This appears in ph.nba.com
The age-old question
by rick olivares
After the Los Angeles Lakers’ 103-99 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers to open 2013, the 34-year old Kobe Bryant had one reason to his team’s 15-16 season: “Cause we’re old as shit. We just got to figure out how to play when we don’t have that energy. We got to figure out what we want to do offensively, figure out what we want to do on nights when we don't have those legs or have that energy."
I never buy that excuse unless you were Robert Parish hanging on for one last championship ring.
Of course, old players take a little more time to recover. San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Greg Popovich (in)famously sat down three of his veteran stars – he actually sent them home to Texas – in a match against the Miami Heat early in the season. “I’m mostly concerned with the health and safety of my players, especially.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern didn’t agree as he slapped the Spurs with a hefty $250,000 fine saying that he did the fans a disservice.
We’re not here to debate the Commish’s views but rather, I’d like to discuss that age old question about – age.
According to Simon Kuper, a British writer who is also a disciple of the school of Sabermetrics (is the specialized analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity) and is the co-author of the best-selling book, Soccernomics, has this to say: “Male ballplayers in almost all sports peak somewhere between 26 and 29. For instance, the average age of an NBA player going into the 2011 season was 26.77. Every team in the MLB in 2010 had an average age somewhere between 25.9 (for the Cleveland Indians) and 28.7 (the Philadelphia Phillies). The average age of the top 10 men's tennis players is currently 26.8. And ice hockey players peak at 27, according to statistics.”
I will not debate Kuper as his work has been backed up by so many. However, I will say this, just because one is past his prime that doesn’t mean that they are done winning. In fact, veteran-laden teams trump the young guns that try to take the league by storm. Case in point: last year’s NBA Finals where the veteran Miami Heat team defeated the young but supremely talented Oklahoma City Thunder.
And NBA history is replete with veteran squads carting off the Larry O’Brien trophy by season’s end.
When the Chicago Bulls won the 1997 and 98 titles, 10 players from their team were over 30 years of age:
Robert Parish 44
Dennis Rodman 37
Michael Jordan 35
Bill Wennington 35
Ron Harper 34
Steve Kerr 33
Scottie Pippen 33
Jud Buecheler 30
Randy Brown 30
Toni Kukoc 30
And this time except for Parish who only played the 1996-97 season in the Windy City before hanging it up, all these players were around for their second three-peat wave.
The Bulls aren’t alone in that respect. The Detroit Pistons of 1987-88 had several key players in their 30s.
James Edwards 34
Adrian Dantley 33
Vinnie Johnson 33
Rick Mahorn 31
Mark Aguirre 30
Dantley of course was traded midway through the season to the Dallas Mavericks for Aguirre. The other key components of the Pistons’ back-to-back champion teams – Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman were in their late 20s at that time.
We can go back to the time of the Boston Celtics of 1985-86 that is arguably one of the best NBA teams of all time. Most of their key players (Danny Ainge and Jerry Sichting were both 28 years of age then) were over the ages of 30:
Bill Walton 34
Scott Wedman 34
Robert Parish 33
Dennis Johnson 32
Larry Bird 31
Jerry Sichting 31
Let’s look to more recent NBA history with the 2011 champions Dallas Mavericks.
Jason Kidd 37
Shawn Marion 36
Dirk Nowitski 35
Peja Stojakovic 34
Jason Terry 34
Brendan Haywood 31
Caron Butler 30
I can pretty much make a case for every NBA team. But that's belaboring the obvious.
Anyways, let’s give Kobe the benefit of the doubt and examine his team:
Steve Nash is 38
Steve Nash is 38
Antawn Jamison is 36
Kobe Bryant is 34
Metta World Peace is 33
Pau Gasol is 32
Steve Blake is 32
Chris Duhon is 31
Yes, they are an old team and I do not know of any NBA team that has won a title with a 38-year old point guard. Steve Nash has certainly seen better days and has suited up in only seven games out of the 31 the Lakers have played. And that is huge! His backups – Blake and Duhon are still very capable although the former has been injury prone since leaving Portland where he was very steady.
Michael Jordan was the first to defy that age thing when it was said that older shooting guards do not win scoring titles let alone NBA titles. Tsk. Tsk. Bryant is – in his 17th NBA season – leading the league in scoring.
The roots of the Lakers’ problems can also be attributed to the poor fit of Mike Brown as their head coach and the injuries that have plagued this team. I am not even certain that Mike D’Antoni is their right coach as well. His style of play – uptempo and run and gun – suits a younger team. More Oklahoma and perhaps more Houston than San Antonio.
The Lakers’ poor start has put them in their hole at they are for once, looking up to the Los Angeles Clippers who have gotten good these past two seasons.
All they have to do as well is to look eastward to the New York Knicks with their veteran veteran (let me say that twice to emphasize it) lineup that they brought Rasheed Wallace out of retirement. Even though the good vibes have tapered off for the Knicks, they are still at 21-10. That is better than so many teams in the league (considering Amare Stoudemire has only played in one game). Will lightning strike twice for New York (remember the Chicago Bulls brought out Parish for the 1997-98 season as a backup to Luc Longley and Bill Wennington)? We’ll find out in a few months.
It’s rough patch for these Lakers. When Nash settles back into their offense and barring another injury, things should get better for Los Angeles. I’d even venture to say they need to make a mid-season trade to get better.
When teams win, all is right. When teams lose, then everything, warts and all, are the culprit. As for age, I am still not buying it. Unless you’re getting Robert Parish minutes in 1997.