Skip to main content

10 NBA Players Who Started Playing Basketball Late: Dennis Rodman Began Playing At 21 Years Old

10 NBA Players Who Started Playing Basketball Late: Dennis Rodman Began Playing At 21 Years Old

Many people think that NBA players were born with a basketball in their hands, due to their incredible skills and knowledge of the game. But that simply isn't the case. For some of the game's greatest players, the opposite is actually true.

Some of the most iconic basketball stars found their love for the game late but did not let that deter them. Here are the 10 NBA stars who started playing basketball very late in their lives.

10. Dirk Nowitzki - 13 Years Old

Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki plays as if he was born to be a basketball player. He has a natural stroke, unique moves such as his one-legged fade away, and an incredible awareness for the game. But the former NBA Champion and Hall of Famer only started playing once he turned 13 years old.

Nowitzki did not have the physical gifts of other bigs his size, but his shooting and scoring ability from the perimeter gave him the advantage he needed. Dirk is one of the greats and his hard work to become a superstar is a lesson to young players.

9. Amar'e Stoudemire - 14 Years Old


Amar'e Stoudemire had a rough childhood but overcame the odds to become a 6-time All-Star and 5-time All-NBA Team performer. But the athletic scorer and glass cleaner wasn't born a great player.

Stoudemire started at 14 years old, using basketball as his way to focus on what's important in his life. Amar'e learned the game quickly and entered the league at 20 years old en route to winning Rookie of the Year.

8. Tim Duncan - 14 Years Old

Tim Duncan

It is amazing how a kid starting basketball at 14 years old can end up with the basketball IQ and two-way dominance like Tim Duncan. Duncan is a 5-time NBA champion and one of the ten greatest players to have ever lived.

Tim Duncan had size to his advantage but he used his brain to dominate the game professionally. Tim Duncan was actually a professional swimmer but later found basketball as his path to incredible success.

7. Joel Embiid - 15 Years Old

(via Bleacher Report)

(via Bleacher Report)

Current MVP candidate and superstar center Joel Embiid only started playing basketball at 15 years old. The Cameroonian was scouted and recognized thanks to the "Basketball Without Borders" program.

Of course, Embiid has incredible size, but he developed his skills quickly. Most kids can't learn the natural instincts for the game that Embiid has at 15 and later, but the Cameroonian managed to do it.

6. Hakeem Olajuwon - 15 Years Old

Hakeem Olajuwon

One of the greatest players to have ever lived, Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon started playing organized basketball very late. This is arguably the most surprising inclusion since Hakeem had the best footwork of all-time and style in the game.

The Dream won 2 NBA titles with the Houston Rockets, and his dominance on both ends of the floor cannot be denied. Hakeem only needed his mid-teens to start his path to becoming a historical NBA figure.

5. Steve Francis - 16 Years Old


Former Rockets star Steve Francis started playing at 16 years old, which is surprising since he seemed like a natural scorer and playmaker at his prime. Playing point guard in the NBA is never easy, but Francis made it seem so.

Francis is the only non-big to appear on this list. The fact that he did not have the advantage of size like a center yet made it to the NBA after starting playing at 16 years old is very impressive.

4. Pascal Siakam - 17 Years Old

(via Yahoo! Sports)

(via Yahoo! Sports)

Many might not know this, but Pascal Siakam started playing basketball very late. The 2018 NBA Champion and 2019 Most Improved Player entered the NBA in 2017 at 22 years old, meaning he only had 5 years of playing under his belt.

Siakam had an interesting story to get to the NBA, and clearly, his size and speed gave him a jump start to his NBA career. Siakam is averaging 13.8 PPG and 5.8 RPG for his career and is yet another African big who appears on this list.

3. Dikembe Mutombo - 17 Years Old

Dikembe Mutombo

One of the most iconic defensive centers to have ever played, Mutombo started playing basketball at 17 years old. That means that he started organized basketball after getting accepted by Georgetown University.

Mutombo did not let that deter him from a successful career, winning 4 Defensive Player of the Year Awards and letting his “finger-wagging” do the talking for him. Scoring on Mt. Mutombo was never easy, even if he started playing basketball late.

2. Mark Eaton - 20 Years Old


The defensive specialist at 7’4”, the Californian giant is one of the best defensive players to have ever played. Eaton averaged 3.5 BPG for his career, playing 875 games for the Utah Jazz. Using his size and physical prowess, Eaton did not have the quickest start to his career as he started playing organized basketball at 20 years old.

But Eaton entered the league at 26 years old, averaging only 4.3 PPG but also a whopping 3.4 BPG. Eaton had his career-high in BPG with 5.7 in his third season, showing size matters in the NBA even if a player enters the league at 26 years old as Eaton did.

1. Dennis Rodman - 21 Years Old

Dennis Rodman

Arguably the NBA’s greatest-ever rebounder, Rodman started playing at the ripe age of 21 years old. He even entered the league at 25 years old, after 3 years playing at the collegiate level. Despite being an “older” rookie, Rodman had tremendous success.

By using his rebounding and defensive prowess to win NBA titles with the Bulls and Pistons, Rodman solidified himself as a Hall of Famer. Averaging 13.1 RPG over his carer, he overcame a late start in his NBA career to be one of the most iconic stars ever.