Some players are pretty much born and raised with a basketball on their hands, as their fathers spend most of their efforts into getting their children into loving the sport and trying to pursue a career on it.
With scouts taking a look at prospects ever since they are in high school, some young men spend literally their whole life working to get to the NBA, with just a handful of them being able to fulfill their dream.
But, there have been few exceptions that have shown us that true talent can always beat the odds with some players that have found their way to a successful NBA career despite not playing until they were kind of “old” to make it to the pros. Today, we’ll let you know about 10 basketball players whose career got off to a very late start.
10. Mark Eaton
Most of the young fans won’t remember Mark Eaton because he wasn’t nearly half as good as the aforementioned players, but still, the fact that he found his way to the NBA despite starting his career at 20 years old is pretty cool. As a matter of fact, he didn’t make it to the NBA until he was 26 years old, becoming one of the league’s best players and winning a couple of Defensive Player of the Year awards.
9. Joel Embiid
The sensational big man out of Cameroon didn’t start playing basketball until he was 15 years old, being discovered thanks to the league’s basketball without borders program. Prior to being an NBA player, the young Joel enjoyed playing volleyball and was hoping to pursue a career on it. Gladly, we’re now seeing him as one of the most exciting prospects to watch in the world.
8. Steve Francis
Steve Francis was vastly talented and it’s pretty nice to wonder what could’ve been out of him if he had spent more time learning the fundamentals of this game, as he wasn’t able to start playing organized basketball until the age of 16 after his mother passed away. Still, the former Rookie of the Year was able to make it to the league at age 22, also making it to 3 All-Star Games.
7. Amar’e Stoudemire
Few people remember how much of a dominant beast Amar’e Stoudemire was in both ends of the glass, not to mention his top-notch scoring punch due to his physicality and ability to dominate down low. What makes him more surprising is the fact that he started playing basketball when he was 14 years old, following a really tough youth in the streets.
6. Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace is arguably the most dominant defender in the paint, even despite the fact that he was never much of a highly ranked prospect, nor a good scorer either. Wallace also won 4 Defensive Player of the Year awards, tied for most with Mutombo. Wallace overcame all odds and started playing basketball in high school, just to eventually become one of the biggest factors why the Pistons wind up winning the Chip thanks to his grit, grind and hustle.
5. Dikembe Mutombo
Yet another outstanding defender out of Africa makes our list, as the Hall of Famer big man didn’t start playing basketball until he was accepted by the Georgetown University. Even so, he found his way to 4 Defensive Player of the Year awards and became one of the league’s most iconic shot blockers ever with his signature finger-wag.
4. Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman is one of the most dominant rebounders this game has ever seen, a standout defender that was a huge factor in 2 different Championship teams en route to rings with the Pistons and Bulls. He didn’t start playing until he was in high school, but according to him he was “unable to even make a layup”. Also, he didn’t make it to the league until he was 25 years old after playing for 3 years at Southeastern Oklahoma State.
3. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki looked like he could become anything but an NBA player, being an unathletic and slow big man that didn’t have any hops either. Even so, and despite the fact that he started playing at the age of 13, The Great Teuton worked his way to being the greatest shooting big man ever and one of the most prolific scorers this game has ever seen.
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
Pretty much every single big man in the world tries to shape his game after Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, but most surprisingly, the most talented center on NBA history didn’t start playing basketball until he was 15 years old as well. Olajuwon is perhaps the greatest proof of true talent, with his ballerina-like footwork and outstanding defensive awareness being a part of him all along.
1. Tim Duncan
Most young fans won’t know that, but before becoming one of the best big men in the history of the game, the Virgin Islands native Tim Duncan had a great career as a professional swimmer. Sadly for him, a hurricane destroyed the Island’s only Olympic swimming pool and he was forced to change sports after he had to train in the ocean due to his great fear of sharks. He didn’t start playing until he was 14 years old and eventually grew to become a 5 time NBA Champion, 2 time MVP and 3-time Finals MVP.