Hawks forward Vince Carter, 41, is in his 21st season.
Will Celtics guard Kyrie Irving – 26, is in his eighth season – match that longevity?
Irving, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:
“No, no,” Irving said with a smile before the Celtics held morning shootaround ahead of the game. “Once I’m done with this, hopefully in my early to mid-30s, I’m done with this.”
“I love basketball itself,” Irving said. “But everything that comes with it? It doesn’t really matter to me, in terms of my life. I enjoy the game, I enjoy being with my teammates, playing every single day.
“I would say, I don’t want to go into major detail, but I would just say I wish there was sometimes more empathy in terms of what we’ve committed ourselves to doing every single day. Putting our bodies on the line, understanding kind of the mental strain you put on just trying to be great every single day, and just literally putting the ball in the hoop better than you did yesterday. It comes at a price, but it’s what we all signed up [for], and it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to take for as long as possible in order to win as many championships and be as successful as I can.
“I just think the material gain in it just doesn’t really matter to me anymore as much as it once did. The little things are just what make the game special. Coming every single day and playing with these guys, and still try to figure out what that challenge is to be better as a basketball player rather than like, ‘What’s my popularity like?’ or ‘What branding could be done here?’ or something like that. That all comes, but I think the love of the game should always outshine everything else that comes with the NBA lifestyle.”
Irving has talked before about retiring relatively young. This isn’t just a fleeting thought.
Still, it can be difficult to actually walk away. Irving has spent so much of his life committed to basketball. You don’t reach his level without massive devotion to the sport. Plus, Irving will never near the compensation (through standard salary and endorsements) and perks that come with being an active NBA player once he retires.
But Irving definitely doesn’t think like a typical NBA star. He could pave his own way.
Also consider: It’s common for players to retire by their early-to-mid 30s, even if they’d rather keep playing. Injuries happen. Athleticism wanes. Even players who were as good as Irving at such a young age – and are declining from a high peak – sometimes fall off by then. Tracy McGrady retired at age 34. Isiah Thomas finished playing at age 32.
Irving pledged to re-sign with Boston next summer, and he can ink a five-year deal. He’d be 32 when it ends. It’s too soon for even Irving to say how he’ll feel about his future then. But maybe retirement will be around the corner at that point.