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Nat Hickey: The oldest player to have played in the NBA

Prayank
ANALYST
2.24K   //    19 Oct 2015, 14:43 IST
Hickey (left) played for the Cleveland Rosenblums at close to 46 years of age

Matthew ‘Nat’ Hickey is the oldest player to have played in the NBA as he played his last game at the age of 45 years and 363 days for Providence Steamrollers, who then played in the league organised by Basketball Association of America (now NBA – National Basketball Association).

Nat Hickey’s playing career

Hickey, 5’11” tall, played mainly as a Point Guard and sometimes as forward from 1920 till the early 1940s, even before the inception of the NBA,  in other professional leagues. He played for the Original Celtics, Cleveland Rosenblums (in the American Basketball League), the Pittsburgh Raiders, Indianapolis Kautskys and Tri-Cities Blackhawks (in the National Basketball League).

Although he stopped playing at the age of 40 and started coaching Baseball minor league teams, and later the Providence Steamrollers in the second season of the BAA, Hickey made a comeback for a single game in the 1947-48 season, making him the oldest player to have played in the NBA (then Basketball Association of America).

Hickey’s Last Game

During the 1947-48 season, Nat was serving as the Head Coach of the Providence Steamrollers, and mid-season already had 29 games under his belt as a coach when he decided to make a single-game comeback just two days before his 46th birthday.

The Official NBA Basketball Encyclopedia states that Hickey managed to score two points in the game off three foul shots. He failed to score in any of the six field goal attempts and committed five fouls.

Holding the record for the oldest player to have played a game in the NBA is his only notable achievement in professional basketball.

Criticisms and the Kevin Willis conundrum

Basketball fans and several pundits have often criticised the record and Nat Hickey’s position in the history of the game, overshadowing Kevin Willis, who for most was the oldest Basketball player, and played his last game aged 44 years and 224 days.  

Willis retired in 2007 and played 5 games in his last season for Dallas Mavericks, making him the second oldest player in the history, but fans often cite that he is the oldest player to have played more than one game in his last season. 

It’s often argued that during the time Hickey played his last game, the NBA technically didn’t exist, as at the time of his last game the league was officially called the Basketball Association of America (BAA), which later merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) in August 1949 to form NBA.

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Prospective record-breakers

Although Nat Hickey’s record is often said to be unbeatable as much as Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, and it is a real test of an athlete’s resolve to play beyond the age of 40, below are listed few of the oldest active players in the NBA right now who may have a shot at breaking the record set by Nat Hickey.*

  • Andre Miller currently plays for Minnesota Timberwolves as a Point Guard, at the age of 39, with still a year left on his contract. He turns 40 in March before the season ends. The highlight of his career being the 2001-02 season when he led the league sheet for the most number of assists per game at 10.9 for Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • Tim Duncan, also 39, plays for the San Antonio Spurs as their Power Forward and Center, is a fan-favourite to break the record mainly due to his calm and composed personality both on and off the court. Having played 18 seasons in the NBA, he’s one of the most respected and honoured players who is still active. Duncan has featured in 15 All-Star appearances, has won five championship rings and is also the all-time leading scorer of the San Antonio Spurs, with two more years left on his current contract.
  • Kevin Garnett may be considered one of the most dirtiest players in the league and although he plays in the same position as his rival, his personality is in total contrast with that of Duncan’s, but the 39-year-old is unarguably one of the finest players to have graced the game. Although Garnett has a single championship ring which he won playing for the Boston Celtics in 2007-08, he also featured in 15 All-Star appearances and is the only player in the history of NBA to have reached 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists in his career. Garnett has two years remaining on his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves with who he started his career.
  • *Updated October 19 2015
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Prayank
ANALYST
Bike enthusiast, traveler, ManUtd follower, army brat, a journalist, an aspiring novelist; ACJ alumnus, Co-Founder and Editor at Candid Today
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