ESPN NBA Insider request: The Aging Preps to Pros

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Joined Jul 5, 2002
Anyone have this entire article? Looks like a good read..
By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine
Archive
This column appears in the March 22, 2010 issue of ESPN the Magazine.

We think of him as invincible. A warrior able to play throughanything: broken and dislocated fingers, excruciating back spasms,sprained ankles. We look at his age (31) and tireless work ethic andassume he'll give us four, five, maybe six more years of greatness. Weremember how Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Reggie Miller and Julius Erving thrived in their mid-30s and figure Kobe Bryant still has plenty of NBA basketball ahead of him. Maybe. But maybe not.

Back when the flood of high school players going into the NBA draftbegan, in the mid-1990s, a question circulated through the NBA's frontoffices: Would the teens have extra-long careers, or are all playerslimited to a certain number of NBA miles, regardless of when theodometer starts running? Now, as yesterday's prep phenoms becometoday's cagey vets, we're starting to see evidence of an answer. Inhip-hop parlance, 30 may be the new 20, but in the NBA, Jay-Z's mathdoesn't compute. The bodies of many of the prep-to-pros seem much olderthan their birth certificates would indicate. Even with the NBA's agelimit, one-and-dones may find themselves in the same state of prematuregraying one day.
 

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[h1]The Insider: Aging prep-to-pros[/h1]
This column appears in the March 22, 2010 issue of ESPN the Magazine.

We think of him as invincible. A warrior able to play through anything:broken and dislocated fingers, excruciating back spasms, sprainedankles. We look at his age (31) and tireless work ethic and assumehe'll give us four, five, maybe six more years of greatness. Weremember how Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Reggie Miller and Julius Erving thrived in their mid-30s and figure Kobe Bryant still has plenty of NBA basketball ahead of him. Maybe. But maybe not.

Back when the flood of high school players going into the NBA draftbegan, in the mid-1990s, a question circulated through the NBA's frontoffices: Would the teens have extra-long careers, or are all playerslimited to a certain number of NBA miles, regardless of when theodometer starts running? Now, as yesterday's prep phenoms becometoday's cagey vets, we're starting to see evidence of an answer. Inhip-hop parlance, 30 may be the new 20, but in the NBA, Jay-Z's mathdoesn't compute. The bodies of many of the prep-to-pros seem much olderthan their birth certificates would indicate. Even with the NBA's agelimit, one-and-dones may find themselves in the same state of prematuregraying one day.

Tracy McGrady is only 30, but he and his game began breaking down two seasons ago. People keep expecting Kevin Garnett,at 33, to shake off the leg injuries that have dogged him the past twoseasons and return to his energetic, above-the-rim style. That is moreof a pipe dream every day. Seen Jermaine O'Neal play lately? At 31, helooks more like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did at 41. And Rashard Lewis'numbers have dropped in each of the past three seasons. Not even lesser-- and younger -- players are immune to the march of time. It has beenseveral seasons since 27-year-old prep-to-pros Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry have been healthy, let alone nightly contributors.

"These guys are aging in dog years," an Eastern Conference scout says."The wear and tear on the body is incredible. You're talking about thestrain of travel, the strain of games, the strain of practicing. Nobodyhas paid attention because these guys are still young age-wise and theythink they've got a long time left. No, they don't. There's anexpiration date on your body and nobody, not even Kobe, is anexception."

Ah yes, Kobe. He's still arguably the game'stop player, and he is clearly in better shape than his brethrenmentioned above. But he has been banged up all season. Sure, anyone canbreak a finger, but he's also suffered back spasms and an ankle sprainthat, while not terribly severe, caused him to miss five games. Beforewriting off his ailments as knocks any player can suffer at any age, wehave to at least consider the notion that this is a sign of things tocome. After all, of the nine players who entered the NBA directly outof high school between 1995 and 1999, Kobe and Al Harrington, who just turned 30, are the only ones whose games played haven't undergone a substantial drop-off.

What people don't seem to recognize is Bryant has already had a fullcareer -- and not just in terms of historic achievements. He enteredMarch having played 1,178 games, including the postseason. That's morethan Jordan played with the Bulls, and more than West, George Gervin,Rick Barry, Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor, Joe Dumarsand Oscar Robertson played in their whole careers. Only a few of theall-time greats at Bryant's position -- Miller, Erving, John Havlicekand Clyde Drexler-- logged more pro games than he has, and all of them began toexperience an appreciable decline after completing roughly the samenumber of games Bryant has.

"This is just a theory basedon nearly 20 years of observation, but there seems to be a certainnumber of athletic minutes in a body," says T.O. Souryal, who is in his18th season as the Mavericks' team physician. "And the athletic clockwill probably hit earlier for guys who came straight out of high schoolbecause of the total exposures to NBA games and practices."

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"These guys are aging in dog years."

What's interesting is that the four perimeter players who have logged the most minutes in NBA history -- Miller, Havlicek, John Stockton and Gary Payton -- all played at least three years of college ball. The current iron man among guards, Jason Kidd, entered the league at 21 with two seasons of NCAA experience. Steve Nash,at 36, seems to be ignoring his age, but he was a four-year collegeplayer. He has actually appeared in 82 fewer pro games than Kobe. It'strue that none of the guys who have aged gracefully featured thehigh-flying athleticism of many of the kids who joined up straight outof high school.

But more to the point, while Kobe &Co. were playing 82 games (many of them back-to-back), practicing threehours a day and landing in some city at 3 a.m. before waking for an 11a.m. workout, college players were playing 30-40 games a season andpracticing less. By the time they turned pro, at 21 or 22, their bodieswere seasoned for the rigors of the NBA. Their teen counterparts nevergot that chance.

"When you come into the league at 18,your body is still developing," says trainer Tim Grover, who has workedwith Jordan, T-Mac and Dwyane Wade."You're not even fully grown. When you start taking on that much impactat such an early age, it definitely has a negative effect on the body."

It is conventional wisdom to say the 25-year-old LeBron Jameshas an eternity left to chase championships. But James, in his seventhseason, had already played 592 games through February. That's 324 morethan Jordan had under his belt at 25. LeBron is already getting upthere in basketball years. "He's not quite as young as people think,''Grover says. "He's a physical specimen that I haven't seen before inthis sport, so he has a chance to be on the other side of the curve.But he plays a lot of minutes, he plays year-round, and the way heplays -- attacking the basket, absorbing contact, blocking shots --puts extra stress on the body. Hopefully, it won't catch up to him."

James' size and strength would seem to work in his favor. When heentered the NBA he was physically as close to a man as any 18-year-oldcan be, and that allowed him to do what no other high school prodigyhas done -- average 20.9 ppg the season after his prom. The oneprep-to-pro who had an unusually long career, Moses Malone, also had an outsize physique. The 6'10" Malone played until he was 40, although his last All-Star caliber season came at 34.

Of course, today's players have the benefit of all sorts of aids andamenities Malone didn't. Improved nutrition, strength training,technology, charter flights and five-star hotels go a long way towardeasing the grind. But even with all those luxuries, a guy like T-Mac,who continues to struggle in his return from microfracture kneesurgery, just smiles when asked if his body is as young as that ofanother 30-year-old ballplayer. "I've got a lot of mileage on my body,"the 13-year vet says with a laugh.

Kobe and LeBron haveproved they can do almost anything on a basketball court. But turningback the odometer may be too much to expect from either of them.
 
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Joined Jul 7, 2001
Got to hit the gym year round. With all the different training techniques, massage therapy, state of the art training facilities and machines, a player should be able to play a while. The problem is, a lot of players don't workout during the off-season, and they kind of let their bodies go, then try to jumpstart it once the season nears. Another problem, some cats just are brittle, T-mac being an example. Sure he's been in the league a while, but he's never played deep into the playoffs, didn't do the more recent USA basketball commitment, and has always missed games throughout his career. You can tell he hits the weights, but he's brittle. Players have to raise their level of commitment and realize, yes basketball is a sport, but it's also their job.
 
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I know ppl like to take shots at Mcgrady in threads like this but the thing is Mcgrady had a back problem since he entered the league. He stated it himself that it was the reason why he chose basketball over baseball, so it's no surprise that ten years into his career his body began showing explicit signs of it's downward spiral
 
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Joined Sep 20, 2006
A lot of great players faded before their mid 30s. There are only a select percentage of guys who can continue to play at an all-star level well into that time period. So I don't think the problems with people like McGrady and Garnett are because they came out of high school. Sometimes, it can just be bad luck.
Also, some may not agree, but I feel like years in college can take as much out of your body as those years in the NBA. Partying/drinking sets your body back at either level. So does not having the 24/7 time with some of the world's best strength & conditioning coaches/trainers. I feel like that level of training/conditioning of their body goes up in the L. It depends how you invest your time and energy at either level IMO.
 
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Joined Jan 9, 2007
I think it has more to do w/ how the players play the game....guys who's are athletic usually rely on their athletic ability. I think nash and kidd will be able to play at least 20 mpg until they're 40 years old because they dont rely on athleticism..

I have a feeling D Wade's body will break down like T-Mac's within then next 2 or 3 seasons.

I used to joke and say if Rasheed Wallace cared and wanted to play until he was 45 he could, because once he stopped posting up and banging in the paint he extended his career..
 
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Originally Posted by TheGift23

I thought it was common knowledge...
this

plus a lot of players play year round and that puts extra strain on the body, they dont let their body rest like they should

injuries while playing for the national team doesnt help either (parker, manu
)
 
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