No matter an NBA star’s talent, the time will come when they must retire. But there aren’t any hard and fast rules about when players call it quits. Some bow out of the NBA early, while others remain productive far past their prime. So what’s the average age of retirement for players?
Let’s look at the factors that influence retirement as well as the NBA’s pension and investment plans that ensure that athletes are taken care of later in their life.
The average age of NBA retirement
Most analysts agree that NBA players hit their prime around age 27. This may extend for several years. But by the time an athlete reaches their early thirties, their physical abilities tend to start dropping off. Nonetheless, veteran players often add more years to their careers thanks to their accumulated experience and basketball IQ.
Generally speaking, most NBA players retire in their mid-to-late-30s. At that point, their bodies start to change more rapidly, not only decreasing their explosiveness but also increasing the risks of injury. Players with a history of injury often retire before those who spend most of their careers healthy.
Position also plays a key role in determining retirement age. Historically, centers and power forwards retire sooner than smaller wings and guards. The larger and heavier a player’s body, the more quickly wear and tear will take a toll. On the other hand, smaller guards often retire early as they can no longer compete with taller, stronger players.
Some notable players’ retirement ages
For a perfect example of the average NBA age, consider the late Kobe Bryant, who hung up his sneakers at age 36. Of course, Bryant had spent a 20 twenty seasons in the NBA — far more than the 4.5 years of the average player. Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant’s longtime teammate on the Los Angeles Lakers, retired at age 39.
In O’Neal’s case, his freakish size helped him contribute to winning even after his athletic skills greatly deteriorated. Also on the other end are Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, who both retired at age 40. Jordan, of course, already retired twice at that point. He made his last comeback at 38 years old, an unthinkable undertaking for anyone but the GOAT.
Other great players end up retiring far too soon. Take one-time Houston Rockets phenom Yao Ming. The 7-foot-6 center was a dominant force in the league, only to retire at the age of 30. In his case, poor health forced the decision. More recently, talented guard Darren Collison retired last summer at age 31. He cited a desire to dedicate himself to his faith.
NBA pension plans in a nutshell
The good news for former basketball players: The NBA offers one of the most generous pension plans of any major sports league. In order to qualify, a player must spend a minimum of three years in the NBA. The yearly pension depends on both the length of time spent in the league and the age the player chooses to start receiving benefits.
A three-year player who opts into the pension at age 62 will receive $56,998 per year. The maximum possible amount is $195,000 per year, reserved for players who spent 11 or more years in the league. In addition, the NBA offers players a league-sponsored 401(k), matching a player’s contributions by as much as 140%.
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