On Jan. 28, 1948, Providence Steamrollers coach Nat Hickey decided to activate himself for one game. That was two days before his 46th birthday. Statistics from those ancient days are notoriously unreliable, but the NBA Guide says that Hickey missed all three of his shots, and got an entry into the stat book only by committing one personal foul.
Nevertheless, he remains the oldest player ever to appear in an NBA game, beating out more renowned stalwarts such as Robert Parish (43), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (42), Bob Cousy and John Stockton (both 41) and Karl Malone and Michael Jordan (both 40).
There are no players with Hickey-like ages entering this season, but there are a bunch of well-seasoned, and well-known, players who are getting long in the tooth, at least from a basketball perspective. Their physical challenge this season will be formidable, given the number of back-to-backs due to the condensed season.
Herewith, our top geezers, rated 1-10 based on their Hickey Score (insert own joke here), which is a combination of age (at opening day) and basketball prowess. Ties to the superior player.
Born: March 23, 1973
Hickey Score: 46 (38 + 8)
Pedigree: Earns the No. 1 spot based on a terrific career and surprisingly inspired play during the Mavs' championship run last season.
Best seasons: In the late '90s with Phoenix, J-Kidd was a double-double machine, and his heady play helped the New Jersey Nets make back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and '03.
NBA future: Wants to play two more years and, since his craftiness enables him to remain a defensive stalwart, it seems possible.
Born: April 25, 1976
Hickey Score: 45 (35 + 10)
Pedigree: Earns the No. 2 spot based on a brilliant career that makes him, on some lists, the top power forward of all time. I don't have him quite that high, but he's in the conversation.
Best seasons: Since his rookie year of 1997-98, he has simply never had a bad season. He was a double-double machine and the stalwart on four championship teams.
NBA future: T.D. is due $21.2 million this year, the last in his contract. Yes, there was slippage last season when he sprained his ankle before the playoffs. But the best guess is that he will sign another deal -- he recently said that he isn't considering retirement -- and there's no reason he wouldn't be, say, a 10-point/seven-rebound player until he's 40.
Born: Feb. 7, 1974
Hickey Score: 45 (37 + 8)
Pedigree: Famously a two-time MVP (2005 and '06), the Canadian continues to find a way to get it done through conditioning, smarts, a deft outside touch and the ineffable ability to over-dribble without dribbling too much.
Best seasons: In the consecutive seasons beginning in 2004-05, he averaged 11.5, 10.5 and 11.6 assists while making close to 45 percent of his three-point shots.
NBA future: There has been some downturn in his energy-charged game. But in 2010-11 he averaged 14.7 points and 11.4 assists and made 91.2 percent of his free throws. As long as he stays healthy, he will get another deal, be it in Phoenix or somewhere else.
Born: Oct. 5, 1972
Hickey Score: 45 (39 + 6)
Pedigree: Might've been an immortal were it not for a relentless onslaught of foot and ankle injuries, not to mention a nearly fatal infection as a result of one surgery. His legacy will be an unquenchable will that helped him have five productive seasons after many observers thought he was done.
Best seasons: Before he was first injured in April of 2000, his sixth season, Hill's accumulated points, rebounds and assists were matched only by Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and LeBron James. That's what kind of player he was before his ill fortune.
NBA future: He has tailored his game to his age. But this is the last year of his contract, and, as an intelligent guy with much to offer society -- Senator Hill? -- I assume he will not be back.
Born: May 19, 1976
Hickey Score: 44 (35 + 9)
Pedigree: Ferocious defender who also has a deadly mid-range jumper. When he helped turned the Celtics into a championship contender after the 2007 trade, K.G. became that Scottie Pippen-like rarity -- a supremely complementary player who was also a superstar.
Best seasons: Averaged 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds for nine seasons in Minnesota, but he'll tell you that his Celtic years, despite less glittering numbers, have been his best and most rewarding.
NBA future: His contract ($21.2 million) is up, but he'll be screaming at the top of his lungs for quite a while.
Born: July 20, 1975
Hickey Score: 44 (36 + 8)
Pedigree: Larry Bird was a better player, but if you want anyone in history to take a three-point shot to win you a game, you might just take the star of He's Got Game.
Best seasons: Like Garnett, he was more productive someplace else (a consistent near-20-point scorer for 10 seasons in Milwaukee and Seattle), but became a truly respected superstar only when he came to Boston in '07.
NBA future: Also at the end of a deal ($10 million this year), but he'll get another.
Born: Feb. 7, 1973
Hickey Score: 44 (39 + 5)
Pedigree: As an esteemed member of the Fab Five ... oh, wait, that was in college. But lest you forget, the pro version was a double-figure scorer for the first 12 years of his career.
Best season: Howard was an All-Star in his second season when he averaged 22.1 points and 8.1 rebounds for the then Washington Bullets. OK, that was in 1995-96, but several other seasons that followed were close to those numbers.
NBA future: He's a good locker-room guy on a team that needs one. He'll only be getting one-year deals from now on, but he could be around for a couple more years.
Born: Oct. 4, 1972
Hickey Score: 43 (39 + 4)
Pedigree: He's the guy you send in to send a message, and you still can't leave him open because he'll hit the mid-range jumper.
Best seasons: He's been a single-digit role player for so long that it's easy to forget he was a double-figure scorer for the Knicks early in this millennium, and even had a double-double year (11.5 points, 10.4 rebounds) in 2004-05.
NBA future: I would think this is it. But I wouldn't say that to his face.
Born: Aug, 9, 1974
Hickey Score: 42 (37 + 5)
Pedigree: He was never spectacular and never an All-Star. But he took care of the ball, he hit a ton of open threes in big games, Kobe Bryant's tantrums never seemed to bother him and he did a thankless job as president of the players' union. Oh, and he has five championship rings.
Best seasons: Fish has always been remarkably consistent in his role of being-the-point-guard-but-not-really in the Kobe-centric Lakers offense. I'll go with 2009-10, when he averaged 10.3 points per game in the postseason for a championship team.
NBA future: He has an option to come back next season at $3.4 million. He's glue. He would adapt to a bench role. He'll be back.
Born: March 22, 1974
Hickey Score: 42 (37 + 5)
Pedigree: An exceptionally smart player who could probably help a team defensively when he's 60 years old.
Best seasons: As a Denver Nugget, he led the league in blocked shots for three straight seasons beginning in 2005.
NBA future: He could get (but probably won't earn) $12.9 million since he's always been a brittle player who has never appeared in 82 games in any season. This might be the end.