The truth is they aren't getting better, just older. Yet, if there was anything surprising about Saturday night's NBA Legends game, it was how much excitement some of the old guys still can generate.
"It was a little scary at first," David Thompson said after collecting a game-high 12 points to lead the East to a 41-34 victory over the West. "It's been a while since any of us have been out there in front of a crowd."At times, that was painfully obvious.
Thompson, the scoring machine who played both his ABA and NBA careers with Denver, launched 10 shots in 14 minutes of playing time to get his quota of points. And George Gervin, who tore up both leagues as well during a career with San Antonio and Chicago stretching over 14 seasons, put up 11 shots in 16 minutes to score a team-high 11 points for the West. All 11 points came in a row over the closing five minutes of the opening half, which ended with the East ahead 23-20.
The shot totals for both men were particularly impressive, given that the clock was running throughout the 12-minute halves and that Gervin had to free himself from one-time enforcer Maurice Lucas' grip several times in the second period just to get to the offensive end of the court.
"You can't blame the refs," Gervin laughed. "They're old guys, too."
The age range stretched from hometown favorite Phil Ford, celebrating his 35th birthday Saturday, to 57-year-old Sam Jones, the former Celtics great who drew a roar from the crowd when he opened the second half with a trademark bank shot.
But the East, leading 27-26 at the eight-minute mark, pulled away as Thompson started a 6-0 run by converting a pair of free throws and added a short jumper before Bobby Jones added two more free throws for a five-point lead the West team never could surmount.
"The guys you expected to be in shape, were," said Jack Ramsay, who coached the West. "I'm not sure how to describe the rest of them."
He could begin by saying the hairlines were receding and the waistlines spreading, but that they were still capable of producing snapshots from the past.
"It was a reflex action," he explained, almost sheepishly. "It just comes out in those situations."