I noticed the ticker on ESPN displayed new inductees to the Basketball Hall of Fame and one of them was Tracy McGrady. I thought this would be a good time to discuss my theory that even though these athletes have a right to earn a living playing basketball right out of high school, is it good for their bodies?
McGrady entered the league at age 18 in 1997. He played in his last All-Star game at the age of 28 and eventually retired at age 34 in 2013. The 2008-09 season was the last season that he averaged double digits.
I know longevity doesn’t define a stellar career, but it has to account for something. Being a prolific scorer, he wasn’t productive from age 30 on. Is that just a physical drop off or is it something related to how early he started playing professionally?
With Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett being the anomalies, since they played around 20 years even though the last few were somewhat injury plagued. Let’s look at some guys who went straight from high school to the pros or some of the current 1 year and dones:
- Jermaine O’Neal entered the league at age 18 in 1996. He played his last All-Star game at the age of 29 and retired at the age of 35 in 2014. His last double digit scoring season was 2009-10 and he also dealt with injuries down the stretch.
- Rashard Lewis entered the league at age 19 in 1998. He played in 2 All-Star games, his last being at age 30. He retired at the age of 35 in 2014. With his last double digit scoring season being in 2010-11.
- Amar’e Stoudemire entered the league at age 20 in 2002. He played his last All-Star game at the age of 29 and played his last NBA season in 2016 at the age of 34. The last season he played a full 82 games was 2009-10. In the 7 seasons since, he played 60 or more games only twice.
- Dwight Howard entered the league at age 19 and is still playing. But, many experts would say he hasn’t played up to the level he was for several years now. He’s battled injuries and age, as he is presently 31.
- Andrew Bynum entered the league in 2005 at age 18 and has not been in the league since 2014, but really hasn’t played since the 2011-12 season. After two NBA titles with the LA Lakers and an All-Star appearance, he is relatively done at 29.
- Derrick Rose just announced he is done for the season after tearing his meniscus. The former MVP has battled injuries since tearing his ACL in the NBA 2011 playoffs. He is only 28.
- Jabari Parker, a one and done from Duke playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, has been in the league three years now. He tore his ACL his rookie year ending his season and tore his ACL again this year in February ending his season.
If you google all these guys and read about them, it talks about how much basketball they played when they were younger – AAU teams, skills academies, etc. I don’t know how much rest time these athletes got. Meaning, not just rest as in relaxing, but rest from basketball by playing another sport.
My guess is not much.
Here is what I think. Yes, physically they were ready to play in the NBA. Rookies nowadays in the NBA can range anywhere from 19-21. Several decades ago, they were probably a little older. They also didn’t play as much organized basketball and for whatever reason I feel that hits the body differently then pickup ball.
Any way you slice it these young kids have a lot more mileage on their bodies when they hit the NBA. Now you combine that with the big jump of intense games they have to play each season and these bodies will start breaking down a lot earlier.
Back in the day, not only did they not only have less mileage on their bodies when they hit the pros, but their bodies were a little bit older, a little more mature and developed, and could handle the grind a little bit better.
That is why these kids play well, but can’t sustain it because they have a body that is older than their biological age. If they had played less organized games (they could still work on their game, but ignore the high intensity AAU games) and if possible played another sport to rest from basketball, they might have lasted longer in their career.
That is my thought. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments’ box below. I’d love to hear your response.
Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/