Ranking the 10 Players with the longest NBA career

The average career span for NBA players is roughly around 4.5 years. Due to the immense level of physical activity required to play basketball at a professional level, players tend to retire before reaching 40. However, many accomplished individuals have proven time and again that age is just a number with the likes of LeBron James still dominating the NBA.

These elite athletes have achieved admiration and respect from their competitors and spectators through their everlasting loyalty to the sport. NBA is known for its tough competition and strict schedules. But they have shown what dedication and love for the sport can bring about. Here are the top 10 players with the Longest NBA careers.

#10. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20 Seasons)

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a long 20-year career which saw him become one of the most prolific scorers in the league. Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, Abdul-Jabbar’s playing style as a center was defined by his unstoppable skyhook shot and dominant presence in the paint.

Throughout his long career, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar consistently guided his team to the playoffs, displaying remarkable passion and determination. He played a total of 1,560 games averaging 24.6 points, 3.6 assists, and 11.2 rebounds during his illustrious career.

Abdul-Jabbar’s illustrious career saw him become the all-time leading scorer in NBA history, a record only broken by LeBron James in 2023. His time with the Milwaukee Bucks and later with the Los Angeles Lakers showcased his consistent excellence in dominating the paint.

Abdul-Jabbar’s work ethic and commitment to winning resulted in six NBA championships, six NBA MVP awards, two Finals MVP and a staggering 19 All-Star selections.

#9. Jamal Crawford (20 Seasons)

Jamal Crawford’s career in the NBA started after the Cleveland Cavaliers chose him in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft. However, he was moved to the Chicago Bulls on the day of the draft, where he would go on to spend four years.

Crawford’s playing style as a shooting guard and combo guard was marked by his crossover dribble, scoring versatility, and knack for creating opportunities. After his time with the Bulls, Crawford played for the New York Knicks for four seasons before making a brief stop with the Golden State Warriors.

He played a total of 1,327 games in his career where his ability to come off the bench and provide an instant offensive spark earned him the reputation as one of the best sixth men in NBA history.

He was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year three times and had a career average of 14.6 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.2 rebounds across his 20 seasons in the NBA. Crawford’s ball-handling abilities stood out as a decisive factor during his plays, and he is widely regarded as one of the best ball-handlers of all-time.

In the latter stage of his career, Crawford played as a journeyman and the skilled guard finished his career with three seasons split between the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Phoenix Suns, and the Brooklyn Nets.

#8. Kobe Bryant (20 Seasons)

Kobe Bryant, the “Black Mamba,” played his entire 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers. His list of achievements includes five championship rings, two Finals MVP awards, 18 All-Star selections, two scoring crowns, and the MVP award for the 2007-08 season.

Known for his work ethic and relentless pursuit of greatness, Bryant’s scoring ability, particularly his iconic fadeaway jumper, was an absolute spectacle. He has a total of 1346 games under his name with a total of 33,643 points and an amazing 25 points per game average. The Mamba’s scoring brilliance was clearly visible, but he also excelled on defense, with 1,944 career steals.

Kobe is one of the best basketball players of all time owing to his amazing work ethic and influence on the sport. His nickname, “Black Mamba,” relates to his mentality and leadership on the court which made him a beloved figure in the basketball world.

#7. Udonis Haslem (20 Seasons)

Miami Heat legend Udonis Haslem displayed his unending dedication over his impressive 20-season career with the team. In 879 regular-season games, he had a stable performance, averaging 7.5 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Undrafted in 2002, Haslem signed with the Miami Heat and quickly became a key contributor. His playing style as a power forward and center was characterized by tough defense, rebounding, and an ability to score in the paint.

His skill and leadership on the court played a crucial role in Heat’s success, winning three rings during his career. Haslem’s impact was more than his statistics as he was a true leader. Throughout his career in the NBA, he upheld loyalty and dedication to one franchise, becoming an asset to the team’s legacy.

#6. Robert Parish (21 Seasons)

Nicknamed “The Chief,” Robert Parish had an exceptional NBA career spanning 21 seasons in the league. Drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1976, Parish made an immediate impact with his presence for the Dubs.

As a center, his playing style was marked by exceptional rebounding, shot blocking, and a reliable mid-range jump shot. Parish went on to play for the Celtics during the 1980s, contributing significantly to their three NBA championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986.

Throughout his 21 seasons in the league, Robert Parish averaged 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in a crazy 1,611 appearances. Parish became a nine-time NBA All-Star, retiring as the all-time leader in games played, while signing off with his fourth Championship with the Chicago Bulls in his final NBA season.

#5. Kevin Willis (21 Seasons)

Kevin Willis enjoyed an impressive 21-season NBA career which saw him play in 1,424 games. Drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 1984, Willis’ playing style was characterized by his rebounding prowess and scoring ability in the post.

Willis played for several teams during his career, including the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs. It was with the Spurs that he clinched the only Championship of his career in 2003.

Known for his physical presence in the paint and ability to contribute on both ends of the floor, he averaged 12.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists during his career. Willis retired from the NBA in 2007 after playing 21 seasons in the league.

#4. Kevin Garnett (21 Seasons)

When the Minnesota Timberwolves picked Kevin Garnett fifth overall in the 1995 NBA draft, he was committed fully to the franchise for the next 14 years. A new era of his career began as he joined the Boston Celtics after he had failed to win an NBA title with the Timberwolves.

In his very first season with the Celtics, Garnett won the NBA championship.

His tenacious mentality on the court made him a fan favorite, earning him the NBA MVP in 2004. Garnett’s defensive prowess played a crucial role in the Celtics’ 2008 NBA championship.

Kevin Garnett played a total of 1,462 games where he averaged 17.8 points, 3.7 assists, and 10 rebounds per game. Throughout his career, Garnett was a 15-time NBA All-Star and a 12-time All-Defensive Team member. His commitment to excellence and leadership qualities made him a revered figure in the league.

#3. Dirk Nowitzki (21 Seasons)

Dirk Nowitzki is widely regarded as one of the greatest foreign players in NBA history. Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998 but traded to the Dallas Mavericks, Nowitzki showcased his loyalty to the franchise by spending his 21-season career with the Mavs.

Known for his signature one-legged fadeaway jumper, Nowitzki revolutionized the power forward position with his exceptional shooting and scoring ability.

His amazing three-point shooting skills were evident in his 1,982 successful threes, making him one of the best three-point shooters of all-time. Demonstrating consistent excellence, Nowitzki averaged 20.7 points, 2.4 assists, and 7.5 rebounds per game in a total of 1,522 total games in his career.

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks to a memorable championship victory in 2011, earning the Finals MVP award. The German Race Car also claimed the MVP title during the 2006-07 season.

#2. LeBron James (21 seasons)

LeBron James, often hailed as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, is now playing his 21st season in the NBA. Drafted as the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, LeBron has played for the Cavs, the Miami Heat, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

From being a prolific scorer to an exceptional playmaker and a dominant force on the defensive end, LeBron James has defied age to continue his domination year after year, earning the moniker “King James.”

LeBron’s playing style as a forward is marked by a combination of athleticism, scoring ability, passing, and basketball IQ. He became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer last season breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring tally which had stood for nearly four decades. LeBron’s current career average in the league is 27.2 points, 7.3 assists, and 7.5 rebounds.

He has won four rings with three different teams and is a widely beloved figure among fans, making him one of the most followed NBA athletes across social media platforms. LeBron’s leadership on and off the court, and his ability to elevate the performance of his teammates have solidified his status as a basketball icon.

#1. Vince Carter (22 Seasons)

Vince Carter, often referred to as “Half Man, Half Amazing,” enjoyed an incredible 22-season NBA career but unfortunately, he never managed to win a title. Drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1998 but traded to the Toronto Raptors, Carter’s versatile playing style and dunking prowess quickly made him a fan favorite.

The NBA legend played for eight different NBA franchises throughout his 22 seasons and played in a total of 1,541 games. His iconic dunks, including the famous “Dunk of Death” during the 2000 Olympics, solidified his status as one of the greatest dunkers in NBA history.

Vince Carter was named the 1998–1999 NBA Rookie of the Year and had been an eight-time All-Star. It was with Carter that the Raptors made their first ever playoffs in franchise history.

Across his illustrious 22-season career, he averaged 16.7 points, 3.1 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game. His decision to retire in 2020 as the oldest NBA player was a perfect ending to his legendary career.

What are your thoughts on the best players with the longest NBA careers in history? Can LeBron James surpass Vince Carter in terms of longevity? Let us know in the comments.

Sami Haider

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Sami Haider is an NBA writer at SportsKnot. His foray into basketball scriptwriting started in 2020, when he was enthralled by the Los Angeles Lakers' NBA championship victory. His previous experience was limited to dribbling and dunking as a neighborhood kid. His insightful writings show how much he loves the sport. His writing goes beyond numbers and scores, giving readers a unique viewpoint on the players, teams, and events that define the basketball scene. Whether you're a die-hard fan or a casual observer, Sami's work is essential for anybody trying to expand their knowledge and love of the NBA.


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