Posted by Sekou Smith
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Milwaukee Bucks guard Jerry Stackhouse thought he’d made the list.
A 15-year NBA veteran, the 35-year-old Stackhouse figured there couldn’t be more than a couple of players his age or older in the playoffs.
Silly youngster, Stackhouse didn’t even make the top eight.
“I didn’t make it?” he said, sounding surprised and relieved at the same time. “Wow, I thought I was up there.”
Oddly enough, the eight oldest players in the league are all on playoff rosters. The elite eight: Shaquille O’Neal (38, Cleveland), Kurt Thomas (37,Milwaukee), Grant Hill (37, Phoenix), Kevin Ollie (37, Oklahoma City), Juwan Howard (37, Portland), Michael Finley (37, Boston), Jason Kidd (37, Dallas) and Theo Ratliff (36, Charlotte).
And outside of Ollie, they all play crucial roles for their teams.
“If you’re still hanging around in the league, you’re obviously doing something right, basketball-wise and off the court,” said Finley, a 15-year veteran that played for both the Spurs and Celtics this season. “Nobody wants to put a knucklehead on their team, especially a championship-contending team.”
Thomas is holding down the middle for the Bucks in their first round series against the Hawks with Andrew Bogut out with an injury. He’s not shocked to see so many of the league’s old guard still at work.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Thomas, who is also in his 15th season. “When you’ve been playing as long as we have, you definitely learn your craft. You know what you have to do to be successful out there on the floor and you just try to hone in on those things and maintain that focus.”
Durability certainly isn’t an issue for this group at this late stage. Still, it’s a mystery how so many of them have remained viable this late in their careers.
“Maybe [it’s luck] luck?” said Kidd, who is in his 16th season. “When you talk about Juwan, Grant and those guys, they really take care of their bodies. Mentally if you still feel you can compete that’s the biggest challenge as you get older. When you look at those guys, they feel they can contribute and are contributing in a big way.”
That doesn’t mean the old guys have escaped the comic scrutiny of their younger teammates or fans.
“My friends I grew up with can’t believe I’m still playing,” Thomas said. “And I even had one fan in [Washington D.C.] scream out that he had found my AARP card. But you just take it all in stride. I love doing what I’m doing. When I first made it into the league, my goal was to try to play 10 years. When I reached that point I wanted to play 15. And now I just want to keep going. When I was with San Antonio coach [Gregg] Popovich told me I should keep playing as long as I could and I’m taking that advice and running with it.”
Kidd takes pride in being a part of the old guard.
“You look at this time of the year and you need veteran guys,” he said. “You look at Grant, Howard, these guys have been in battles and understand what it takes to win. Sometimes some wisdom comes in, but these guys are still playing at a high level and helping their teams win, so I think it makes it fun to come to work and have that challenge against younger guys.”
There is certainly a savvy that comes with age, even if there is an obvious decline in physical prowess.
“I think I’m just a lot smarter,” Thomas said. “I don’t make the mistakes I used to when I was younger. I know I’m not as fast as I used to be and I don’t jump as high as I used to. I just try to focus on the things that I can do well out there and stick to those.”
– NBA.com’s Art Garcia and John Schuhmann contributed to this report.