Not many NBA careers make it to the fine china year. In fact, before this season, only three players had lasted through 20 years of wear and tear in the league.
Twenty-one years into his career, Celtics great Robert Parish picked up the last of his four championship rings as a 43-year-old hoops sage on Michael Jordan’s 1996-97 Chicago Bulls team.
At 41, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar piled 748 more points onto the all-time scoring record in 1988-89 before calling it a career after 20 seasons.
Kevin Willis’s 21-year tour of the NBA took him to eight teams and saw him win a title with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. Even after putting all the miles from 1,419 games on his body, he couldn’t stay away. He signed a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006, a year after retiring. At the age of 44, though, there wasn’t much he could contribute. His comeback lasted five games.
When Kevin Garnett steps on the floor with the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night at TD Garden, he’ll join the small club of players who stretched their career over two full decades.
But he’ll be the only player on that list to do it while still in his 30s.
No active player has played more games than the 38-year-old Garnett (1,377) or logged more minutes (48,910).
“He’s blessed,’’ said Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, who spent six of those 19 years with Garnett in Boston, watching the work that went into the longevity. “He takes good care of his body [and has] a little bit of luck from the man above.
“He’s very fortunate to play that long. The average NBA player is 4.5 [years] and he’s quadrupled it. He’s a great inspiration and he’s my friend.’’
Last year was a challenge for Garnett. It was his first year in Brooklyn after six in Boston, where he won his only championship. He played in just 54 games, his fewest since 2008-09 when he was recovering from a knee injury. He had the worst scoring average of his career (6.5 points) and his worst rebounding season (6.6) since he was a rookie.
With a year left on his contract and $12 million sitting on the table, there were questions about whether he’d return for another season. Even though Garnett started his offseason training earlier than normal, the guessing game lasted until August, when new Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins said he still hadn’t actually talked to Garnett.
At the team’s media day in September, Garnett said he had contemplated retirement. But now, a month later, he said he’s coming into the season with rekindled motivation.
Garnett told the New York Post, “I have a little bit of an edge to me this year, I’ll say that. I didn’t like how I ended last year, or how I even started last year.
“I’m a very motivated person. I am very real with myself, I watch a lot of film of myself, and I look to be a little different this year.”
. . .
How players fared in their 20th season
|Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers, 1988-89||41||74 (74)||22.9||10.1||4.5|
|Robert Parish, Bulls, 1995-96||42||74 (34)||14.7||3.9||4.1|
|Kevin Willis, Hawks, 2004-05||42||29 (5)||11.9||3.0||2.6|
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.