Why Do NBA Players Retire So Early? (3 Reasons)

How come we don’t see a lot of 40-year-old players in the NBA?

What is the reason why most players retire early?

Most NBA players retire early because of injuries and declining health. On average, they retire around 28 years old, and the average career length is around 5 seasons.

With such a short window to play in the NBA, it’s no wonder they pour out everything they’ve got in each game. So, let’s dig deep into why this is the case.

What Age do NBA Players Retire?

The average age at which players retire in the NBA is 28 years old. Although most players retire during their mid-thirties, some can last up to their forties!

Most players will average five seasons in the league. But due to many factors, a lot of them retire early.

Why do NBA Players Retire so Early? (3 Reasons)

1. Injuries

The biggest reason why players are forced to retire early is injuries.

The NBA is the highest basketball league in the world, and only 450 players get to the league. So, you can imagine the skills and tenacity that each player brings to each game.

Combine that with the 82 games they play per season, and you have a recipe for a time-ticking bomb.

Although most NBA players get injured at least once in their careers, some have it worse than others. A lot of young players were forced to retire due to this. Just look at this list:

  • Brandon Roy (Retired at 27 years old)
  • Greg Oden (Retired at 28 years old)
  • Andrew Bynum (Retired at 27 years old)
  • Brad Daugherty (Retired at 28 years old)

Now, not all players who get injured retire suddenly. They still stay in the league sometimes, but their performance eventually suffers.

Just take Derrick Rose as a prime example. He’s the youngest player to win MVP putting up 25 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.1 rebounds. But he’s now playing for the Knicks, coming off the bench due to a career-defining ACL injury.

Related: Why Do NBA Players Always Get Injured? (We Found Out Why)

2. Declining skills/athleticism

Not all players have career-altering injuries that force them to retire early. But even if that’s the case, the small injuries they get and their deteriorating skills would be the end of their careers.

It’s known that, on average, NBA players peak at around 27 to 28 years old. With such a small window to showcase their true talents, most players don’t even get to shine.

This could be due to injuries or because they can’t compete consistently with others. The truth is the NBA has the most skilled and athletic basketball players in the world.

So, when a player can no longer rely on his skills and athleticism, he may soon be out of the league.

3. No team wants to sign them

Even if a player has the skills and talent, he’s done if no team wants to sign him.

It doesn’t matter if the player still wants to play; he can’t stay in the league if no NBA team wants to get him.

Each season, we see a lot of free agents in the league that are going to China or Europe to polish their skills or earn money. When no NBA team believes they can get value from a player, they’re forced to retire early.

What do NBA Players Do When They Retire?

It’s unfortunate to see our favorite players retire. But what exactly do they do when they’re out of the league?

1. Work as a coach/basketball-related field

One of retired NBA players’ most popular career choices is to be a coach. Obviously, the goal is to coach an NBA team. But if they’re not cut for it, they can still coach college, high school, and youth teams.

The best retired NBA players to coach are:

  • Phil Jackson (Rings as a coach: 11)
  • Pat Riley (Rings as a coach: 5)
  • Steve Kerr (Rings as a coach: 4)
  • Bill Russell (Rings as a coach: 2)
  • Lenny Wilkens (Rings as a coach: 1)

Aside from being head coaches, some NBA players can work as assistant coaches and athletic trainers.

But some became analysts, commentators, and sports media figures. Some include Paul Pierce, Shaquille O’Neal, Richard Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, and Charles Barkley.

2. Venture out into business

We know that athletes especially NBA players retire earlier than normal professionals. But even if they have short careers, they may earn more than a typical professional.

As such, the smart players start to invest and build businesses while playing and then grow them when they retire.

Just look at how Michael Jordan became a billionaire. He didn’t earn all that money from playing in the league. Instead, he bought the Charlotte Hornets and earns from corporate partners like Nike, Gatorade, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola Chevrolet, 2k Sports, and Upper Deck.  

3. Work regular jobs

Sometimes, players who became broke or were forced to retire early will work regular jobs after retiring.

A prime example is LaRue Martin, the first overall pick in the 1972 NBA Draft. He was out of the league just after four years, and he worked his way from the ground up at UPS. He’s now a Community Services Manager.

4. Do nothing but receive their pension

Playing in the highest basketball league in the world can take a toll on the body. That’s why many NBA players choose to sit back and relax when they retire.

An NBA player may be guaranteed a pension if he plays at least three seasons in the league. The maximum amount they can receive as a pension can be $215,000 annually.

So, even if they don’t do anything, they will receive money thanks to this pension program.


Athletes are some of the best-paid people on the planet. But they’re also the ones who retire earliest.

At the end of the day, we need to appreciate NBA players while they’re still playing.

Read these next:

Leave a Comment