It was Knicks fan Woody Allen who famously said that 80 percent of success is showing up.
Rarely has that adage been more appropriate in the NBA than the first month of this season when knee surgery has once more scratched Derrick Rose from the Bulls lineup and so many other big names — Andre Iguodala, Marc Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, to name a few — are on the mend or up in the air with their health status.
In an age when analytics have eye-in-the-sky overhead cameras taking video and collecting data on each player on the court 25 times per second, sometimes one of the most basic truths can be overlooked — you can’t help if you don’t play.
Durability is much a part of a player’s makeup and his legacy as any shooting, rebounding or passing skill. Ask Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, Brandon Roy, Yao Ming, Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway or Antonio McDyess. Check with Sam Bowie and Greg Oden.
So in this black and blue month of blown knees, bad backs and torn Achilles’ tendons, here’s a look at five all-time greats at showing up and then some:
Elvin Hayes — “The Big E” was known for the college game at the Astrodome against Lew Alcindor and UCLA, for being an NBA champion (1978), a 12-time All-Star, a three-time All-NBA first teamer, Hall of Fame member, for that trademark turnaround jumper that went down as smooth as a spoonful of ice cream, and a nose for rebounds. He was often described as a horse and it’s true that the Rockets and Bullets rode him harder than the Pony Express. Back-to-back? Three games in three nights? It didn’t bother Hayes. Just unlock the gym and turn on the lights. In 16 relentless seasons, the Big E missed just nine games out of 1,312, never more than two in a single season. He played bumped, bruised, aching and sick. But he always played. On the night of April 13, 1984, at 38, Hayes went the distance in 53 minutes of an overtime loss to the Spurs, the next-to-last game of his career.
John Stockton — Rumor always had it that the sun used to rely on Stockton to remind it to show up in the east every morning. It wasn’t just the short-shorts, the pick and roll, the bounce pass, the partnership with Karl Malone and his stoic expression that took him to the Hall of Fame. It was Stockton’s ability to take the court every night and keep time for the Utah offense with the constant beat of a metronome. He played 19 seasons and 1,504 games out of 1,526 for the Jazz, an NBA record for a player with a single team. He was indefatigable with his preparation. Coach Jerry Sloan said: “I only saw John lose in a suicide drill once in all the years we were together. Of course, he finished second and think he was 37 years old.” The longest stretch on the sidelines in his career came when Stockton missed 18 games at the start of the 1997-98 season due to a left knee injury. It was later revealed that he had micro fracture surgery performed and still was back on the court in just two months, running the show as the Jazz made their second straight trip to The Finals.
Robert Parish — An ex-peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter hadn’t even been elected as President when he was drafted in 1976 and Bill Clinton was serving his second term when he finally retired in 1997. In between, “The Chief” played more games (1,611) than any player in NBA history with a stoic demeanor that often belied his greatness. While Larry Bird and Kevin McHale eventually wore down due to age and injuries, Parish simply kept right on chugging down the track like a locomotive into the Hall of Fame and onto the list as one of the league’s 50 Greatest Players. Bill Walton once called him the “greatest shooting big man of all time” for his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers and make free throws. But the enduring image of Parish will always be as a 7-footer making his way down the court on the Celtics’ fast break as one of the greatest finishers the game has ever seen.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — He was graceful with the long arms, long legs and longer two decades of dominance. He was regal with the way he carried himself through the wintry winds of Milwaukee and into the glare of the Hollywood sunshine. He was simply majestic the way he set up on the right side of the basket, took the ball into his hands and let fly with the most singular and unstoppable shot in the history of the game — the skyhook. However, Abdul-Jabbar was not just as tall as a redwood, but as durable too. He played 20 NBA seasons and never suited up for fewer than 74 games in all but two of them. The only occasions that the five-time champion, six-time MVP and NBA all-time leading scorer missed significant playing time were when he broke bones in his hand. The first occurred during the 1974 preseason when Abdul-Jabbar was bumped hard in the low post and got his eye scratched. He then turned in anger and punched the basket support stanchion. After missing the first 16 games of the regular season, he returned to the lineup wearing goggles for the first time. The second break happened in the first two minutes of the 1977 season opener when he objected to a thrown elbow by punching Kent Benson, which forced him out of the lineup for two months.
Karl Malone — He was, after all, “The Mailman“, which should, by definition, mean that he was dependable. It also didn’t hurt that he had muscles on top of muscles, a body that that might as well have been a sculpture of a Greek god. In 19 NBA seasons, Malone played in all 82 games 11 times and missed a total of just eight games (three due to suspension) out of a possible 1,432 with the Jazz. He and Stockton formed the most durable — and maybe best — guard-forward combination in league history, playing a record 1,412 games together for one team. It is interesting to note that in what was the best scoring season (31.2 ppg) of his career, Malone lost out in the fan balloting to be a Western Conference starter in the 1990 All-Star Game to A.C. Green of the Lakers. Malone talked about boycotting the game, eventually relented and then sprained his right ankle in the week leading up to All-Star Weekend and was replaced in the lineup by the Mavs’ Rolando Blackman. He also missed the 2002 All-Star Game to be with his mother, who was ill. Malone’s iron man routine finally gave way in his final NBA season when he jumped from Utah to L.A. Malone and the Lakers were off to a great start until he bumped knees with Scott Williams of the Suns and missed the next 39 games. When he returned to the lineup, Malone was never the same. The injury was eventually diagnosed as a torn MCL.