At a recent dinner party my wife Mary and I hosted, a question was tossed out during conversation at the table:
"Anyone know who the oldest player to ever play in the NBA was?"
The guesses started.
My turn. "Kevin Willis," I said. "Look it up." I was confident.
A guest did a Google Search of 'The Oldest Player in NBA history is' on their phone. Once the answer had loaded, their face became contorted, looking bewildered at their phone's screen.
"Who the heck is Nat Hickey?"
After our guests had left, I researched as many details as I could find about Hickey's basketball life.
Matthew "Nat" Hickey was a 5'11" guard who played from the 1920s through 1940s with multiple early professional teams, including the original Celtics, the Cleveland Rosenblums of the American Basketball League and the Pittsburgh Raiders, Indianapolis Kautskys, and Tri-Cities Blackhawks of the NBA.
In the second year of the Basketball Association of America (the precursor to the NBA), Hickey served 29 games as head coach of the Providence Steamrollers during the 1947–48 season. On January 28, 1948, two days before his 46th birthday, Hickey decided to activate himself as a player with the Steamrollers for one game. He attempted six field goals – making none – and committed five personal fouls. He scored two points off of foul shots.
As a result of that one-game appearance, Hickey holds the record for the oldest player in NBA history at 45 years and 363 days. Wills is 2nd on the list at 44 years, 224 days.
Hickey passed away in 1979 at 76 years-of-age. Is Hickey's record as unreachable as Wilt Chamberlin's 100-point game? Which current NBA player has the best chance to top it?
Let me start by saying I believe the record will never be broken. Ever.
But if I had to pick a current player who has the best chance it would be Tim Duncan.
To break Hickey's record, Duncan would need to play an additional 8 seasons. That seems unthinkable considering how long The Big Fundamental has been in the NBA. He would break the record in his 25th NBA season. [For comparison, Willis played 21 NBA seasons.]
But here's how it would play out if I was writing the script. Duncan retires from the NBA in 4 years, at the age of 42, and takes over as Head Coach from Gregg Popovich, who moves back up to the Spurs' front office.
As Head Coach. Duncan continues to stay in shape, often competing in Spurs' practices.
Then, towards the end of the 2022-23 season, their back-up center goes down with a season-ending injury. With the Spurs the favorite to win another NBA title, Popovich and their 31-year-old superstar Kawhi Leonard talk Duncan into signing a contract for the rest of the season.
Leonard and Spurs figure a 46-year-old Duncan could defend a 29-year-old Anthony Davis in the playoffs better than any free agent available that late in the season.
So, on April 25, 2023, Tim Duncan- celebrating his 46th birthday-checks into the game for the Spurs- becoming the oldest player to ever compete in the NBA.