Tom Brady’s 23 seasons in the NFL is more than any player has played in the NBA. Given how significantly more exacting and demanding football is compared to basketball, it’s almost mind-boggling how long “TB12” lasted.
NBA players are no slouches, though. An 82-game schedule in the regular season, plus the playoffs, also takes its toll on the body. Despite that, some of them showed almost unmatched passion and grit to play for more than two decades in the toughest basketball league in the world.
Here are five hoopers who outlasted most of their counterparts who the NBA:
#5 Kevin Willis - 21 seasons
Kevin Willis played for nine different teams in 21 seasons. The bruising big man was picked by the Atlanta Hawks as the 11th pick in the loaded 1984 NBA Draft. He outlasted Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, the biggest names in the said draft class.
It was in Atlanta that “Big Smoothie” made his mark in the NBA. He played 10 ½ seasons with the Hawks, making the All-Star team in 1991-92.
Willis helped the Hawks reach the semifinals of the postseason four different times but never managed to appear in the conference finals. He bounced around the league after his prime with the Hawks until he eventually won the championship in 2003 with the San Antonio Spurs.
He retired in 2007 after playing 1,424 regular-season games.
#4 Kevin Garnett - 21 seasons
The “Big Ticket” jumped out of high school in 1995 and played 21 seasons for four different teams. Kevin Garnett is considered one of the best power forwards to play the game. His trophy case is bloated with some of the biggest and most coveted awards the NBA can hand out.
KG is a former MVP (2003-04) and Defensive Player of the Year winner (2007-08). He didn’t have much playoff success until he joined forces with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in 2007 with the Boston Celtics.
Boston’s legendary trio was responsible for banner #17. Kevin Garnett was undoubtedly the heart and soul of those great Celtics teams.
He retired in 2016 after having played 1,462 games.
#3 Dirk Nowitzki - 21 seasons
Dirk Nowitzki is the player mainly responsible for giving the Dallas Mavericks their only franchise championship in 2011. He is a former MVP who redefined how the power forward position was to be played.
The German international wasn’t the most athletic or physical player to lead a franchise. He just had a silky smooth jumper that was nearly unblockable due to his 7’0 height.
Nowitzki’s biggest claim to fame besides winning the title in 2011 was how he carried the Mavericks versus the Miami Heat. “German Jesus” took down the vaunted “Heatles” that had prime LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Dirk Nowitzki retired in 2019, holding the record for most seasons played under one NBA team. He saw action for 1,522 games.
#2 Robert Parish - 21 seasons
Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Robert Parish all played 21 seasons. The Boston Celtics legend is No. 2 on this list because he played 1,622 games in his career, which is 89 more than Nowitzki’s total.
Parish technically played one more season than the Dallas Mavericks icon due to the sheer number of games played.
“The Chief” won three NBA titles with the Boston Celtics. He was part of the rivalry between the Celtics and the Showtime Lakers, the biggest in pro sports history. Parish’s numerous battles against the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the stuff of legends.
Robert Parish, along with Kevin McHale and Larry Bird, was part of arguably the greatest frontline in league history.
In 1997, he rode off into the sunset by adding another title to his resume as part of Michael Jordan’s dynastic Chicago Bulls.
#1 Vince Carter - 22 seasons
Vince Carter was tied with Tom Brady for 22 seasons of playing pro sports after the NFL GOAT briefly hung up his cleats on February 1, 2022. Brady, however, unretired just 40 days after he announced he was done with pro football to surpass Carter’s total.
“Vinsanity” started in 1998-99, when he won Rookie of the Year honors, and ended after the 2019-20 season. He played for eight teams and a total of 1,541 games.
He is widely considered to be the greatest dunker in the history of the game. His dunk over Frenchman Frederic Weiss at the 2000 Olympics shook the basketball world.
Unfortunately for Vince Carter, the gold medal he won there was the biggest prize of his career. He never lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy during his 22-year run in the NBA.