Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NBA Saves All Its Love For Rookies- What About The Old Guys?

Following the 2010-11 regular season, as it has every year since 1953, the NBA will hand out the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy, to honor the league’s top newcomer as the Rookie of the Year. The list of the award’s 61 previous recipients (three times the award has been shared by two players) is jam-packed with some of the most iconic names in the game’s history- Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Wilt, Oscar Robertson, Earl Monroe, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor), Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Chris Paul… you get the picture.

The award serves a dual purpose: honoring the player whose acclimatization to the highest level of competitive basketball is the most seamless, as well as calling attention to the league’s newest crop of young stars. While it certainly makes sense to pay tribute to the players that laugh in the face of growing pains, the Rookie of the Year award strikes me as a bit odd in that it honors standout performances, with eligibility based not necessarily on youth (Arvydas Sabonis had 14 years of professional experience in Europe and was nearly nine years older than Damon Stoudamire when the two were eligible for the 1996 ROY award), but solely on a comparable level of inexperience.

To be clear, I have no issues with the Rookie of the Year award. The player that makes the greatest impact in his first campaign at the game’s highest level is absolutely deserving of recognition. Plus, for someone who’s a fan not only of a specific team but of the entire league, following the Rookie of the Year race is a great way to become acquainted with some fantastic young players that one might not have a chance to watch on a regular basis.

On Sunday night, as I watched the seemingly ageless (he’s actually 36) Marcus Camby torch the Clippers with a positively Camby-esque 12-point (on 7 FGA), 19-rebound (6 offensive) performance, it got me thinking… what about the other end of the spectrum?

The NBA honors players that play well despite never having suited up in the league, but what about the guys who continue to play well after having suited up for years? Laughing at growing pains is great, but so is thumbing your nose (does anyone under the age of 60 still use that term?) at Father Time.

I concluded that the NBA should create a new award- called the “Ageless Wonder,” the “Kareem,” the “Karl Malone Trophy” or, in light of recent results, “An Ode To The Phoenix Suns' Training Staff”- to honor the best individual performance by a 35+ year-old player each season. Team success would be a factor, but the award would focus predominantly on individual achievement in the face of advancing age, much like the Rookie of the Year rewards achievement in the face of inexperience.

After a quick trip to basketballreference.com, where I was able to assemble a list of the best performances by guys 35 or older, I assembled my list of the winners of the “Ageless Wonder” award (if it existed) since 1980. Please note that in three of these seasons the 35+ pool so woefully weak, I bent the rule and used a 34 year-old. Sue me!

1980-81- Elvin Hayes (Washington Bullets, Age 35)- 81 games, 17.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg

1981-82- Elvin Hayes (Houston Rockets, Age 36)- 82 games, 16.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.3 bpg

1982-83- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers, Age 35)- 79 games, 21.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 5.58% FG; All-Star and All-NBA Second Team

1983-84- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers, Age 36)- 80 games, 21.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 57.8% FG; All-Star and All-NBA First Team

1984-85- Artis Gilmore (San Antonio Spurs, Age 35)- 81 games, 19.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 62.3% FG

1985-86- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers, Age 38)- 79 games, 23.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.6 bpg, 56.4% FG; All-Star and All-NBA First Team

1986-87- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers, Age 39)- 78 games, 17.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 56.4% FG; All-Star

1987-88- Alex English (Denver Nuggets, Age 34)- 80 games, 25 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 49.5% FG; All-Star

1988-89- Alex English (Denver Nuggets, Age 35)- 26.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 4.7 apg, 49.1% FG; All-Star

1989-90- Robert Parish (Boston Celtics, Age 36)- 79 games, 15.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 58% FG; All-Star

1990-91- Robert Parish (Boston Celtics, Age 36)- 81 games, 14.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 59.8% FG; All-Star

1991-92- Moses Malone (Milwaukee Bucks, Age 36)- 82 games, 15.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg

1992-93- Robert Parish (Boston Celtics, Age 36)- 79 games, 12.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 53.5% FG

1993-94- Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks-Los Angeles Clippers, Age 34)- 74 games, 26 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.2 spg; All-NBA Third Team

1994-95- Dominique Wilkins (Boston Celtics, Age 35)- 77 games, 17.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg

1995-96- Dale Ellis (Denver Nuggets, Age 35)- 81 games, 14.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 47.9% FG, 41.2% 3-pt

1996-97- Dale Ellis (Denver Nuggets, Age 36)- 82 games, 16.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 36.4% 3-pt

1997-98- Detlef Schrempf (Seattle Supersonics, Age 35)- 78 games, 15.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.4 apg, 48.7% FG, 84.4% FT, 41.5% 3-pt

1998-99- Karl Malone (Utah Jazz, Age 35)- 49 games (lockout year), 23.8 ppg, 9.4rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.3 spg, 49.3% FG; All-NBA First Team and NBA MVP (no All-Star Game due to lockout)

1999-00- Karl Malone (Utah Jazz, Age 36)- 82 games, 25.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1 spg, 50.9% FG; All-Star

2000-01- Karl Malone (Utah Jazz, Age 37)- 81 games, 23.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 49.8% FG; All-Star and All-NBA Third Team

2001-02- Karl Malone (Utah Jazz, Age 38)- 80 games, 22.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.9 spg; All-Star

2002-03- Karl Malone (Utah Jazz, Age 39)- 81 games, 20.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.7 spg, 46.2% FG

2003-04- Gary Payton (Los Angeles Lakers, Age 35)- 82games, 14.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 47.1% FG

2004-05- Reggie Miller (Indiana Pacers, Age 39)- 66 games, 14.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.2 apg

2005-06- Sam Cassell (Los Angeles Clippers, Age 36)- 78 games, 17.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 6.3 apg, 86.3% FT, 36.8% 3-pt

2006-07- Grant Hill (Orlando Magic, Age 34)- 65 games, 14.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 51.8% FG

2007-08- Grant Hill (Phoenix Suns, Age 35)- 70 games, 13.1ppg, 5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 0.8 bpg, 50.3% FG, 86.7% FT

2008-09- Shaquille O'Neal (Phoenix Suns, Age 36)- 75 games, 17.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 60.9% FG; All-Star and All-NBA Third Team

2009-10- Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns, Age 35)- 81 games, 16.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 11 apg, 50.7% FG, 93.8% FT, 42.6% 3-pt; All-Star and All-NBA Second Team

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