Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Advises Tom Brady on Playing In Your 40s

Two great players, two long careers

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers
Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drops back to pass in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers.
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Playing any sport at an elite level is a tremendous challenge for most athletes. To be one of the best in your chosen sport is even harder. And to be one of the best for years — to say nothing of decades — is even more of an achievement. Very few athletes can be one of the best in their sport from their 20s to their 40s. A recent article in The Ringer documented how Henry Aaron did this — and it’s a testament to how Aaron was a great even among the game’s greats.

The same could be said for Tom Brady; the same could also be said for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar spent 20 seasons in the NBA before retiring; Brady’s pro career began in 2000 and shows no sign of ending. In a new article for The Guardian, Abdul-Jabbar drew upon his own experiences of playing in his 40s to offer Brady some advice.

Abdul-Jabbar empathically addresses the effect growing older can have on an athlete’s body. “[A]ging for an athlete is a betrayal. The body doesn’t respond with the same quickness, the same intensity, the same accuracy,” he writes. “Your best friend has become a complaining companion, kvetching about cold drafts, back pain and sore knees.”

He also points to the psychological effects of ending one’s career. “In a very visceral way, it is like facing death,” Abdul-Jabbar writes. “Not the cessation of bodily functions, but rather the cessation of one’s identity.”

The advice he offers Brady is less about physical conditioning or preparedness for the next game, but instead about being mindful of his legacy outside of the game, and what his next step might be. Abdul-Jabbar notes that his work after his career ended has included writing and activism. “Aside from your excellence in your sport, what do you stand for, what values do you represent?” he asks.

Every athlete’s career comes to an end eventually, and Abdul-Jabbar’s life has had a more interesting second act than nearly all of his peers. The questions he raises in this article connect with Brady’s long career, but they apply just as easily to other athletes playing at a high level — and they’re likely to do so for years to come.

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