolph
Randolph was drafted in 2001 by Portland. A lot of people were looking at Randolph as a failed project with severe attitude problems, and wrote him off as someone who would never make it in the NBA. However, he was able to stick around for a couple of years after he parted ways with the Trail Blazers, making stops in LA and New York. In 2009, he was traded to Memphis for close to nothing after the Clippers deemed him too much of a problem. From the day he put on a Grizzlies uniform, Randolph seemed like a changed man. He became the standout player many had hoped he would eventually turn into. Since going to Memphis, he has averaged a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, and for the most part has stayed out of trouble. He had some great years with Portland, but with his move to Memphis he has become a much more complete and impressive player, even though he was well past what many believed would be his “prime.”
10 David Ortiz
Big Papi announced that the 2016 season would be his final year in the MLB. It’s not really a surprise as he is 40-years-old and hasn’t even made the All-Star team in the past two seasons (though it’s not from a lack of production). He has been a significant member of the Red Sox lineup, never hitting less than 20 home runs for the team. In this, his final year, Oritz already has 10 home runs. It’s the fastest he has hit the double digit mark in his career. He also has over 30 RBIs and stole a base, something he hadn’t done since 2013. It wouldn’t be shocking if he’s able to turn in one of his best seasons, maybe even putting himself back in the MVP race for the first time in years, and then riding off into the sunset.
9 Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is a surefire Hall of Famer who has delivered playoff success and a championship to Dallas, almost single-handedly. He’s been one of the best players of his generation, and is still going strong. Every year the media and fans alike question whether this will be the year he finally regresses into a shell of who he once was. Then he goes and scores 18 points per game and makes the playoffs again like every year. Dirk is beginning to look like an ageless wonder as he is still consistently scoring in the high teens, and can be considered the best player on a repeating playoff team. He has taken his Mavericks to the playoffs every year since 2000. It’s a testament to his talent: while other teams have been grouping superstars to make it to the playoffs, Dirk has been on his own, and still is, even at 37-years-old.
8 Michael Phelps
The greatest Olympian in the history of the games is attempting to represent the US once again in Rio. He’s on pace to do so too, ignoring what all the haters said about him being too old. As recently as December 2015, Phelps won titles in the 200m individual medley, and the 100m and 200m butterfly. He already has the most medals of anyone, ever, and it looks as if he only wants more. Phelps is only 30, so it’s hard to make the argument that he’s really “old,” but in swimming, that’s the equivalent of being 1000. Well, maybe not that old… but you get the point. World class swimmers are often in their late teens or early 20s; Phelps was considered old when he was in London in 2012. Now 4 years later, he’s even older, but still ready to go.
7 Adam Vinatieri
He’s the oldest player in the NFL, and he’s as automatic as ever. When you have Vinatieri on your team, you will never be in doubt about whether you’ll get that extra point. He has shown no signs of slowing down and looks to keep his kicking prowess going for years to come. Most people know Vinatieri based on a few amazing moments from his playoff career, but don’t underestimate the man. It’s easy to wave off a kicker as being unathletic, but just try telling him that.
6 Tim Duncan
He may have just had one of the most disappointing playoff series of his entire career as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant beat out Duncan and the Spurs, but when you take into account that the Thunder’s stars were maybe 10-years-old when Duncan was drafted, you can’t help but be impressed with what he was doing on the court. During the regular season, the 40-year-old behemoth scored over 500 points and was one of the top defensive players ranking second in defensive rating. He’s already one of the oldest players in the league and if he plays a 20th season next year, he'll be behind only Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis on the list of most seasons played. Even though he may have had a rough playoffs, the Spurs should have their fingers crossed hoping that the Big Fundamental will return as he’s a man with so much playoff experience and can work as a coach on the floor, seeing that they may have a strikingly different look next year.
5 Gary Player
Gary Player is one of the greatest golfers of all time. His name is basically synonymous with the sport and he has already been given a lifetime achievement award for all that he’s accomplished. But he’s still not done. Gary is currently in Ireland practicing for the British Open, hoping to maybe somehow compete and win another one. Oh, did we mention that the man is 80-years-old? He is well past the prime of his career, maybe well past the twilight of his career, but he’s still trying. He hasn’t made an impact in any major tournament in well over two decades, but there aren’t many people his age who are able to pick up a club and swing it at a nearly professional level. He should be admired for what he’s doing, and definitely deserves this spot on the list.
4 Jaromir Jagr
Let’s take a look at what Jaromir Jagr did this past season: 79 games played, 66 points, 27 goals, and he led his Florida Panthers to a number 1 seed in the playoffs. The numbers are very reminiscent of his rookie season, which wouldn’t be too surprising if he was in his 3rd, 4th or even 5th season. However, he’s in his 21st season, and that’s not counting the multiple years he spent in Europe. To put it in perspective, when Jagr was drafted into the NHL, Patrick Kane was only 2-years-old, the original Total Recall had just come out in theaters, and the destruction of the Berlin Wall had just begun. People believed that Jagr’s career was over when the Rangers didn’t resign him after the 07-08 season, and then again after an injury plagued 2012 with the Bruins. Yet here he is, 44-years-old and still going strong. Florida just signed him to a new deal worth $4 million, so fans will be treated to at least one more year of the ageless wonder.
3 Tom Brady
Tom Brady isn’t only the oldest starting QB in the NFL right now, he is arguably the best. Even at 38, the 4-time Super Bowl champ is still terrorizing the league by playing better than almost all of the competition. Last year he led the league in touchdown passes, was third in passing yards, and had the fourth highest passer rating. Russell Wilson, the leader in passer rating last year, is 11 years younger than him. Brady has been able to do this every year of his career. He’s watched guys like LaDainian Tomlinson get drafted, win an MVP, and then retire. He watched Houston get a team and build to be a playoff contender, then rebuild again. He watched every gimmick the NFL could throw at him, including the read option and the wildcat formation, but he never succumbed and just kept on winning games. Every year, no matter who his teammates are, Tom Brady has a shot at the Super Bowl, and it is legitimate to think he has at least 5 more years of air left in his tires, as long as no one deflates them.
2 Stanisław Kowalski
Stanislaw was born April 14th, 1910. Go ahead and read that again: 1910. The 106-year-old track star was born before the World Wars. He was alive to see the beginning of Superman, and his eventual death at the hands of Zack Snyder. He could have seen every single World Cup game ever played. A few years back, he made headlines as the oldest person in Europe to run 100m when he did it in Warsaw in 2014. What’s this ageless wonder’s secret, you may ask? Well, he says it’s because he has never been to the doctor. Honestly, that sounds like the ravings of a madman, but it seems to have worked for Mr. Kowalski, but please - don’t try that at home.
1 Hiroshi Hoketsu
You may not know who Hiroshi Hoketsu is, seeing that he is less decorated than pretty much everyone else on this list. He’s an Olympic athlete who competed in the 2012 games and is hopeful to go to Rio this summer with the Japanese Equestrian team. He didn’t win in London, or in Beijing before that. In fact, he hasn’t won a medal since taking home silver in Seoul. Don’t remember that? Well, it might be because that took place in 1986. Many of the biggest names in sports hadn’t even been born when this man was just entering his prime. If he qualifies, Hoketsu will be the oldest person to ever compete in the Olympics at 75. He is easily the oldest Olympian to compete in the modern era of the games and a man who truly proves age is meaningless when it comes to sports.