Average NBA Retirement Age

No matter the profession there comes a point where everyone has to retire, and it’s no different for the NBA. No matter how talented the player, there comes a point where it’s time to pass on the torch to the next generation of players.

But at what age does an NBA player choose to retire, and what sort of things do they have to consider before they take the plunge?

Average Age For Retirement

Well, there’s no single age when a player decides to leave the game and while some players stay on for years, others choose to get out early. Sometimes players are forced to leave the game due to injury or a failure to negotiate a new contract.

But in the NBA as long as you’re fit and healthy you can play, so many NBA stars play for many years before bowing out. If a player is lucky enough to be able to choose when they leave, there are many different factors to consider so they can choose the right time to leave.

This article will look at some of the things NBA players consider before choosing when to retire and take a look at the average retirement age of players.

Why Do Many Players Retire In Their Mid 30's?

Most NBA players hit their prime when they’re around 27, but this is by no means a hard and fast rule, a few players (though very few) have continued playing until they’re 40. But why do players start to think about retirement when they hit their early thirties?

There are a lot of factors to consider, but generally, when a player hits their mid-thirties they’re no longer in their physical prime, and the best thing for the team is for them to bow out. As a player gets older, their risk of injury gets higher and they’re less likely to be able to recover quickly as their body changes.

If a player has a history of injury then they’re more likely to retire early. Retiring is often the best way for a player to protect their legacy and the team that they’ve devoted their professional career too.


As a player gets older, they probably won’t have the energy they did when they were younger, and the right thing for them to do is to let younger players have their shot in the big leagues. Factors like a player’s position also contribute to when a player will retire.

Power forwards and centers generally are expected to retire earlier than other players, but that’s not always the case. 


Some players, like Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, have prolonged their careers by changing their style of gameplay and work their way into spending less time on the court. Forwards and physical guards but their bodies through a lot for the game which is why they’re generally expected to retire earlier than other players.

The larger the player is, and the heavier their body is, the more quickly the physical nature of the game will take its toll. Smaller guards also might retire early though, simply because they can’t keep up with the larger players.

Dwayne Wade is an example of a player who demonstrates the amount of physicality expected of NBA players. Wade’s career was built on his ability to play physically and push his body to find new and different ways to get to the rim.

Wade injured his writs and knees multiple times with collisions mid-air with larger players, but it was this style of play that made his a great player When you consider that an NBA player has to train as hard as he plays, to be able to keep up with the other players and to continually keep their bodies in the best possible shape you really realize how much a player puts his body through for the chance to play professional basketball.

This is why by the time a player retires at around 35 it’s partly because their body is physically exhausted.

An NBA career generally lasts anywhere from 4.5 years to 6.5, but 40 years old is generally considered to be the final cut off for a player. Many players don’t actually want to retire of course, but there comes a point where they’ve simply pushed their bodies to the physical limit. 

A player can add more time to their career with their expertise and knowledge of the game, but there comes a point where there’s just no way they can continue to compete with younger, fitter players.

Top NBA Players and Their Retirement Age

Finally, let’s take a look at some of the greatest players of all time, and what age they hung up their sneakers for good.

1. Kobe Bryant

The late, great Kobe Bryant retired at age 36, after spending a 20-season long career at the LA Lakers and is widely considered to be one of the greatest players of all time. Bryant is an enigma of a player because his career well extended past the average 4.5 years.

But eventually, even he had to retire simply because his body could no longer keep up. After years of fighting through contact and battling to the rim, the game took its toll and he retired.

2. Shaquille O’Neal

Another all-time great, and Bryant’s teammate Shaq retired at 39, after almost 19 years in the league. Another of the all-time greats, he was able to keep playing thanks to his height helping him to win games, even after his athleticism began to deteriorate with age.

At just over 7-feet tall his physical style of play combined with his height gave him a major power advantage over opponents. He was even known to break the steel backboard supports with his powerful dunks, firmly cementing him in the history books.

He retired simply because the game was taking its toll on his body, and as he weighs over 300 pounds which is a lot of pressure to continually put on your knees and feet, especially in such a physical game like basketball. With nothing to prove and a long and illustrious career behind him, Shaq retired in 2011

3. Michael Jordan

No list would be complete without the Greatest of All Time. Jordan retired aged 40 in 2003. Technically this was his third retirement as he’d already retired twice, having made his final comeback aged 38, an unthinkable feat for anyone except MJ.

Out of the 15 seasons he played in the NBA, Jordan secured 6 championships for the Chicago Bulls and is considered to be the greatest basketball player of all time. 

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